Beyond the corporate gates and behind padded cubicle walls sit some of the most talented creative minds in the industry. They are responsible for bringing corporations to our attention with branding brilliance and memorable marketing. And yet, would you even know they were there?
There are dozens of major corporations that maintain a home in the Central Florida area, some with their own in-house marketing team. We tracked down the directors of some of these corporate creative clans to discuss outsourcing, client challenges, and the value of in-house design.
In-house is where the heart is
Depending on the needs of the corporation, an in-house team can be known internally by a variety of names such as Creative Services, Marketing Communications, Corporate Communications or some combination of marketing service synonyms. Regardless of department title, each team serves the same general purpose—to provide high-quality marketing materials that best represent the company and the client.
These in-house teams are comprised of a diverse range of talents—copywriters, designers, production coordinators, and web developers to name a few. Ideally, this team works together to complete the majority of the company’s projects internally. Maintaining an internal staff with the skill sets necessary to fulfill creative objectives provides greater control over projects and lead to faster turnaround and lower costs, the desired goals of the corporation. Projects can range from simple direct mailings and brochures to complex websites and television commercials.
“The Florida Hospital creative department handles projects ranging from multi-media campaigns to simple employee communications. We try to utilize all forms of media such as outdoor and print to guarantee maximum impact & frequency,” says Lynn Whitney-Smith, Creative Manager of Florida Hospital.
The in-house team works tirelessly to create promotional materials that are effective in capturing the consumer’s attention while preserving the company’s brand and image.
Putting creative back in creative services
Some outsiders who are accustomed to juggling several extremes of clients may believe that in-house creative becomes stale and stifling after the first few projects. However, within most of the larger corporations exist smaller units or branches, each requiring branding or image alterations from the core brand. Disney’s Yellow Shoes Creative is one example. “We are the in-house advertising agency for Walt Disney parks & resorts,” says Associate Creative Director, John Logan. “We provide creative service to over 40 different Disney brands, everything from theme park attractions and special events to Disney resort hotels and sporting events.”
If anything, working in-house can lead to more interesting creative solutions than you might find elsewhere. “The beauty of being an in-house designer is living the one brand. You get to grow with the brand and change with the brand,” said Jeni Herberger, of designmatters in Kirkland, WA, at a recent HOW Design conference. “Your day is not driven by the ability of the account executives to pitch clients nor is your job typically dependent upon the ever-fluctuating volume of projects.”
This is where brand consistency, one of the most important elements in in-house design, enters the picture. A corporation is reliant upon a core identity to which its branches can be connected. And a good in-house team recognizes this and works around it. Logan adds, “With in-house teams, no time is needed to get acquainted with the product or process. There is already a good understanding of the brand box and how far you can stretch it.”
“Having an understanding of branding guidelines, the tastes of certain individuals, and the target market is a huge benefit,” says Brian Collins, former Manager of Marketing Presentations at AAA.
In order to meet creative goals, the in-house staff is expected to know the intricate details of a brand as well as the client’s need. A designer should not only be familiar with brand history, he should also be aware of overused color schemes and whether his client has the tendency to make business decisions based on his sock color du jour. While this can be true of virtually any client-agency relationship, the in-house staff has the added bonus of access to interoffice gossip and company politics in the cafeteria.
The keys to a productive partnership between corporate clients and the creative staff are knowledge and understanding.
Darlene Entringer, Director of AAA Brand and Membership Marketing, says, “The staff should have the intimate knowledge of the client’s strengths and weaknesses and the level of understanding that a client’s representative may have of the creative process.”
In his article, “Can In-House Design Departments be Respectable?” David C. Baker says, “The most valuable independent creative firms are those that are specialized, focused, and narrow in their approach… Your value to internal clients should be primarily this: your specialization in understanding what the company does.”
Having one client means the internal staff can become experts on the corporation – design history, interesting trivia that could be used in ad copy, and the personalities of individual clients. Time between jobs in-house can be spent on research and analysis that will aid in the effectiveness of future marketing efforts for the internal client instead of seeking out new clients or projects, like their external counterparts. This expert status not only affects the way projects are thought about and completed, but also makes a positive impact on the client.
Part of being a company expert is the awareness of a certain client’s behavior, tastes, and habits. Clients who are unfamiliar with the design process often bring a project to the table too late or with unreasonable deadlines. An in-house team who understands the limitations and ignorance on the client’s part can learn to work around them.
Accessibility is also fundamental to developing the client-creative relationship. “In-house is always right there to bounce ideas off of or drop everything to complete a rush project. Multiple changes of direction or edits are free when done in-house,” says Whitney-smith.
Collins says the internal client would “give us a call if they had a quick project or even a question which had to be addressed. This happened quite often and was probably one of the biggest benefits that we, as an in-house resource provided.” He continues, “In these situations, we almost never said no and often would drop what we were working on, if it was feasible, so we could accommodate them.”
Communication is also a factor in maintaining a strong relationship between internal departments. Depending on the size or location of the client, in-house teams fare much better at keeping their client up to speed on the latest project developments. Frequent updates serve two purposes: the client doesn’t feel ostracized from the project and maintains some level of control, and the creative department’s presence remains in the forefront of the client’s mind.
Successful campaigns depend on a solid partnership between the internal creative staff and the client. By developing and maintaining this in-house partnership, the in-house team is in turn strengthening the relationship between the corporation and its consumers.
In-house looking out
When the client turns to an external resource, it may seem like a sign of a crumbling partnership. However, not all outsourcing is a sign of the client’s desire to abandon the in-house team for more supple creative flesh.
Most companies will outsource portions of different projects—be it copywriting, designing, production, or printing—to diffuse some of the stress and workload of the in-house staff.
“University Marketing staff outsources to smooth our production schedules and/or to tap a particular skill/talent,” says Jeanne Hartig, Vice President of University Relations and Director of Marketing at the University of Central Florida. “We hire freelancers for creative and photography. At times, one of our clients inside the university will hire creative talent for a project.”
“Our department does work with freelancers on a regular basis, we have a pool of freelancers to utilize on an as needed basis. The freelancers are previous employees or freelance artists the Creative Manager has brought along from previous dealings or new artists who have impressed the Creative Manager or Director of Marketing,” says Florida Hospital’s Whitney-Smith. “Projects are outsourced due to time restraints or overload of requests for creative support.”
Most in-house teams welcome the occasional relief and work with external parties rather than against them.
Outsourced, but not outsmarted
Unfortunately, there are some instances where the client makes the choice to downsize the in-house creative in favor of outsourcing. Such was the case for AAA’s Marketing Services department last fall.
“Last October, during our 2003 budget cycle, our staff officers determined that creative services that we housed in the building, for the most part would be outsourced. This resulted in our 18-person department being reduced to six,” says Darlene Entringer, Director of AAA Brand and Membership Marketing.
Entringer continues, “Even though we are no longer termed in-house creative resource, we still have the ability in-house to tweak or enhance materials. We understand what AAA needs as a client and what we believe is good for AAA.”
The new Branding and Membership Marketing team takes a proactive role in managing creative projects. “If we see something come through that we believe is not an appropriate message for AAA, we step in and ask that it be modified.”
Months after an amicable split, AAA outsources several projects to former team members. “Since being laid off from AAA, I have been called back a couple of times to work on freelance projects. The pros to this are that I am obviously familiar with the organization and its corporate culture. I know the processes, channels, and individuals to get a job done,” says Collins, now a course director/instructor at Full Sail and president of the Brainstorm Institute. It's pretty seamless when I walk into AAA to do a project because after working for the Association for nearly four years, I'm very intimate with how things work -- the corporate structure, politics, mission, etc.”
Clients can save a lot of time, if not money, but contracting former employees for outsourced projects. Former employees can jump into the project without much briefing. External firms may work hard to please the client, but as with any new creative partnership, it may take longer to achieve the intended goals or communicate the right message for the brand.
Creative staff members aren’t the only ones who suffer in an outsourcing situation. “Many departments which relied heavily on our team were suddenly put in the position to having to find their own resources or cut projects because they could not afford to use outside services. Others adapted by creating a marketing manager within their own area to oversee some of the creative work,” says Collins.
Entringer adds, “It was a radical shift in thinking both for those of us left and those who were formerly our clients. It's been an interesting—and successful—transition in less than a year.”
“Designers of in-house departments battle to legitimize their abilities and their worth,” says Herberger.
With the looming possibility of the outsourcing trend catching on with other corporations, it is crucial for in-house teams to prove just how important they are to corporate marketing structure.
Florida Hospital’s Whitney-Smith remarks, “The rest of the hospital is so vast, so individual clients have their respective marketing representative and perhaps will never meet the artist that works on their projects. I would guess most employees in the hospital don’t even realize there is an in-house creative department but they have all seen at least some the team’s handiwork.”
“Being taken for granted, unfortunately, goes with the territory,” says Hartig. “Since in-house teams normally don't charge for their services, they face unrealistic expectations in terms of timelines and last minute changes, etc.”
“My experience has been that in-house creative groups are always targets for outsourcing. Many times, the decision is made by senior managers who are removed from the day-to-day operations of the group and often see less value in the creative function than they should,” contributes Collins.
An article in the May/June 2004 issue of Communication Arts, “Can In-House Design Departments Be Respectable?” outlined a few tips for improving the in-house reputation and promoting corporate creative departments. With all of the corporate projects and company promotion, most creative departments neglect to promote themselves within the company. Author David C. Baker suggests several self-promotion solutions including publishing a department newsletter touting recent accomplishments and pushing to be involved in the yearly budget planning meetings.
The idea is to encourage in-house departments to start behaving as an external firm. “Treat your clients as if you had to land them yourself and as if they were free to use anybody they wanted. If you don't, they'll eventually end up with that freedom and you'll be looking for a job,” confirms Baker.
“In-house departments need to be time conscious and always striving for excellence, never settling for just good enough,” encourages Whitney-Smith. “Don’t get complacent or jaded by relationships with clients or subject matter.”
In an excerpt from Shel Perkins’ book, Talent is Not Enough: Business Secrets for Designers, he writes, “in-house design managers face many political and operational challenges. Chief among these is the need to understand the evolving needs of the larger organization and the optimal mix of internal and external resources required to meet those needs.”
Perkins also suggests that in-house managers periodically re-evaluate their resources and update them, to ensure the best results for projects and keep the client appeased. He adds, “For outside services, make sure that your list of contacts is up-to-date. Always have more than one source in each category so that you have options for price, availability, and the best match to project needs.”
There’s no doubt that the creative team is an important link in the corporate chain. Herberger says, “In-house designers are fabulous designers willing to give up the hectic world of agency work to live out the passion of one brand in a less intense environment.”
Just an in-house teams need to work to distinguish themselves from the rest of the creative herd, corporate managers should appreciate the talent sitting in the next cubicle.
“In-house teams are only as good as the people in them. If organizations do not value the in-house folks, then the most talented people will not look to in-house teams for employment opportunities. If in-house teams are allowed to operate as entrepreneurial units, organizations will get fresh creative—and a high level of value,” says Hartig.