The secrets of how to be a successful client-side creative

Working as a creative team member or team leader for an in-house design team can be challenging. This episode looks at some of the insights I’ve learned over my 10+ years building and leading award winning client side creative teams.

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Show Notes:

Why is client-side different?

– Lets start with the basic foundation to be successful. Understanding your place in the organization.
– At an agency the Creative team is the heart of the house and their ideas are the fuel that drives the company forward.
– When you have a client-side creative team you have to understand that you aren’t the heart of the house anymore.
– It took me a while to understand that design was important but they had to compete with a lot of other departments that were also just as important.
– To be successful you have to think about how you are going to position your group to have the most impact, create the most value and be able to do the best work.
– This is done with a combination of strategy, politics and hard work
– When you are new you have to make you mark and you have 4-6 months to do it

Create an agency mindset with a service soul

– In my experience, the single biggest hurdle to running a successful client-side creative team is that the team and leadership have a production mentality instead of agency mentality.
– A production mentality means that your group is on the defense, they take a project without question and design the solution that is given to them. They ask clients to tell them what is wrong with their one idea.
– When all you do is hit deadlines and create other people’s solutions the group doesn’t create any deep or lasting value to the organization
– It also perpetuates the myth that the only creative team that can have innovative ideas are the creative teams at external agencies. A team that creates innovation and great ideas is a critical asset and they are given the trust and freedom to be able to really make a difference.
– This can be done through simple changes like present multiple ideas, make it a conversation, start with a problem to be solved instead of a solution to be vetted.
– But understand all of these things are working to do one thing – change thinking not just behavior

Build products, not pitches.

– Agencies are used to building pitches and this works great when you are trying to win new business
– But on the client side you are building products so if you socialize a new idea you have to understand that it needs to be built
– So it’s less of a pitch and more of a vision

Show them where they are going before you take them there.

– One of the most common mistakes is that there are a lot of great ideas but very few of them actually see the light of day and of those that do see the light of day, almost none of them are really innovative.
– Why does this happen? It happens because great ideas are really fragile things that need time to incubate, find supporters and grow stronger. They have to withstand problems like budget shortfalls, nervousness from the business about making big changes to a key consumer touch point, tech constraints, etc.
– Some creative try to overcome this with shock and awe but these ideas look great but can’t be built, won’t move the needle or don’t solve core business needs.
– To be successful I’ve found it really effective to create a proof of concept that will serve as a north star that everyone can rally around.
– I make sure there is a strong concept that will let everyone see where their part of the business fits into this new design instead of just creating a pretty design. I do this because it is really rare that on a project like this you are going to be able to get the whole new idea done at once.
– But by creating that north star concept I’ve created a vision that we can break down into pieces so we can still get to that new experience but we will just do it in a few steps. Those steps can be incredibly key because by doing it that way everyone can see the results, calm nerves and distribute the budget for the work

It’s about being effective, not about being right.

– One of the other most common mistakes I see agency creatives make when they come into a client-side team is they bring their arrogance and self-importance with them. They have that emotional disposition because they are coming from a world where they were at the top of the power pyramid.
– When you go client-side you are part of team of people who are going to be critical to your success in a much better more substantial way than at an agency.
– At an agency those people were called your clients
– To be successful you have to understand that you often will need to find allies and build consensus around your ideas. And the bigger the idea the more you are going to have to do it.
– The challenge is that you need to socialize your idea early enough that people feel like that were able to have their say but no so early that a young fragile idea gets killed or neutered from the possible group think that could result.

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