How to fix broken client-side creative teams

Companies want creativity and design like never before but very few of their internal creative teams have been empowered or supported to be able to take advantage of this demand. In this episode I share everything I have learned leading client-side teams for 10+ years at Starwood Hotels and Citi.

Listen now:

Show Notes:

Today we are going to talk about fixing broken client-side creative teams. By broken I mean ineffective, disrespected, deflated, overlooked and under utilized. I think this is a far more common problem than anyone will admit and I understand why. Fixing a client-side team is a huge amount of work and most people have no idea where to start.


Problems of this size and complexity don’t have magic bullets. This episode should be a guide or a starter kit but you are going to have to figure out how to apply it for your company, clients and team.


– This is going to be a process that is going to take time and persistence
– It is going to be hard – very hard
– Your determination to do this is going to have to be stronger than the coming frustration and everyones excuses because at a lot of points in this journey there will be a fork in the road
– You and your team will have the choice to get busy making changes or get busy making excuses
– A lot of this is going to fall on the leadership of the team to keep their head on straight and keep working for change
– If you aren’t in leadership then it is up to you to find people who think like you to start a grassroots movement
– But if those people don’t exist then it may be time to move on to somewhere that does


– I’ve never bought into the idea that internal creative teams are second class thinkers but most companies look at internal teams as not as good as agencies and I get why some people think that but I don’t agree with it
– We sit closer to the brand and the problems than anyone so we should be better than agencies all week long and twice on Sundays
– A huge part of your battle to fix your team will have to change that perception
– I try to step back and look at the group like a brand – what does it look like, sound like, and stand for?
– It gives me a mental foundation and direction for how I want to change that perception


– One of the biggest ways to change perceptions to focus on the value of your group to the organization
– What do you want your group to be known for?
– Deliverables are about deadlines. Ideas are about delivering value.
– WAY too many teams fall into the first category and become a product of a service group mentality. All they do is deliver on what is asked of them and it makes them a commodity. They can be replaced, laid off, minimized and overlooked for agencies
– You need to move the group to focusing on delivering ideas because those have value to the company


– A big step in going from deliverables to ideas is defining and socialize what you need to be successful
– It should have 2 parts – internal creative methodology and an external process

Internal creative methodology

– Internal creative methodology is how you are going to work and set the expectations for the team for the quality of that work
– A really important thing is that creative can no longer just be a department. Your methodology needs to be inclusive of anyone and everyone.
– I use Design Thinking to give form and shape to the creative process. It is a Trojan Horse for change because it brings everyone to the table and people will support what they are a part of
– It also refocuses your group on Creativity instead of just Design
– Understand that design is a byproduct of creativity
– Creativity is the thinking you put into solving a problem. Design is then a visual expression of that thinking.
– But I also make changes to other things like the way that work is presented. Something as simple as changing from presenting 1 idea to 3

External process

– External process is how you are going to work with your clients
– You need to define the end to end process of how you are going to work with your clients from creative brief, to timing, to reviews, to tech delivery standards, etc.
– This is critical because you have to tell your clients what are you are going to need to be successful and what they should expect from the process
– Here again, a simple change can make a huge difference
– Start everything with a problem to be solved instead of solutions to be vetted


– Most creatives don’t know how to communicate what they want to do in a way that the business can see value in
– The business won’t see something like design as value so you have to be able to talk them in terms they will understand
– If you want to decrease your agency dependency then break the numbers to show how they are more expensive per head
– If you want to use an Atomic Design system then show how there will be early development time but in the end it will save X amount of time and money
– All of your major changes are going to have to get translated like this in the beginning so the business can see more tangible value than things will look better
– Over time they will see more value in what you do and start to trust you


– Get know the people who want to support you and who’s support you are going to need
– Your products for these people are trust and confidence
– The work will build that trust and confidence – but it will take time
– Be honest with them, show them value and you will build trust


– At the same time you also need to invest in some other very important relationships – your team
– At Starwood and Citi I have been able to effect change without hiring all new people. You can do that too
– But you have to walk your talk, lead by example and be the first one to run up the hill to show them how things are done


– None of this is going to be easy and none of it is going to be fast
– You are going to need to have patience to work through all of this
– Patience to try to solve problems different wats if it doesn’t work the first time

Subscribe now

You can listen and subscribe now on Apple iTunes, Google Play MusiciHeartRadio, SpotifyPocket CastsStickerTuneIn and on all other major podcast platforms.

Join the community

Ask questions, suggest topics for future shows and connect with other Crazy One listeners. Check out the Facebook page.