Bringing creative in-house: 8 steps for avoiding disaster
Thinking about taking your creative in-house? Columnist John Nardone shares eight steps you should take to ensure the move is relatively painless.
Clients are taking more and more of their programmatic work in-house, and that migration is now increasingly moving beyond media buying to include creative work. In fact, here at our company, we’ve seen at least half a dozen major clients in the last 12 months take meaningful steps to bring digital creative in-house. Unfortunately, many of them are struggling to achieve their business-case goals, as well as maintain the quality to which they became accustomed when using outside resources.
Motivations to bring creative work in-house include perceived cost savings versus working with creative agencies, as well as the desire for more agility and the ability to be more responsive to the needs of the business. But accomplishing those goals without impinging on the quality of the creative is a real challenge. The ultimate objective — better, more effective advertising — often gets lost in the shuffle.
Often, proper planning can help ease the pain of bringing new functions in-house, and the distractions that come with it. If you are undertaking or considering a move to take creative in-house, these are the eight critical steps you need to take to ensure it happens seamlessly:
1. Have a strong and empowered sponsor
Remember: The output of your creative transition will be seen not just by internal marketing personnel; it will be seen by consumers, by your CEO — and your CEO’s spouse, mother and friends. Rest assured, if something doesn’t look right or something goes wrong, you’ll hear about it.
Your sponsor is the person who’s going to have to provide the solution to the organization. The first success criterion for any corporate change management program is to have an empowered sponsor. Creative is no exception to this rule.
2. Have a clearly defined scope and mission for the effort
Your effort requires a clear mission and scope in terms of which creative assets are being brought in-house. Website updates? Banner production work? Concept creative? Does it extend to video? Your definition of the scope of the work to be undertaken is critical, as is a clear articulation of what success looks like.
3. Quantify your business case
With the scope and mission defined, you then must create a business case. No corporate initiative can be successful without clear economics.
You need to have an available budget, and everyone in the organization needs to understand how success translates into cost savings or increased revenue for the company.
4. Find a capable operational leader
Creative leadership requires not just creativity, but also a foundational understanding of the underlying business and technology. The odds of success of your in-house efforts increase markedly if you have an experienced, knowledgeable leader driving the day-to-day effort.
5. Invest in your talent management plan
Your operational leader must establish a development and education plan for the staff. Any time a marketer insources a new function, acquiring talent and ensuring that talent has a career path within the organization is a challenge.
Particularly with creative talent, there might be cultural clashes in the organization or a lack of familiarity among the HR staff on how to find, acquire and evaluate creative people. If you want to avoid a revolving door of creative talent, you need to budget properly for the level of talent required and establish the corporate structures that can foster their development.
6. Establish organizational service level agreements
Service level agreements (SLAs) for your internal creative team are another critical element for success. If you have clear rules of engagement for how your new team is to interact and engage with the rest of the organization, there’s far less chance of misunderstanding and in-house friction.
This is particularly essential with in-house creative because the demand for creative support in most organizations is insatiable.
7. Maintain an outside perspective
An underappreciated but critical aspect of a successful insourcing effort is outside support and perspective. It’s very easy for any insourced effort to become insular — to look inward, become focused on the day to day, and thus lose sight of what the broader industry is doing. A constant stimulus from an outside perspective is critical to keep your team at the top of its game.
In addition, be sure to establish access to outside specialty resources that enable your team to stay within its comfort zone and quickly tap needed specialist support.
8. Assemble the right toolset
In many ways, the availability of better and cheaper tools, such as WYSIWYG creative environments that allow non-technical users to execute professional designs, is driving the in-source trend. Your team will need to be equipped with the right tools, which is not an insignificant challenge, given the number and variety of tools available.
Importantly, your tools need to have the flexibility to evolve as your team’s needs and skills evolve. Matching the tools to your mission and the skills of your team can often be accomplished by mixing off-the-shelf tools with software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions that come with strong built-in support.
If you ensure that the above checklist is covered as you look to bring your creative work in-house, you’ll greatly improve your odds of success. Done right, your digital in-house creative team should not only improve your organization’s flexibility and efficiency, it should also deliver stellar, high-quality work that will make your CEO’s mother proud.