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By Annette Frem & Derek Whitehead
Establishing in-house creative departments is at an all-time high. It comes with the promise of a steady stream of campaigns and content, work efficiency and cost control. A no-brainer, surely? So why is it so much easier to imagine than to actually do?
Common Values – Common Language
They were at war because they had always been at war, but nobody could remember why! And both felt they shared no common values, or even spoke the same language.
Setting up an in-house agency is no different from how you would approach the merger of two different business cultures. And contradictory to what you might think with a merger, it isn’t about compromising to find common ground and ways of working. It’s not about only doing it ‘your way’ or ‘our way’, either.
The merging of two working cultures needs an open mind.
Be ready to talk about what’s important to you, what works for you and them, in partnership, and imagine what this new ‘together place’ could look like.
And be prepared to be challenged on old thinking. Where brands often approach in-house creative departments as ‘special children’ that need to be specifically catered for. And expect that creatives themselves might believe they need this special treatment because typical corporate businesses can’t deliver the working environment that stimulates and enables world-class creativity. Each attitude only reinforces the other and gets you nowhere.
A recent client experience perfectly illustrates this. The marketing and relatively new in-house creative teams only communicated by email. The working relationship had broken down entirely. But speaking to them individually, it was clear they were both equally frustrated. In fact, both sides were desperate to collaborate more positively and constructively. They were at war because they had always been at war, but nobody could remember why! And both felt they shared no common values, or even spoke the same language.
This is a classic example and the very outcome from that ‘special children’ syndrome. After all, when you view and treat people as if they’re different to you, how can you expect to encourage a shared culture? What this client did was recreate an external work environment to accommodate a new breed of people internally, instead of creating a common culture, language and working environment that would work for all.
So, what to do to change this?
The point here is to clearly articulate and share the business reasons for establishing an in-house agency – to help everyone in the business understand what is happening and why. It will help people appreciate why these new types of roles and talent within the organisation might look and work a bit differently.
And it’s important not to do it in isolation. Get everyone together and help them visualise and articulate how they want to work in the new set-up.
Explore what the team needs to inspire creativity and encourage collaboration. Could this be a wall space to display, discuss and review ideas and concepts? Or perhaps more open space, allowing for TV screens and background music? For some brands this would be a radical change but for others this might easily align with their wider company culture.
The world of work has changed and a new breed of creatives has emerged, or rather a change of mindset within a big group of creatives has occurred. A change that was already on its way due to the opportunities offered by the digitalisation of our working practices and one that the pandemic has only accelerated.
There are real benefits to working in-house
Where going in house was previously deemed career suicide, creatives have come to the realisation that this perception might be outdated for several reasons, and that there’re is in fact some real positives to gain on the ‘other side’:
Things like, ‘yes’ you might only work for one brand but in fact, you’re rarely working on more than one big account in an agency anyway. And this closer relationship might allow you to immerse yourself even deeper into the DNA of that brand.
Or that you don’t find your creativity directly or indirectly stifled by an agency-wide shared fear of losing an account, or the constant pressure of pitching for new business. Instead, your previous clients become your colleagues, changing the dynamic to be one team with the same ambitions, and you get to see the direct effect of your creativity in the success of the business.
And then there’s the stability and security that bigger brands appear to be able to offer, along with lower perceived pressure and more regular working hours.
This means that brands are now in a better position than they have ever been to attract the best creative talent. But to make the most of this opportunity, brands need to understand what this new breed is looking for in an employer, and make sure that their proposition as an employer, and what they can offer this new talent segment is clearly articulated and well executed. And maybe they’ll discover that creatives aren’t as special or consider themselves that way after all!
About the Authors
Derek Whitehead and Annette Frem founded Frem+Whitehead to help brands and agencies get the best out of both worlds. With Annette’s experience in organisational change and Derek’s creative operations background, they’re the epitome of practising what they preach, optimising operational efficiency through behaviour change and new ways of working to create engaging working environments where people want to work.