As Marketers' Internal Teams Get Stronger, How Agencies Can Collaborate

In-House Creative Teams are Getting More Involved in Agencies' Work

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Working with clients that have in-house creative departments is nothing new. However, there is a shift happening, in which in-house creative teams are getting more involved in the work agencies have traditionally been hired to do, and the creatives that are filling these departments are getting much better.

Part of this shift is being driven by clients' concerns about lowering costs, and also a desire to bring more creative thinkers into their organizations. In the past few years, there have been many young, talented art directors and writers who have left the agency world to go over to the client side. They've left shops like Arnold, Eleven and Attik for client-side marketers including Target, Square and Oracle. And tech companies like Salesforce, TiVo and Apple are actively recruiting creatives from agencies to build up their internal creative resources.

As these client-side creative groups get stronger, it's important for agencies to be able collaborate with them to ensure they are producing work they can be proud of and that has ultimately been made better by the involvement of in-house creatives.

Here are a few tips that can be helpful in this new landscape of in-house creative involvement.

Two basic strategies

  • Bury the "in-house creatives are not as good as agency creatives" ego. It will just get in the way. And, quite honestly, the in-house creative sitting across from you may actually be better than you.
  • Treat the in-house team as an extension of your own team. Make them a real part of the work. You want to be perceived as a creative partner, not a creative threat. For years, our agency has been working with the Oakland A's design department as an extension of our team when it comes to getting each new season's campaign produced. What makes the relationship work is a shared desire for a visually integrated campaign that can quickly and smoothly be executed across a very wide range of mediums including print, outdoor, digital, signage and collateral.

Develop a process

1. After your agency has met with a client's internal creative team, your creative team should meet with them separately. Sit down and chat like you would with any other fellow creatives. You might be surprised by what you'll hear. Many times the internal group is drowning and sees you as a pair of orange arm floaties, there to save them. Other times you'll discover that this new agency relationship was just dropped on them and they don't even know what to think or expect. If so, these meetings can help relieve tension or fear.

2. The in-house creative team will most likely be involved in your creative presentations to the marketing team, so consider involving them sooner than your first official presentation. You'll no doubt have internal reviews before the presentation. Exposing the in-house team to the work at one of those reviews can make a difference. They'll often have insightful feedback from a brand perspective, as they are much closer to it than you are. We first started doing this with the 49ers and it proved beneficial to the relationship and the work.

3. When it comes to production, involve the in-house creatives to a greater degree than you'd normally involve your client. For instance, if you are looking at a proof, review that first proof with the in-house creatives. This may end up being more work than going six rounds alone until you think it is perfect, but it is worth the effort. We've been able to build trust more quickly in-house creatives this way.

4. Remember how nice it feels when a client acknowledges the launch of a campaign by throwing a launch party? Why not be the ones to instigate a celebration of the work? It does not have to be a big party; you could just invite the in-house folks out for a drink to celebrate.

This in-house trend isn't slowing anytime soon. It is happening everywhere and with all sizes and styles of companies. The temptation may be to fight it, but I believe there is a great opportunity here for a new style of creative partnership with clients that, in the end, can result in even better and smarter work.

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