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In-house Teams: Moving from a service provider, to a strategic partner

5th October 2017

In previous posts, we’ve mentioned the unique position we hold. But in case you missed them: what makes us different is the fact that we operate not only as an external creative agency, but we’re also responsible for some of our client’s in-house creative teams.
It’s a position and model that we’ve shaped, and refined over time. And one that we’ve seen a growing interest in from clients.
No doubt you too have seen in-house creative teams rising in popularity. Pretty much every other week there are news and rumours of brands bringing more and more of their work in-house. Clearly then, greater value is being placed on in-house creative teams.
What these changes therefore suggest, is that perceptions of in-house teams are changing. That perhaps they’re now actually being seen as more than merely cost-saving exercises. And that they’re a resource that can help improve processes, brand management, and ultimately help to create more effective work – amongst other things.
However, while creative leaders (those that are making the decisions to build and strengthen their organisations in-house capabilities) recognise the value of in-house teams. There is still some work to do in improving the perceptions held by all the other employees in an organisation.
The simple truth is that many within an organisation see in-house creative teams as SERVICE PROVIDERS, instead of STRATEGIC PARTNERS.

Good for getting things done. But don’t have the talent to do the really creative work. For that we need to use external agencies.

Changing how an in-house creative team is perceived is something we’ve been focussed on trying to achieve since day one. It has become our mission. Not just for the in-house teams we manage – which we have, in the main, succeeded in doing – but for the industry as a whole.
So, in this post, we’ll outline some of the things we do that helps our in-house teams to be seen as PARTNERS, and not just as providers.

Changing the perception of your in-house creative team


1. Use numbers and data to prove your worth

Creatives and business people can be said to speak two different languages. Creatives tend to focus more on the intangible, aesthetic, emotional parts. While business people are, rightly so, more concerned on the quantifiable aspects, and the hard results.
Therefore, to demonstrate the value the in-house team is providing, you need to quantify more things. Such as:
– how long it took to complete a project
– how much it cost
– how it performed against set KPI’s
– how satisfied the client was.
Having a simple client satisfaction feedback process, is not only a good way to show you really care and want to continually improve as an in-house team. But it also demonstrates your value to others within the business.

2. Improve work processes

This really is a key benefit of an in-house team. That being that there’ll be far less friction between the client and the creative team, than if it were the client and an external creative team. Face-to-face time is one reason for this. And so too the fact that you both really are playing on the same side.
Ultimately if you make your creative team easier and more enjoyable to use, then internal clients will want to use you. It makes their life easier. And this will go a long way in changing perceptions.
More specifically, process can be further improved by concentrating on the following:
How internal clients request work. Have a process in place that makes it easy for clients to know just what work your team can do. And then, an effective way of capturing their requirements, allowing you to form a strong, clear initial creative brief.
Have a robust work management tool for your team. One that not only improves the efficiency of your team. But also provides transparency to the client, so they can see just what is being worked on, and how projects are developing.
Define what success looks like upfront. KPI’s. So that when the project has lived its life, you’re not evaluating it based on how it looked. But on how it performed in relation to the set KPI’s.
We’re big advocates of project managers. They allow you to give the client appropriate attention, and manage all the aspects of the process that could potentially bog down the creative talent. Obviously, depending on the size of your team and organisation, the creative talent could successfully take on the account management side too, if needed.
Embed talent within the organisation. We haven’t done this ourselves. But did hear Sainsbury’s had success from doing this with their internal team.
They basically embedded their creative talent in with product managers. This not only led to improvements with process – largely because there was more face to face time and a better understanding of each other’s roles. But also by being amongst the business, and not just in a room away from everyone, it allowed the team to be seen and better understood throughout the business.

3. Be transparent

The need to be transparent is something we touched upon in the previous point.
Often, the ‘business people’ see design as a bit of magic:

‘Put this request in, and as if by magic we’ll get a nice bit of design work in return’.

Therefore, they don’t really understand the work that goes in to delivering what it is they need. This can sometimes lead to frustration on their part, when they are met with turnaround times that are longer than expected.
However, when your in-house creative team is fully transparent, business people will have a better appreciation of what your team does (workload, capacities and priorities), how it does it, and how it is helping to achieve strategic business goals.
Transparency helps to manage expectations. And over time, change perceptions.

4. Act like an agency

This is one we hear a lot. How in-house teams need to adopt some of the characteristics of agencies.
Something that they can do in a number of ways:
1. Avoid being seen as a free resource. Put costs to the work being requested. This helps to reinforce the value you are offering. And ensure only important, justified work is completed.
2. Communicate success stories. It could be something as simple as printing out your best work and putting it on your wall. Or showcasing work in marketing or companywide meetings.
Just be mindful that when showcasing work to the rest of the business, focus on the results. Talk about the quantifiable stuff. Remember, this is the language they speak.

5. Establish your team as the brand authority

Simply, build processes that require your team’s involvement / approval for all branded assets. After all, a big benefit of bringing creative in-house is to improve brand management.
By being the brand authority, it helps to ensure there are no inconsistencies with the brand. As for example, a client could try to get work done by an external agency, who don’t follow the correct procedures – resulting in work that could undermine the brand.


That should have given you a pretty clear idea on how internal perceptions of an in-house resource can be changed.
Ultimately, to change perceptions, you need to show that you are trying to improve the company, and going above and beyond to satisfy internal customers. You are a strategic provider, not a service provider. You and the client are in it together, trying to achieve the same goals, for the good of the business.
If you are looking to put in place an in-house creative team at your organisation, then we can certainly help you to put the right foundations in place. Equally, if you have an in-house team in place and are looking to change perceptions, grow and develop it – then we can help you with this too.
We’ve helped build an in-house team for one of the worlds biggest organisations, from scratch. And we’re now responsible for their in-house resource on a global scale. Which, if you’d like to find out more about – just ask!
Until next time…


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