Given all the changes in our industry, it’s possible you are considering restructuring your organization. Several factors may be in play that are causing this line of thought – possibly your company just went through a merger or acquisition, you see an opportunity to offer new or additional services, or perhaps you are being asked to cut costs or deliver work faster. The way your organization is structured can impact your team’s ability to address all of these changes. Whatever the reason you are exploring redesigning your org structure, there are a few key things to consider to ensure your group is meeting the demands and expectations of your organization.
First, what is your department strategy? Who are your customers?
Knowing and clearly defining your department strategy – your purpose and whom you service – is a critical driver for how you should organize your team. Do you service or want to service multiple departments, business units, and offices? Which of those groups are critical to your company’s strategic business objectives? Where can your group bring the most value to your company? These considerations should determine how you align your team’s resources, roles, and responsibilities. There’s no right answer here. For example, many in-house agencies focus on strategic marketing work that helps bring in revenue for their company, while others are part of a shared services team that provides creative services for all corporate functions regardless of direct business impact.
Next, what is your service strategy? What services do your customers need? Do you offer a wide variety of services and have a multidisciplinary team or is that your future state goal?
Whatever your current team structure and goals are, it’s important to understand your client needs. What type of work are your clients requesting? Do they need strategic partners who can ideate and offer creative concepts tied to strategy or do they look to your team to repurpose previously determined concepts implemented across new deliverables?
Perhaps your clients need you to keep materials current and up-to-date with the latest performance numbers or disclosures. What kind of deliverables are they exploring – websites, email marketing, videos, packaging, digital and social content, printed materials, out of home, media planning, broadcast, presentations? Are there specific project types that dominate your business? What do you see as potential emerging creative offerings that your clients may not be aware of yet but that would be of value to them? Their essential demands will help you identify the functional skillsets and level of expertise you require when staffing and reorganizing your department.
Finally, how much and what kind of work does your team do in a month, a quarter or a year and is your team’s workload steady, cyclical or unpredictable?
Answering these questions will help you determine how many staff you need in each role and whether it is most appropriate to staff with full-time employees, contract labor or perhaps an external agency with which you have established a partnership.
You should also strive to set up an organization where staff can grow and thrive. Is there a career path for your team members? Is your staff appropriately challenged? Is there an ability for them to learn and grow? Does your organizational structure help facilitate coaching and mentoring?
A Tactical Tip: Once you have answered all of the questions noted above and gathered and organized that information, you will be ready to structure your organization. But beware – if you are structuring an existing group of people you know well, a common mistake will be to design the organization based on the people and skills you have rather than those that are most relevant to your stakeholders and address current and future business needs. Try to separate what you know about the people you have on your team from the structure you need. Only after you have a structure that fills the requirements you have outlined will the time be right to consider staffing.
Roles to consider
The head of an in-house agency is typically someone with both creative and operational expertise who possesses the ability to strategically lead as well as manage the day-to-day needs of the group. This individual should be able to navigate the greater organization and create advocacy for the team, establish the agency’s value proposition and reputation and facilitate the resolution of high-level problems that arise.
Some of the most common roles to consider in your organization include:
- Account Services (e.g.: Account Managers – this team should align with your clients)
- Creative Services including:
- Conceptual Creative Teams (e.g.: Copywriters and Art Directors)
- Digital Creative Services (e.g.: Front- and Back-end Developers, UX and UI Designers, Information Architects, etc.)
- Print Creative Services (e.g.: Writers and Designers)
- Production Studio Services (e.g.: Production Artists, Proofreaders, Print Production Managers)
- Media Services (e.g.: Producers, Videographers, Video Editors, etc.)
- Creative Operations (e.g.: Project Managers, Tool Administrators, Financial Administrators, etc.)
In-house agency org charts will vary depending on service offerings, company size, and industry. Very small teams may have generalist or hybrid roles with several associated skillsets such as an Account Manager/Project Manager hybrid role. As teams grow it is often much more effective and efficient for the roles to become more specialized so team members are focused on their area of expertise and not expected to constantly switch tasks.
A Tactical tip: Make sure to put together robust and standardized position descriptions for everyone in the group and make them available to the entire team so they have a clear picture of possible career paths as well as an understanding of their peer’s roles and responsibilities and how they should partner with them. The basic sections that comprise a position description should include an overview of the job, whom the position reports into and who reports into the position, associated roles and responsibilities and necessary skills and experience.
Organizing the team
A functional reporting structure, which is a team-based organization where groups are defined by discipline such as Print, Digital or Video teams, is the most common way creative agencies are organized. This model tends to afford the flexibility needed to not only service a wide range of clients but to also fully and efficiently utilize staff. It also provides the creative group the benefit of leadership who can develop functional team members and an obvious career path for those team members. In this type of structure, it’s recommended that you determine which positions should also have responsibility for a specific line-of-business to ensure deep business knowledge and excellent customer service for those line-of-business clients.
Organizations structured solely by line-of-business is another organizational option. This model is comprised of dedicated cross-functional teams aligned to a specific line of business and you should consider establishing a matrix reporting structure where team members dotted line into a functional expert. These organizations develop deep business line institutional knowledge but have a much harder time developing and sharing resources. You run the risk of resources who are underutilized and don’t have access to robust development opportunities.
When you are determining how many people you need in each role, it is prudent to staff to your lowest workload level with full-time employees. Contract labor and freelance talent should be used to staff for peak periods and specialized skillsets. You may also want to establish a relationship with an external agency or design firm to assist with overflow or specialized work.
Many staffing personnel in corporate organizations lack a good understanding of the creative industry and a network to identify the right talent quickly and effectively. It’s in your best interest to spend time to educating and ensuring your internal partners have an understanding of your department’s staffing needs. You should also consider partnering with a creative staffing firm to help with your talent searches.
A creative leader should ideally have no more than 4 – 6 direct reports, especially if those reports have very different skillsets and responsibilities. Some managers will be able to handle more direct reports simply because there is a common role reporting into them and the work is less complex or more routine.
Ultimately, the organizational design of your department depends on the requirements of the organization you support. It must meet both the needs of your customers as well as your team. The structure should help drive access to talent, creativity, utilization, efficiency and professional development and most critically, allow for scalability and adaptability.
Cella Consultant Sue Wolski is an innovative and accomplished Creative Services Executive. In both agency and in-house corporate environments, Sue is known for her ability to utilize both creative skills and business acumen to effectively build and lead best-in-class creative services organizations. As a consultant, Sue helps organizations with assessments, process improvement, organizational design & change management, financial modeling, and integrating marketing disciplines.