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Career Pathing for Creatives – Is there life after Corporate Creative?

There’s a reason why transitioning from agency life to an in-house creative services group is so appealing: Work-Life Balance! But what do you do next when the career path that follows isn’t so clear and going back to an agency is only a last resort? This is a major challenge for in-house creatives, and especially in-house creative leaders.

The most obvious is simply to move to a larger in-house group where opportunities for advancement are greater; however you quickly find that there aren’t an abundance of these groups out there and open leadership roles within these organizations are even more scarce.

Before getting into some alternative options, it’s important to emphasize the importance of networking. This is the critical key whether you’re looking for a change or not. You’ve made many connections throughout your career and whether new or old, near or far, they’re a group with intangible knowledge, larger connections and, perhaps even, a future opportunity looming.

In-house creative leaders who arise from within the team have either an account services, creative design or copy-writing background. Whichever your background is what will drive the direction of your next career move.

Transitioning into your organization’s Marketing department is a discernible step. Not only do you have your organization’s institutional knowledge, you know how to maneuver through the internal channels and interdepartmental processes and have an extensive understanding of what the company sells. This is a common and simple migration for in-house creative leaders who can add immeasurable value and perspective and already possess many roles’ required knowledge and skill sets. Not to mention, the benefit of your already-existing, strong relationships with key stakeholders in this organization. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this group approach a creative leader with opportunities as well.

Strong writers should consider Corporate Communications as another avenue to consider. Many of the reasons noted above apply to this option as well. In addition, a fervent passion for writing is a critical success factor and a degree in communications or journalism a requirement.

Looking outside of the organization, you may consider consulting. You’re already a subject matter expert, have a network group of peers for thought leadership discussions and an obvious passion for the industry. Consulting provides tremendous exposure to groups in our specialized industry and greater insight to varying operating models and infrastructures. There truly isn’t one specific formula that equals success. Your knowledge and experience can be invaluable to new start-ups, growing in-house groups facing the challenges that come with that, and well-established organizations who need validation or short-term support in one or two specific areas. You never know where a future opportunity lies. Though independent consulting has its challenges too: business development, inconsistent income stream, and, potentially, business travel.

You can also chart your own course. As mentioned earlier, our specialized industry is rather small, however with increasingly growing interest. There are organizations out there in the midst of creating their in-house groups, or even unaware they should have one. Through your organizational industry functions and networking, be cognizant of any potential opportunities, you never know when the right connections align the right people with the right opportunities. Just because a job is not advertised, doesn’t mean it isn’t needed.

Are you part of our online community on LinkedIn? Please join the open group “In-House Creative Leaders” to virtually network with more than 1000 industry peers who may be the connection to your next opportunity.


Cindy Ponce

As Cella’s Creative Services Practice Lead, Cindy Ponce is the lead author of the In-House Creative Industry Report. In addition, she consults with Fortune 1000 clients whose in-house teams span from small and mid-sized groups to large and global service providers. Cindy’s management competencies lie in building and managing internal agency model organizations globally and effectively managing cross-functional teams worldwide. She’s known for her passion and tenacity in delivering optimal solutions with exceptional service and quality work using proven methodologies. Prior to joining Cella, Cindy built and led an international team of 65+, servicing more than 40 countries. During her tenure, she spearheaded increased service offerings to include content development and interactive capabilities.

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