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Starting an In-House Creative Department

If you’re exploring starting up your own in-house agency, you’ve already realized the countless variables to consider. Which ones take priority? Which ones are necessary versus nice-to-haves? And which are contingent on another?

There isn’t a perfect model to mirror or a golden implementation guide to follow, but there are learnings to be shared. There are endless details to plan in starting up your in-house agency; the following categories should be part of your implementation plan.

Financial Model

If you were asked to create a business case, you may be struggling with demonstrating the expected tangible and intangible benefits. Though the majority of in-house creative services groups are not a chargeback model, you may want to strongly consider being one. The biggest advantage of this model is that it enables your group to be self-sustainable and viewed as a true creative services partner and not just a commodity. In addition, it is easier for most chargeback organizations to add staff when demand dictates.

Customer Service Strategy

Selectively choosing your organizational structure is critical. Given the different disciplines’ functional responsibilities, you want to ensure that each area is utilized to its maximum potential and concentrated on its subject matter expertise. Don’t undervalue or forgo having a dedicated account/project management discipline, if you have the ability to have one. You’ll find this discipline instrumental with client interface and relationship development, building the business and inter-disciplinary organization and collaboration. If this can’t be a dedicated team or person, make sure the person you do have in place has the right background and skillsets to do so and their workload allows the appropriate balance between project managing and doing their work.

Talent Strategy

A mixed labor model made up of freelancers, contractors and temporary employees in addition to full-time employees allows staffing flexibility during peak and low periods, creative infusion, information sharing and cross-training opportunities. Nevertheless, it is imperative a portion of your staffing mix be permanent, dedicated resources streamlining communication channels, performing as brand stewards and possessing institutional knowledge. Make a commitment to source and hire high caliber talent for all your roles, only this level of talent will be able to deliver against your value propositions of delivering exceptional service and quality work.

Operations Management and Technology

Standard operating procedures, workflows, and systems are usually an afterthought and come into play when a creative services groups’ volume of work is significantly increasing and so is its size. But if implemented early, these tools provide transparency, clarity of roles and responsibilities, automated support and efficiencies resulting in increased productivity—and a stronger foundation to support growth. You should highly consider implementing an Agency/Project Management System at the onset of your start-up.

Performance Metrics and Data Reporting

Tracking job and personnel data provides tangibles creative leaders can leverage in their decision-making process and senior management communications.  Identify and determine the appropriate metrics to track, tracking mechanism and reporting format. Ensure your reporting format serves its purpose to its unique audiences. Collaborating with your Finance or Procurement partners on cost savings validation goes a long way, demonstrating your mission to support the greater organizational goals.

Vision

You already have a vision of what you’d like your service offerings to be, what your organization should look like, and the essential systems and tools, now stretch that out to a 3 to 5-year plan and re-consider your approach. You’ll find opportunities for alternative approaches and/or a phased rollout relieving some of the pressure to kick-off with everything in place from day one or worse, starting up missing a crucial essential. Prioritize your service offerings accordingly to the sweet spot of your business, which you’ll most often find is the less glamorous type of work but the largest portion of what your business will be.

Make It an Event

Brand your new organization and create excitement and buzz of the upcoming launch. Doing so generates an entrepreneurial environment for your team with a sense of individual vested interest in its success. And for your customers, it’s the start of gaining buy-in, respect and inevitably winning their business.

If there’s one thing I’d like to leave you with, remember each model is unique and no one alike exists.

To those creative leaders with teams in place: If you could do it all again, what you would do differently? Please comment below!


As Cella’s Creative Services Practice Lead, Cindy Ponce 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.

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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