We recently wrapped up our latest CreativeExecs Roundtable discussion entitled "Moving from Order Taker to Strategic Partner," where we had the opportunity to hear how many in-house creative departments have evolved from operating simply as a production studio to strategic partners who contribute a high degree of value towards their organization's goals. The specific identities of these "strategic partners" look very differently from one organization to the next depending on company mission and the creative group's realistic opportunity to add value. And while the temptation is to equate doing highly conceptual, creative work with being strategic partners, that is only one milestone on the path to being true partners with your clients. Throughout our discussions we found many and varying examples of how in-house creative services departments are offering strategic value to their organization, whether it be by providing production design services, collateral development or agency of record national advertising. Regardless of the type of value that these strategic partners are providing to their organizations, there were three consistent characteristics of those groups who have successfully evolved and/or continue to evolve as highly valued partners.

1. An Understanding of What "Strategic" Means for Your Organization
In-house agencies and design/production departments who have become strategic partners have done a great job at understanding and focusing on what it truly means to be strategic for their particular organization and identifying specific opportunities to provide increased value. Webster's has the word "strategic" as meaning "of great importance within an integrated whole or to a planned effect." Does your department work to provide value towards the integrated whole and future plans of your organization? Or are you more focused on having the opportunity to provide high-value work, regardless of your company's overarching direction?

2. Consensus Within Your Team
In line with knowing what "strategic" should mean within your organization, it was very apparent that leaders of highly-valued creative departments are great at focusing on consensus building within the walls of their own team. It is common for entry, mid-level and managerial personnel to become disgruntled with their roles and teammates when they are not fully bought into the strategic value they are to provide to the organization. Great leaders communicate and set expectations in this category regularly, and personally, with their teams. How much time have you dedicated towards communicating to your department the strategic value you want the department to bring to the overall organization?

3. An Explicit, Commitment to Building Trust with Clients
In addition to the above, leading "strategic" in-house creative groups have made courageous commitments to building trust with their internal clients and stakeholders. When these relationships are in place, they are the cornerstones to the creative department's ongoing evolution as a strategic partner. But building trust-rooted client relationships can be challenging and time consuming. Does your department commit to the standards, time, resources and development opportunities needed to develop trusted relationships with your clients?

It is refreshing to see these three consistent themes emerge from the CreativeExecs participants, which go well beyond the aspect of simply producing great work. Most of the time, our industry's professionals are judged only by the caliber of the work they produce, and often rightly so as we wouldn't be doing our jobs without delivering great work. But when the path to becoming a successful strategic partner becomes solely focused on producing better or more sophisticated projects and campaigns without focusing on the greater goals of the organization, the above listed best practices can be quickly forgotten. As a result, the true interests of the business and the people involved are not addressed, ultimately derailing the successful evolution of the department.

As 2012 approaches and the planning season continues in full swing, now is a great time to refocus on these best practices that were shared by our CreativeExecs participants. The great news is that in most cases, these principles don't require an overhaul of the creative department. They are opportunities to take practical and productive steps over time as you strive to become or remain a valued strategic partner for your organization. To learn more of the findings and conclusions from our event, please join us for the webinar (details below.) Thank you very much to all of the participants for sharing your experiences and insights with the community!

Join us for the Roundtable Replay, a free 60-minute webinar
Cella Sr. Consultant Rena Delevie will share the collective input from the participants of our most recent CreativeExecs Roundtable series that addressed the topic of "Moving from Order Taker to Strategic Partner." Two dates are available for you and/or your team to join the webinar. Click on your preferred date below to register for the webinar.