In the 2014 In-House Creative Services Industry Report, 40% of respondents indicated that other creative groups existed in their organizations. Sometimes this makes sense for an organization, and sometimes it creates duplicity and competition that is not in the best interest of the greater organization. These multiple groups can exist for several reasons:

  • Merger & acquisition of legacy groups
  • Unique business requirements of internal clients
  • Location--a major source of value for in-house groups is proximity, if the existing group is not near, a business line may decide to initiate their own team
  • Lack of capabilities within one group
  • Underperformance of one group leading another, potentially competing, group to pop up
  • Sometimes a company is just so big, a business unit simply isn't aware of another creative team that may exist
  • Politics

The centralization of creative groups can bring many benefits, such as:

  • Increased brand adherence and improved creative output
  • Deeper creative paths and thus increased opportunities for staff which can lead to increased retention
  • Economies of scale when it comes to technology support, project management system and digital asset management system implementation, shared SOPs, etc.
  • A larger team allows for specialization of roles (less people wearing multiple hats)
  • A larger team can also provide more flexibility when it comes to introducing new services or roles (as attrition occurs, it is easier to "sacrifice" 1 designer role when you have 8 more in order to staff a project manager or proofreader instead)

In addition "A player" creative leaders who are both strong operational leaders, as well as creative leaders, are not omnipresent--it's hard to be great at both (I surely wasn't!). A centralized team allows an organization to scale the value of strong creative leaders--including separating out the operations management and creative direction roles, which we see begin to happen around 30 total team members.

But centralization can be challenging--especially when the teams are located in multiple locations with significant distance between them, which is often the case. In these cases, there needs to be a budget for travel between the locations, as well as for "rotations" in which team members visit another office for an extended period of time (2 weeks+). Doing so will build loyalty among the team members to each other, as well as to the department's leadership. It's really easy to blow off "Sally's" request for help when you've never met her and don't have to look her in the eye when you leave the office at 5pm. But if you spent two weeks working next to Sally and enjoyed a few meals together, that is no longer the case.

In addition true centralization will never occur if the centralization is in org structure only--meaning now the team based in Phoenix will report into the team in Washington. Maybe one creative leader now reports to the other, or perhaps the Phoenix creative leader role was eliminated and all of his direct reports now report into the Washington leader, but nothing else has truly changed. The Phoenix team still serves only Phoenix-based clients (and likewise for the Washington team); they each run separate job reporting systems; and work is not shared across the locations. The only potential increased value they are providing their organization is at most the reduction of one headcount and at least the reassignment of one direct report from one senior leader to another who knows more about creative.

Another challenge in centralization is creating true parity among the roles and teams. Titles need to be right-sized and standardized such that senior designer on one team has the same expectations and compensation structure as another. Of course there should be compensation differences based on the cost of living index differences, but the senior designers in Washington should not be overtime eligible and the Phoenix senior designers not. Likewise, bonus structures (where applicable) need to be structured equitably. In addition, one team may utilize the title and responsibilities of Art Director, but the other team may never have had someone in this role. It now is necessary to either eliminate the title or (better yet) clearly identify the differences between senior designer and art director and how to get there.

The change management associated with combining two or more groups into one should not be underestimated. And the change management is not limited to just the creative teams, but also the client groups they serve. When embarking on a centralization mission, the leaders need to have a fully thought-out plan that addresses the above and also takes into consideration challenges such as:

  • Prioritization of projects across a broader client set
  • Client management practices and expectation setting
  • File/asset sharing across multiple locations
  • Building a sense of team that is not limited to the quarterly all-hands meetings that are held via videoconference.

Don't expect centralization to occur within a few months. To fully realize the benefits of centralization, give yourself a year and recognize the true effort and attention the endeavor will require.

If this is a challenge you are embarking on, let us know if we can help. Cella has helped other creative groups plan this change.