You’re leading an in-house creative team, congratulations!  This is an exciting opportunity filled with rewards, challenges and a lot of work.  

Anyone who has worked in the creative space over the last 15+ years is fully aware of the in-house agency model — and likely aware that the reputation for working in-house has shifted tremendously.  In-house is no longer whispered about or apologized for, in-house creative has gained respect, has cachet and is even admired.  None of this can be taken for granted, though.  With each in-house team that is assembled there are clear and actionable best practices that you as the leader can put in place to position your team for success.

Ready to take your team from Creative Services to In-House Agency?

Establish Clarity with a Mission, Vision and Value Proposition

Establishing your in-house guiding principles is a great place to start and will be the foundation for everything you are going to build.  Start with your mission, vision and value proposition statements. A clear mission informs the department strategy and guides the type of work the group should provide as well as their behaviors. You’ll want to tie into the larger organization’s overarching mission to connect your purpose to the business you serve.  Socializing these statements sends a clear message to your clients and other key stakeholders that you’re focused and aligned as a department within the organization.

Establishing your vision will create an identity for the team, help carve out your niche in the organization and will bring some clarity to roles and responsibilities. A clear vision should direct growth, investment and organizational design decisions.  Coupled with your value proposition, the vision will provide a consistent message your team can communicate to clients on the specific value and services the in-house agency provides. They will also establish guardrails around the type of work that should be produced in-house.  These three statements need to be evangelized with your in-house team to gain buy-in and support of the messaging. Your team needs to understand and embrace the agency’s objectives and benefits to the greater organization and be able to articulate them with clients and other stakeholders.

Brand Your Agency

Have you named and branded your team? If not, please consider doing so. It may seem like a small gesture, but this is actually one of the easiest ways to gain recognition. Once you brand your team make sure to market and communicate your brand out to the larger organization. Ensure that you can tie your mission, vision and value to the team’s brand. Leverage your team in this exercise - they are creative, they can help you develop this!  The more the whole team participates, the more commitment you will have from them as you move to socialize and promote your team.

Define Your Work

Now that your team is branded and they have a mission, vision and value proposition - do you know what work your team will be expected to produce?  Have you aligned with the client partners and/or key stakeholders to gain insight into their needs?  You will need to understand business initiatives, goals and priority levels of the work.  Looking at this information on a quarterly basis will help – but you will ultimately want to get to an annual view for best planning and forecasting. Of course, there will be changes throughout the year and you will shift and adjust as needed – but planning like this makes those unexpected shifts much easier to manage.

Make Prioritization a Priority

Your clients are informed and aligned with your objectives, you have an idea of what work is ahead of you – now when your clients bring in projects how will you prioritize?  First come, first serve? Friends and family first? Of course not. You’ll need to establish a prioritization plan. Having a prioritization plan that aligns to the enterprise needs and business goals will alleviate the pressure of guessing at what’s most important.

The plan should incorporate all business needs and be crafted in partnership with key clients and stakeholders. Ultimately, it will be a matrix that is used by the in-house team to prioritize all work, and because it will have been socialized within the enterprise and developed in collaboration with your clients – there will be no surprises.  

Tiering Defines Your Work

Another part of the prioritization equation is tiering.  Tiering allows you to differentiate high-level conceptual creative work from production assignments.  Document the tiering hierarchy and qualifiers within each tier.  You will use tiering to identify the type of work coming into your agency and the associated level of effort and team members who should be assigned to the work. Proper prioritization will identify the importance of the project.  For example you could have a high priority production job or you could also have a low priority tier 1 creative conceptual project.  Delineating the differences helps in assigning work, establishing deadlines and ensuring you have the right resources on the right projects at the right time.

While you’re defining and forecasting your workload, you should be assessing the project types and the skills that your team has and mapping one to the other.  Will you need to upskill existing talent?  Bring in additional talent? Do you have project managers?  Account managers? A hiring and professional development plan may be in order. 

Many of the activities laid out here can happen in separate phases or in tandem – and you will keep iterating on this until you can comfortably “launch” the new version of your team. Or maybe you have launched and you are shoring up some areas and practices.  Nothing is permanent and everything can always be improved.  No matter where you are in this journey, taking the time to put structure around what you're doing will always be beneficial to building a strong proactive in-house team.