char*ter (chartr) n.

1. A document issued by a sovereign authority creating a public or private corporation [or department] and defining its privileges and purposes.

In-house creative departments often serve the conflicting masters of pleasing our in-house clients and staying true to the brand. It's a vicious cycle that often results in us becoming a pair of defeated hands. And can often impair our ability to evolve the department from a Kinko's to an internal agency. Sound familiar?

But maybe this doesn't have to be the case. Envision this: A business partner asks you to do something that conflicts with your department's charter. Poof! You inform business partner of your department's charter and guide your business partner to revise the request to be alignment with the company focus. While the business partner may not be happy that you can't support her request, she will understand why that request is out of scope/against charter for your department and will understand that your denial is not baseless--it's pure professional focus on what's best for the company. And your team will continue to get to do great work within their defined charter.

Wow that was awesome! How do you make it a reality?

You write a charter that embodies this sentiment: The Creative Services Department is responsible for delivering to the Company Brand. We report to the Brand, not the CEO. (I highly recommend not using those exact words, as a door may be shown to you pretty quickly! But the sentiment is right--your department needs to support the brand, not a single client's, or divisions, goals.)

A charter is a tool to support and guide our every action, thought and word. This applies to project strategy, design and implementation. You write the charter, get it blessed by management, communicate to and educate your staff of the meaning, and you're set to go. (Make sure your staff understands how to communicate the charter--it's not a way to say "no," it's a tool for educating your colleagues on why your department exists and what the company sees as the best use of the department's resources). It's a way to demonstrate to senior management that you deliver vision, pro-activity and professionalism. They're often delighted to have someone else do it, and it's better for everyone when it's you who understands most deeply what the needs are.

When writing your charter, first define where you are ("we deliver a service for our clients") and what your vision is for your group ("we are a strategic partner to our business partners"). Now you can chart out this path create a charter that evolves across time. But it requires support from above to make this evolution happen. Your charter will likely evolve over time, as you take the department from the current state to the future state.

Once you have your charter in place, the fun starts to happen:

  • An upward shift in perception of yourself and your team--you're a respected equal in the eyes of senior management so everyone else needs to get onboard.
  • Clients become business partners, not clients. Partners have shared objectives and shared success.
  • A creative team that is empowered and required to think at a strategic level. An energized, excited, sales-driving force of creativity.
  • A-level candidates who understand the brand. No more "yes" people who move it along the assembly line and undermine brand integrity.
  • A shared starting point to refer to when a business partner wants to do a project you believe is in conflict with the brand.

A charter is a direct path to creative freedom within the brand and mutual respect among your colleagues and partners. Go forth and create!