I recently had the great opportunity to attend HOW Design Live in Chicago, organizers of the In-HOWse Managers Conference, the HOW Design Conference, the Creative Freelancer Conference, and Dieline Package Design. Essentially, HOW packages these conferences as four tailored tracks all rolled up into one awesome event for the design community. The speakers were extremely engaging with high-value ideas to offer to the community. There was a fantastic exhibition hall where dozens of design industry vendors offered up their latest and greatest. And the onsite bookstore from MyDesignShop.com provided all the literature you could hope to find about design trends, creative inspiration, and business. If your goal was to come away with great new information and resources that will help you and your colleagues develop as professional designers, you certainly met that goal at HOW!

Beyond the great experience I had at the conference, I came away noticing what we see as a very good trend for the industry: the in-house creative, agency, and freelance communities continue to move closer and closer together. Traditionally, the in-house creative and agency industries have been quite siloed, and that is mostly due to the fact that corporations and institutions have utilized them that way, as separate resources that each served a unique purpose for the company. But that trend is beginning to change, because the most effective and efficient organizations are optimizing their mix of in-house, agency and freelance creative resources.

Based on our conversations with hundreds of creative leaders, we believe here at Cella that this is why these segments of the creative industry are growing closer together. Leading companies and institutions are beginning to look at in-house, agency and freelance creative resources through one lens, in the hopes of finding the most effective and efficient utilization of those resources. You might say that companies have always managed a mix of in-house, agency and freelance resources, and that's true. But certain organizations are balancing creative resources across the enterprise much more effectively than others, controlling resources inside of a unified mission and procurement strategy. The result is that in-house groups are becoming more like their agency counterparts and more focused agencies are emerging everywhere serving purposes similar to their in-house creative counterparts. Freelancers are also becoming more viable for large organizations, and in many cases are now able to "pitch" for larger pieces of creative work right alongside the agency competition.

The subject of "how to effectively balance in-house, agency, and freelance creative resources" is worth half a dozen more blog posts, and the strategies will vary widely between organizations, so we won't get into that here. I will, however, point out a few trends that are making this balancing act more possible than it was five or ten years ago.

Technology Advancements

Marketers and communicators in large organizations today have a (growing) wealth of technology and tools that they can utilize to effectively align and assign creative resources to projects. There are advancing tools for project management, resource management, asset management, financial management, job tracking and more. And many tools available now combine all of that functionality into one system, specifically geared towards the creative and communications environment. Leaders now have more information and transparency into the project lifecycle than ever before, and the result is that organizations are able to make more informed decisions around where to send their work.

Maturing Procurement Strategies

In many large organizations, we're seeing a maturation of procurement models that allow marketers and communicators to better understand and control their spend with outside agencies and other vendors. The industry has been advancing and diversifying so quickly that procurement groups have struggled to keep up with the broad availability of agencies and vendors. That is beginning to change however, and many large organizations even have marketing- or communications-focused procurement teams who are helping to optimize spend in the category. Some procurement groups are helping their marketing and communications leaders to routinely benchmark external spend versus what it would take to keep the work inside with the in-house creative team. The result is that companies can make optimal decisions around how to align resources with their creative needs.

Growth of the In-House Agency Model

The agency model has been implemented for decades inside of various corporations, but in recent years it has taken a step forward in large corporations and institutions. These groups are structured similar to the way an outside ad agency would be, with account management, project management and the ability to provide a wide range of strategic and tactical services. In-house agencies usually charge their internal clients for their time, and the rates are often 20-40% lower than the rates of outside firms. This model usually encourages the best use of company creative resources and lends very well to bringing in a broader variety of creative work for the team. The result is a highly-capable, cost-effective in-house creative team that makes the client pause before assuming that project should just be sent out to their agency of record. In many cases, in-house agencies are asked to pitch against outside agencies to win the work. This healthy competition is ultimately a good thing for the company.

What these trends should say to an in-house creative leader is to get ahead of this evolution if it hasn't yet hit your company. It's in the in-house team's and creative leader's best interest to guide their company through this change rather than being handed a "solution." It is important for in-house agency leaders to embrace a competitive model as something that is valuable for the company. Those leaders who embrace this trend and even work to spearhead it inside their own organizations will find themselves right in the middle of the company's success and in a better position to make a valuable impact. Those who resist it and/or focus on merely maintaining their in-house territory may find themselves left on the outside looking in.

HOW hasn't always combined their unique conference tracks so closely as they did this year, and I'm sure many in the industry and some people on the team at HOW wondered if it was a good idea to do so. As companies begin to look at in-house, agency, and freelance creative resources through a single lens, I'm going to go on the record and say that it was a great idea to bring these creative communities together, and I highly recommend you attend their conference next year.