Across the past year the Cella team has had the pleasure of speaking with several hundred creative leaders. For the most part the creative leaders were more optimistic about budgets in 2012 and 2013 than in previous years. Some companies are still hesitant to invest in full-time headcount, but are willing to invest in temporary support, technology and other areas. This hesitancy is understandable as no one wants to be in a position that requires layoffs. In addition, the current corporate climate is one in which the investor community scrutinizes fixed costs such as salaries and benefits. Temporary or contracted support and consultants are considered variable costs and if budget cuts become necessary, these line items are more easily and quickly cut than fixed costs. Therefore companies are favoring staffing plans with a mix of fixed and variable costs. If you are lucky enough to receive a budget increase in the new fiscal year, it's important to evaluate what type of spend will help the team the most.

While it's extremely difficult to turn away the opportunity to increase your full-time headcount, it's not always the best solution for the creative team. If your team experiences heavy peak periods, the team may feel greater relief from an increase in temp spending during that period. So the question becomes would the team be better served by one person across twelve months or two to three people supporting the team across a three-month peak period? Likewise, your team may currently be turning down work due to a lack of expertise on the team (e.g., mobile design or video production). Using new budget to launch a new service through temporary support that is brought on as necessary is a great way to get into a new service without fully committing. In addition, these positions can be very expensive to staff and intermittent support through freelancers may be the only affordable path to providing the new service until the need becomes more consistent.

In addition to the full-time versus temporary support question, we see creative leaders struggling with the choice of adding an account manager versus a designer or writer. It is very easy to recognize the contribution of designers and writers--their product is highly tangible and easily accounted for, whereas the value of an account manager's role is more difficult for creative leaders to quantify. But even small creative teams benefit immensely from an account manager. Often in small and mid-size creative teams (teams less than 30), we see hybrid Account Managers/Project Managers. Many creative teams chose to cut these roles in 2008/2009 during the economic downturn, and most regretted the choice as the job satisfaction of other individual contributors and client satisfaction was highly impacted. Of the teams in the Cella network that cut these roles, almost all are bringing the roles back even if it means losing a designer or other role.

The third area of consideration (first: fulltime or temporary, second: designer/writer or account manager) that we see creative leaders deliberating is whether to invest in a first-time or new project management system. The amount of time that a new project management system will save across 12-18 months will often pay for itself--true for very large, as well as very small teams. Team members spend less time entering data into archaic systems, communicating project status to each other and clients and struggling to find project information when a new system is implemented. While the full impact of the system is not felt immediately, the team will become more productive in the long term with a system in place.

If you have the blessing of a larger budget next year, take time to consider your options. A new full-time designer might be the best option and a very necessary addition to your team, but maybe not.

Our next post will be on Monday, January 7th following some time off for the holidays and the New Year. From our team to yours, we wish you a safe and happy New Year.

In her role as Cella General Manager, Jackie Schaffer has consulted for Fortune 500 clients with more than 400 in-house team members and for teams at mid-sized businesses, government entities, and educational institutions with teams as small as four designers. Jackie's management competencies lie in operations assessments, financial management, and talent management, and she has a deep passion for balancing the creative and business needs of in-house shops while providing fulfilling opportunities for the team. Prior to joining Cella, she directed an international team of 80 creatives. During her tenure, she spearheaded the launch and development of the group's India-based team, built an interactive media division, and executed against a new visual identity.