Across the past few weeks and into this week, creative executives from more than 40 in-house creative departments from the Washington, D.C., New York, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Atlanta metropolitan areas will have joined us at CreativeExecs Roundtable meetings to discuss managing the creative environment, team and individual. These 40 creative leaders represent:

  • nearly every major industry (retail, pharma, financial services, consumer goods, entertainment, higher education, healthcare, government contractors and hospitality),
  • companies and organizations of varying sizes and revenue bands, and
  • creative teams varying from less than 10 members to teams of more than 100 members.

The conversation was moderated by Cella Consultant Rena DeLevie who will be conducting two follow-up Roundtable Replay webinars to present the findings and best practices that were revealed across this group of leaders, as well as a few clear recommendations on the topics of providing feedback to the creative team and creating inspirational work environments. In advance of that webinar (registration information is available at the end of this blog post), I'd like to offer a few observations from the live Roundtables.

Environmental Freedom Varies by Industry
While companies within each industry vary in the amount of creative freedom leaders have to customize their space, it became clear following three roundtables that the Financial Services industry appears to be the most restrictive when it comes to allowing departments and individuals to customize their space. Many of the represented FS companies spoke of not being able to hang anything on walls and being limited as to what could be hung within personal cubes and offices. One creative workaround that was shared during the Bethesda roundtable was to project images on the wall--a non-permanent and easy-to-change solution.

On the other end of that spectrum were groups that were allowed to completely redesign their space (provided a strong business case was presented by the creative leader). These creative leaders spoke of bringing in non-traditional office furniture such as bar-height conference room tables and adjustable-height workstations, breaking down the collaboration-restrictive cube walls, and introducing bold color on walls and fabric choices.

It was clear that leaders are doing as much as they can within the boundaries set by their companies to create space that allows creatives to be the most productive--by creating more collaborative and more inspiring space.

Non-Tangible Creative Inspiration
In addition to the physical environment, we discussed opportunities to create an inspirational environment in non-tangible ways. One of the more lively conversations was around dress code. We found some organizations that required even the creative staff to wear shirts and ties, but more often companies are allowing staff to dress for their day within specific guidelines. It was common to hear that the creative team was known for pushing the envelope on those guidelines, and that so long as the creative leader felt the spirit of the guidelines was being followed, the team was allowed to dress as they pleased. That said, a handful of leaders did express frustration with creative staff that were disrespectful of dress code rules and that could be challenging to manage. The most important aspect of the conversation was around the creative leaders role in ensuring the creative team understood potential implications of not presenting themselves in a manner that would promote the creative team as strategic partners.

In addition to dress code, we touched on reward systems, acknowledgement strategies, opportunities to design outside of the brand, flexible schedules, and critiques.

Providing Creative Feedback
One of the more challenging aspects of being a leader within a creative organization is providing the creative team with feedback. While there is a difference between fine art and corporate graphic design in that there are guidelines and requirements in the latter, it's still a sensitive space as design is a personal expression of the team member. Roundtable participants stressed the importance of using the creative brief and guiding brand principles as the foundation for feedback. And in addition to teaching this critiquing style to the creative team, creative leaders should help clients learn how to provide feedback in a constructive, actionable manner.

Another best practice mentioned was holding formal critiques and requiring the creative team to justify their design and writing decisions for their projects. By requiring them to substantiate their decisions, they will be driven back to the creative brief throughout the creation process.

Learn More
If you'd like to join us for a webinar presentation of our fall CreativeExecs Roundtables series in which we'll review in more detail how creative leaders are managing the creative environment, team and individual, please email Brendon Derr.
Two webinars of approximately 50 minutes will be held:

  • Thursday, November 18, 11:00am
  • Tuesday, November 30, 2:00pm

Cella Vice President and General Manager Jackie Schaffer has more than a decade of experience optimizing creative teams. Most recently 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. Jackie's management competencies lie in workflow, technology, 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.