More than eight months ago I left my role as an in-house creative leader to take on the new challenge of heading Cella--a consulting and training company with the unique mission of supporting in-house creative leaders improve the business side of their creative operations. I first came to know Cella through CreativeExecs Roundtables(r), co-hosted by Cella and The BOSS Group. At the roundtables I was engaged by the conversations and motivated to understand and learn from the challenges of my peers. This open dialogue among creative leaders was new, and only when I was a part of it, did I realize the potential benefit of regular engagement with a true peer group (versus leaders within other business groups at my company).

I loved--and still do--talking about the business of creative: how do you measure effectiveness and efficiency? how you improve it? recruiting and retention strategies, financial models, workflow, etc. Many creative leaders in the past eight months have heard me say "While I was the head of creative, I was never the creative director at my company, but more the head of creative operations." I had started my career as a designer, but my forte was in project and account management. One peer described my evolution best when he said "Microsoft Office is my new Adobe Creative Suite." For me that sentiment was dead-on...I am self-professed Excel junkie.

I am often asked why I left my former company where I was head of a group that ranged from 30 to 85 team members during my tenure. And while the decision was not easy, it resonated with what 60% of creative leaders are identifying as a top challenge[1]: career pathing for themselves and their teams. After eight years with the same company, five of which as head of the department, it was time for a change; and Cella provided me the opportunity to focus entirely on the aspects of my former role that were most engaging and on new challenges--key ingredients to my professional satisfaction.

Across the past eight months I have had the pleasure of speaking with more than 150 creative leaders with teams as small as a handful and as large as 450 creatives, across various industries and organization sizes. And regardless of a group's specific demographics, 80% of the challenges are shared across all creative groups. These conversations help guide which content to provide on our free blog for creative leaders, what topics to focus on at CreativeExecs Roundtables and webinars and what subjects to cover at our business operations for in-house creative leaders training.

The shared challenges that stand out include:

  • Value Recognition: In-house creative groups are consistently challenged with being viewed as strategic partners versus order takers.
  • Staff Justification: More than 50% of creative leaders1 feel their teams are understaffed and are challenged to build a business case to support increased staffing--something the economy has not made any easier.
  • Technology: Project and time tracking technology is generally a hot topic; most creative leaders want to either put a system in place or upgrade their current one. Technology is an important facilitator of efficient and effective business operations, but often not implemented to the optimal level.
  • Managing Creatives: Standard corporate performance review criteria doesn't provide an appropriate framework for evaluating the contribution and value of creative services team members. In addition, engaging in-house design staff who work with the same "two fonts and three colors" every day can be challenging.
  • Compliance Timelines: This one is specific to our colleagues in financial services and pharmaceuticals. Compliance reviews always take longer than stated and clients don't understand that Creative Services can't make it go any faster.

And, of course, there are those challenges that we all chuckle about:


  • Excessive iterations by clients
  • Clients always have an opinion on color and are either a designer in their free time or their wife/husband/child/sister is and they have some additional feedback to be implemented
  • Changes only take a "few minutes" to implement
  • Everything is needed ASAP

As you close out 2010 and look forward to 2011, take solace in that most of your challenges aren't unique and there are multiple communities and resources available to you.


There will be no new blog posted next week as our team celebrates the holiday season and upcoming new year. Happy Holidays from our team to yours.