One of the laments often heard from leaders of internal creative groups is that their "in-house" creative team is not appreciated for what they do. Many find themselves in competition with outside agencies that get the "plum" assignments, or potentially are never considered for these assignments. Others may find themselves in the undesirable position of being brought into a project way too late. Still others are asked to "fix" or finish a project that may have been started by an outside agency but for a variety of reasons (often time and cost) now needs to be brought "inside."

In short, these leaders don't feel that their internal creative team receives the same respect and consideration as an outside agency.

Sound familiar?

As leaders of internal creative groups, we are tasked with a myriad of assignments that require our daily or even hourly attention. Usually head down and dealing with putting out fires, we often don't have the luxury of looking ahead much beyond the next wave of creative requests.

We take great pride in creating first-class work for our company brands that are, no doubt, produced at a fraction of what it would cost if it were sent to an "outside" agency. We deliver real, tangible value to our companies day-in and day-out.

Why then aren't we viewed the same as an outside agency?

To be treated like an agency, you've got to act like an agency

There are differences, important differences, between in-house creative teams and outside agencies. But we have far more in common than not. And whether you call yourself an "agency" or "creative services" or "studio services," there are seven actions steps that are important to consider in order to gain the professional status you seek.

How many of these are in place in your shops today?

  • Establish your Core Competency
    Be known for something. Identify and articulate the unique value proposition that your in-house team provides. It's not about being all things to all people. Figure out what you are best at, and focus your attention on that.
  • Share your Story
    There isn't an outside agency alive that doesn't understand the value of and place a premium on self-promotion. While it's true that most in-house agencies don't have to "pitch" for new business, that doesn't mean you should take the business you have for granted. Self-promotion is critical if your contributions are to be fully understood within the halls of your company.
  • Have a Point-of-View
    Demonstrate your acumen. You have a very important seat at the table. You have institutional knowledge with respect to the brands you support. You know the marketplace. You know the power of communications. Make sure you present your work with a strong point-of-view. Explain the "whys and "whats" of your work. And, while yours is an advisory role where someone else gets to "decide," make that choice obvious for them.
  • Recognize your Culture--Clients or Partners
    There isn't an outside agency alive that doesn't call them "clients." Do you? Should you? Are they? On the one hand, you work for the same company, report to the same CEO, have the same interest in the quarterly earnings reports (sounds like a partner). Yet you provide a "service" that others can accept or reject (sounds like a client). Figure out what's most appropriate for your company because the impact of that decision can have a profound effect on how you should engage with them.
  • Celebrate your Success.
    Enter award shows. Your creative teammates will be energized with the wins and your "clients" might just sit up and take notice too. If you can manage to share the credit of the award with the "partner," so much the better.
  • Promote your Value, not your Cost.
    If your main claim to fame is that you are the low-cost provider, you will remain at the low end of the respect pole. It's great that you can produce that banner ad at a fraction of what that "hot shop" charges. That's not the point. You don't want them to come to you because you're cheap, you want them to come to you because you're better (rest assured your cost advantage is already known to your friends in accounting).
  • Gather Feedback and Measure your Performance.
    To truly create the kind of respect we all desire for our creative groups, it is absolutely critical that we develop routines where we gather client/partner direct and honest feedback on our work. There is no better tool available to you for identifying areas of performance improvement or partnership building.

  • In short, you don't have to be called an "agency" to be treated like one, but it doesn't hurt to attach that word to your name.