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If there is one in-house expert you want to pay attention to – it’s Emily. She’s consulted for both agencies and in-house teams of varying sizes and working in a range of industries. No one possesses a greater grasp, in both breadth and depth, of the business aspects of managing a creative group.



1. What factor plays a bigger role in a new project – lack of time or a small budget?

In-house creatives mostly struggle with fast turnarounds and, most teams, work in fire-fighting reactionary work environments. Few in-house teams and their clients think about planned initiatives, even though we find on average that most companies can indeed plan at least 70% of their work if they had the right systems and procedures in place.

2. When did you first realize you wanted to be a graphic designer?

Actually, for me the opposite happened – I realized I didn’t want to be a graphic designer! Initially, I went to art school and naturally, since I like making money, I moved into the more commercial aspect of the art world – graphic design. But, after working about 5 years as a graphic designer, I realized that I wasn’t good at it and would never be a truly great designer. But I still loved the profession. After asking everyone I knew for advice, what I uncoverd was that what I was really great at was the business side of design. So I was very lucky, I stayed in a profession I adored, while still leveraging my hands-on work experience and translated that to the business-side. It was a win win all around!

3. What was your first job in the design field?

I can’t tell you – as it will show my age : ) . Enough to say it involved a wax machine, rubylith and other archaic tools….

4. Do you have a pet project – a side business or a charity to which you donate time or services?

I have a daughter who is an Junior in high school, so my “side business” or “charity” is looking at colleges! Luckily, she’s interested in marketing with a minor in design, so it’s something I care about!

5. If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?

A world traveler and richer…

6. Can you tell us a little more about your Conference topic? What personal or professional experiences led you to this topic?

As a consultant to creative professionals I once had a client who had a 15+ team, each in their own open cubicle. Because he didn’t trust them, especially the younger team members who he felt were always on Facebook, he made them re-arrange their offices so all their computers faced out. In this way, when he walked around the studio, he can see what they were doing all the time. That is the exact moment I realized that the generational gap was getting wider and wider and there had to better ways to manage different generations!

It’s not enough to have ideas. You have to sell them.

“Actually, it doesn’t matter one bit to me whether you’re any good at design,” says Seth Godin. “The odds are you probably are very good. It doesn’t matter. What matters is whether you can sell designs to your clients.”

In a recent editorial for Before & After design blog, Godin went on to say: “…For too long, people who are passionate about design have accepted their lot. It’s completely acceptable for designers to grumble about lousy clients. We apologize for our work, saying, ‘Well, it’s the best the client would let me do.’ You should be ashamed to say stuff like this. Great design is not a luxury, and a compliant (even enthusiastic) client should not be a rarity.”

Godin’s comments back the truth that good ideas simply do not sell themselves. In fact, the better and bolder the ideas, the more they need selling. Because we’re asking decision makers to let go of old and familiar ideas to grab fresh and different ideas. And, as Godin points out, that takes selling. Tons of selling.

In my book IdeaSelling (which Seth kindly endorsed)I quote him saying this: “There’s no correlation between how good your idea is and how likely your organization will be to embrace it. None. It’s not about good ideas. It’s about selling those ideas and making them happen. If you’re failing to get things done, it’s not because your ideas suck. It’s because you don’t know how to sell them.”

How about you and your team? Are you effectively presenting your designs? Here are three steps to boost idea-selling ratios.

1. Review five designs turned down by bosses or clients. Were the rejections justified because of faulty design? Or were problems with the pitches? If it’s the latter, decide ways you could have improved the presentations.

2. For your next project, try including decision makers in the creative process – right from the beginning. Involve them in exploration and discovery. Bring them in on brainstorms. Get their feedback on rough prototypes. You’ll better understand their objectives. They’ll better understand your creative decisions. And they’ll have a sense of ownership in the idea. Consequently, they’ll be less likely to blast your solutions at the final presentation.

3. For the remaining seven months in 2011, establish a specific action plan for polishing your presentation skills. Read a few books. Schedule in-house training for your team. Take a public-speaking class. Solicit tips from successful sales people in your family and circle of friends.

Thanks to Greg Waddell, Benchworks creative director, for passing along the Seth Godin editorial. To read in its entirety:http://www.mcwade.com/DesignTalk/

Sam Harrison will speak on “Selling Idea to Internal Clients and Bosses” at the inHOWse Managers Conference on June 26. Sam Harrison is a speaker, workshop leader and writer on creativity-related topics. His latest book, IdeaSelling: Successfully pitch your creative ideas to bosses, clients and other decision makers, was released by HOW Books last fall. He is also the author of IdeaSpotting: How to find your next great idea, and Zing!: Five steps and 101 tips for creativity on command. Find him at http://www.zingzone.com

Last week, in this column, I wrote about the realities of workplace bullying and noted that in-house designers are particularly vulnerable because of the client/designer dynamic. Knowing that many organizations tolerate and ignore the abuse that clients can inflict on their designer colleagues, I’d like to suggest, when confronted with a bully client, that you take radical action to get your managers’ and HR’s attention – FIRE YOUR CLIENT.


If outside agencies, when confronted with a client whose demands and behaviors damage their business, can resign that client, then why can’t an in-house team? The key is to capture the costs of the inflicted damage, both in financial, morale (and moral) terms. If you position your arguments for taking this action from the perspective of serving the best interests of the company, then you can base a subsequent conversation (which will surely come) on a premise that will be less about blame and more about finding solutions. Simply put, the primary argument should be predicated on the assumption that you have multiple clients and that the bully client has become such a drain on your team that he or she is diverting your resources away from your other responsible clients.

This “break glass in case of emergency” approach should only be attempted after all other options and channels for airing grievances have been exhausted and should be handled as objectively as possible. My recommendation would be to craft an email stating that your department is no longer going to be servicing the offending client, list the offenses and then, most importantly, clearly point out the negative impact that the offenses have had on you, your team and the company. Refrain from using inflammatory language and keep the email as concise as possible. Send it to your manager and HR and cc the client.

Firing a client is, of course, a contentious act, in and of itself, no matter how carefully you approach it. That fact alone should be enough to deter any in-house designer from taking this route in any but the most extreme circumstances. But, if all else has failed, it may be appropriate as the alternative of tolerating abusive or irresponsible behavior is the worse of the 2 options.

It can be a delicate balancing act, but allowing for workplace banter improves team morale and collaboration – especially for design teams for whom teamwork is critical to their performance. Healthy interpersonal relationships, which are partially created through playful conversation, foster trust, communication and innovation.

While too much small talk pulls people off of their tasks leading to unacceptable inefficiencies, too little leads to a siloed environment where lack of respect for coworkers and poor team culture can lead to rivalry, finger pointing and poor project handoffs – also contributing to unacceptable inefficiencies.

The rule of thumb is that any personal conversation that creeps over the 5 minute mark is probably best tabled to be picked up again either at lunch or after work. It’s critical that the whole team is on the same page and that everyone gives the other team members permission to end a conversation and thus ensure that feelings are not hurt if someone calls a time out.

The biggest challenge can be running interference with HR and upper managers who don’t understand the design team culture and the benefits that banter bring to the team’s performance. “Click”, a book by Ori and Rom Brafman on the value that strong personal connections bring to business is a quick read that can provide rationales to support a more informal culture when dealing with doubters of that type of environment.

Dell’s secret to branding success is simple – the internal team didn’t just execute and walk away, they were, and continue to be, engaged in the brand with internal clients and outside agencies at every level and in all media. Having met the team, this comes as no surprise. Part agency, part design firm and all savvy – the GBC team sets the bar high and takes great pride in their work. Most importantly, they value strategy and consistently apply it to their assignments.


What began in 1984 inside a university dorm room with a $1000 loan is now one of the world’s most recognizable technology brands. With over 100,000 team members across the globe, Dell offers solutions that span from mobile devices to servers and gaming desktops to cloud integration services. But Dell is focused on more than just technology. Having recently been named the greenest company in America by Newsweek, Dell devotes significant effort to corporate responsibility initiatives across the world—all in hopes of empowering human potential.

Over the past few years, Dell has repositioned its brand by redefining its core purpose—giving customers the power to do more with its technology solutions. The internal Global Brand Creative (GBC) team brings the brand to life by ensuring a consistent experience for all of Dell’s customers and team members while inspiring, encouraging and celebrating the power of creativity.

Since taking part in the larger brand repositioning effort, the team worked to redefine brand perception by crafting the vibrant new visual identity system you see today. With the help of agency partners the team then developed a set of brand standards to clearly guide the new identity rollout to every brand impression—from campus building signage to packaging to retail environments and Dell.com.

The Global Brand Creative team members also offer creative and brand strategy guidance internally to positively influence corporate culture and executive messaging. They spend significant time supporting business unit-specific initiatives and campaigns to ensure the brand is properly articulated in marketing communications.

This passionate, growing internal team shows immense depth of ability, as they collaborate, guide and execute brand expression across all touchpoints.

Summer Office Attire Gone Awry

By Donna Farrugia, Executive Director of The Creative Group

Summer is upon us – and that means warm weather, company picnics … and fashion faux pas on the job. In fact, four in 10 advertising and marketing executives polled by The Creative Group said employees at their firms are dressing more casually on the job.

While creative teams often have a little more leeway in terms of dress codes compared to their counterparts in the legal or HR departments, for example, you don’t want to abuse this privilege. Presenting a polished image is an easy way to boost your credibility and signal to others you take your job seriously – and perhaps move you one step closer to a potential promotion.

As such, here are five wardrobe offenses to avoid this summer:

1. Sheer clothing. Lace and light-weight fabric may be all the rage right now, but your clothing should never be overly revealing.  Also watch out for see-through materials like linen, silk and chiffon.
2. Flip-flops (or Birkenstocks). While open-toed sandals are often OK to wear, foam or plastic flip-flops or well-worn “mandals” are almost never appropriate in office environments.
3. Statement T-shirts. Are you a Twilight fan who’s on “Team Edward”? Or a vegetarian who “Doesn’t Eat Anything That Had Eyes”? Your colleagues and boss may know these personal details, but they certainly don’t need to be reminded of them by your wardrobe. In particular, steer clear of T-shirts that contain political, religious or other controversial messages.
4. Midriff-baring shirts and low-rise pants. No matter how fit you are, avoid showing too much skin at work. Wearing clothes that are extremely form-fitting is another no-no.
5. Acid wash jeans. If you do wear jeans to work, they should be tailored, and not too tight or trendy. Leave your vintage, threadbare 501s or rhinestone-studded flares at home, too.

As a rule, you want to dress to fit in, even though this may go against your creative grain. It’s important to know – and emulate – your company’s general dress code. Ultimately, when it comes to attire, simplicity can be chic. After all, it’s best to bring attention to your ability to do the job well, not your love for oversize hoop earrings or fedora hats.

Donna Farrugia is executive director of The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service placing interactive, design and marketing professionals with a variety of firms. More information, including online job-hunting services, candidate portfolios and The Creative Group’s award-winning career magazine, can be found at creativegroup.com.

So you’ve become savvy enough at the in-house game to have put an effective creative team marketing strategy into play. It finally became obvious to you that the benefits of promoting your team far outweighed the extra effort required to create that website, brochure and PPT you designed that showcases your team’s work and the value you bring to your company. You’ve put together case studies, capabilities descriptions and cost-savings analysis.

Chances are, though, that you’ve failed to articulate some of the most important contributions your department makes to your company. These are the non-design value-adds that you bring to the table each day. You want to make sure these contributions don’t get ignored when you’re promoting your team.

We all tend to define ourselves so much by the design deliverables we create that we forget or minimize the other ways we help our companies. These ways might include facilitating the marketing materials routing and review process, schooling up new inexperienced marketing managers on the design side of the marketing function, assisting clients with their outside vendor relationships, helping procurement audit and validate invoices and contracts with outside marketing services vendors and proactively targeting and addressing corporate branding or marketing issues not obvious to our non-design peers.

I’ve heard of design teams that have assisted their IT departments in the implementation of Digital Asset Management solutions, supported their C-level teams in business meetings by visualizing complex strategic initiatives and worked with Manufacturing on integrating more efficient packaging processes and procedures into the production process.

These types of success stories distinguish your team from outside design vendors and validate the notion that an in-house team brings more value to a company than other marketing services business models. Leverage this fact and use it to raise your team’s stature and credibility.

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