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Archive for the ‘Emily Cohen’ Category

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.

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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!

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by Emily Cohen    Cohen-Miller Consulting

In the last few months I’ve encountered a variety of customer service experiences that have made me think a lot about my father and the business lessons he taught me over 30 years ago. From my father, the bookseller, I learned that customer service is the most important aspect of any business (that, and I should not ever sit down, as there is always work to be done!). The following retells some of my recent experiences with customer service that my father would have never tolerated when he ran his own business. His focus was always on providing a high level of personal attention and responsiveness combined with a genuine friendliness that his customers always appreciated. This article is dedicated to my father, who instilled in me an entrepreneurial spirit that was built upon strong, authentic customer relationships.

Strategy #1 – “The customer is always wrong” – courtesy of my son’s baseball coach

My teenage son recently tried out and joined a private baseball team. Prior to that, we always were in local teams coached by the players’ parents – each with various degrees of skill, but all truly dedicated and committed. After 10+ years of my husband being one of those selfless, untrained but well-intentioned volunteer coaches, I truly appreciate coaching and the various challenges involved. I get it. Really, I do. And, overall, I am a relatively well-behaved parent/spectator. However, we recently decided to move to the private model, so that our son could receive professional-level training, increase his skill level and be prepared to try out for his high school team. We also have committed significant financial resources to this new path. Unfortunately, our experience with this new team simply does not align with our expectations and the money we are paying. Our level of expectations for the value we would receive increased as soon as we wrote the check. As in the business world, the customers naturally perceive that increased costs directly correlate to an increase in value. In order to air our grievances, many parents asked to speak to the coach about our concerns. The day before the scheduled meeting, the entire team received an email from the coach essentially telling us that our concerns wouldn’t be heard and that we should respect the coach, no matter what. Clearly this coach cared little for his “customers” and even less for his business. This resulted in many parents agreeing not to come back next season and we are now collectively taking our “business” elsewhere.

The coach’s “business objectives” focused on playing and winning games, while the parent’s objectives were focused on practice, training and improvement. In our world, this equates to a misalignment of objectives; for designers this occurs when their objectives don’t consider or align with the needs or objectives of their clients. Overall, this is the most offensive business strategy one can encounter in customer service.

Strategy #2 – “Provide incentives for staff” – courtesy of J.C. Penney

I recently encountered an exceptionally friendly smiling cashier after some last minute shopping during a particularly busy holiday season. Without even looking up, the rather superficially perky cashier asked if I found everything I was looking for and apologized for the long line. If he was truly attentive he may have noticed that, in fact, I hadn’t waited in any line. The result was the “script” simply didn’t align with this particular customer’s experience. He clearly had been told to ask this, though, and ask he did. Then, after further friendly inquiries about my shopping experience, which took less than one minute, he asked me if the level of service he provided me was “high”. Feeling a bit put on the spot and wanting to get the heck out of there, I said yes. At this point, he immediately directed me to a website and wrote down his name on my receipt asking that I please inform J.C Penney of my high-level of appreciation for his “service”. Ultimately, this approach isn’t a solid business strategy and the experience didn’t benefit me, the customer, at all. In fact, it did the opposite; it required me to do “work” (going to a website).

This reminded me about the function of client management within in-house creative teams. Many creative teams require clients to do much of the legwork (filling out “work orders”, developing schedules, drafting creative briefs and, even specifying printing specifications). In this situation, those designers that are managing clients are essentially positioned as paper-pushers (but with better titles) rather than value-added consultative account managers. Secondly, many account managers don’t always customize their interactions for different client experiences or behaviors; this can result in miscommunications and/or frustrations in client experiences.

Strategy #3 – the “I care and relate to you” strategy, courtesy of Capital One

As someone with an unhealthy need to monitor every penny my family spends, I have had the interesting opportunity to call Capital One Visa customer service at least three times in the last few months. Each time, I’ve called for various reasons and each time the person I spoke to was super nice and tried very hard to relate my current concern to something they personally experienced, cared about or understood. In the case where I inquired about the terrifying idea of getting my teenage daughter her own credit card, I heard about one representative’s inability to share that same level of trust with his own teenage son. In another case, I questioned an unknown charge on my bill and heard my representative’s same concerns when he sees such unexpected charges. During the first call, I appreciated the informal personal chat and attention to my concerns. The second experience just seemed like an odd coincidence that I lucked into (receiving two attentive friendly customer service representatives in a row!). By the final call, I wised up and realized that the conversations were the result of a larger attempt by the customer service representatives to personally connect with their customers. Overall, I appreciated that these nice “chats” weren’t scripted and that some effort was made to relate to me as an individual; however, collectively, the conversations felt a bit inauthentic.

Great customer service is truly built upon meaningful and individual experiences. Making personal and authentic connections within a professional environment is critical. Those skilled at managing clients truly understand and sympathize with each client’s personal and professional challenges. Rather than use these challenges as stumbling blocks, they embrace them and provide tools or support that help clients better mitigate and overcome these challenges.

Strategy #4 – “Customers are always right” strategy, courtesy of teenage retailer Delia*s

My daughter buys all her pants and shorts from only one store – Delia*s. The jeans from this store always fit her perfectly and, best of all, come in shorter sizes for us diminutive women. However, we’ve noticed a troublesome trend. Most of her jeans were slowing coming apart at the seams in the thigh area, and a few had become larger holes. It was really unclear if this was due to her larger-than-average thighs or poor quality. Many were over a year old and, certainly, we hadn’t kept any receipts. We found ourselves in a dilemma. On one hand, it was hard to find the right fit and this store saved us tremendous time and aggravation. Yet, our allegiance to this brand was being challenged by the current situation. I went back to the store and politely mentioned this situation to the salesperson, expecting little to no results. Immediately and without question she offered to replace all the jeans without question. She did not even look at the pants to confirm our complaints but simply found the current style and gave them to us. True to her word and without any fanfare.

This experience is truly the best example of customer service. It was done without any fanfare and effectively built lifetime brand loyalty. As an added bonus, we are personally doing everything we can to make the experience go viral, at least within our own community of teenager girls and their parents! The lesson here is that building true customer loyalty is a direct result of a keen emphasis on authentic one-on-one relationship building and admitting mistakes!

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by Emily Cohen   Cohen-Miller Consulting

Project vs. Account Managers

Many in-house creative teams have very important operational roles with traditional, industry standard titles such as Project Manager and Account Manager. While both roles perform critical functions in the management process, their specific responsibilities in that process, from project initiation through close out, are quite different and require unique skills sets and responsibilities. In order to understand how these roles are different, I’ve developed the following tables that compare the account vs. project manager’s overarching responsibilities at various levels: (click on charts for larger view)


Traditionally, within an agency environment, an account manager is also responsible for new business development. In an in-house environment, this translates to building client relationships and generating awareness of the in-house team throughout the organization. I often find that account managers within an agency-environment rarely transition well when hired within an in-house environment, because they don’t have experience navigating all levels of an organization.


At the highest level, the account manager provides strategic, big-picture insight and is relationship-driven while the project manager performs an equally important but different, more daily, tactical and project-level management role. Both roles are important and without them a team can greatly suffer.

The challenge many in-house teams have is how to differentiate these roles without blurring the lines. Because these two positions require different skill sets and experiences, it is often hard to combine them into one position. Yet, unfortunately, that is often what occurs. In this case, the project and account manager are one and the same position because the account manager position is considered “non-billable” or overhead which, in turn, impacts the team’s utilization rate – an important metric that drives the team’s financial model and organizational structure. Thus, the Catch 22. A team may need dedicated account mangers, yet they can’t “afford” them. Still other teams may have project managers but lack dedicated account managers.

Those teams without dedicated account managers often struggle to demonstrate their value and have difficulty allocating enough time and resources to building productive, consultative relationships with their clients. In such cases, the creative team is purely reactive and tactical. This impacts the team’s capability to provide value-added strategic advise to clients – and this is a service most in-house teams need to provide in order to compete with external agencies and provide the necessary insight most clients value above all else.

Similarly, other teams don’t have enough resources to hire dedicated project or account managers and often rely on designers to manage clients and projects alike. While this dual role does have some benefits, most designers don’t have the necessary skill sets required and their time really is best suited to creative areas, where their experience and passion can be best utilized.

The best teams are constructed around the needs of the organization and clients and include dedicated, trained and skilled account and/or project managers to truly fulfill those needs.

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by Emily Cohen, Cohen-Miller Consulting


On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech that included the famous quote, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” While Lincoln was talking about the U.S. Government, this same quote is very relevant in today’s corporate culture and is particularly evident within creative and marketing departments.

Often, an “us vs. them” mentality exists and is even nurtured within an environment that lacks role clarity and has poorly defined and documented processes. Leaders that aren’t empowered either personally or professionally to champion the needs of all levels of stakeholders – including those within their department and across the institution – often further enable a divisive workplace. The “them” that is often blamed by creatives are clients or marketers. The “them” are the root of all evil (lack of clear direction, indecision or an overall lack of “taste”), which in turn, result in endless revisions and miscommunications. The “them” are human resources, facilities and IT, who are seen as building roadblocks in the creative process (generic and lengthy performance reviews, cubicle, florescent lighting and firewalls!). This vicious cycle becomes a never-ending process of blaming each other, rather than embracing a more pro-active, solutions-based approach.

Many employees that are “home-grown” and who have been with an organization for a long time, simply “give up” and do their jobs with a minimal of passion or drive. Alternatively, new employees are increasingly frustrated by the overall negative culture and, in order to “survive” quickly learn to compromise and play along without making waves. Sound familiar?

The rare few try to make impactful change and accept that even incremental “wins” are better than giving up. These rare few–the visionaries and change agents–build a strong, solid case for a cultural revolution from within. They look deep within the organization to uncover the core problems that divide the organization and then recommend best practice solutions that slowly build trust and cross-functional collaboration. A visionary doesn’t even have to be at the highest level of leadership – they can be those at junior levels that seize improvement opportunities and take risks.

Change-agents need to find common ground, develop solutions and identify and sell the benefits of change so that everyone can relate and embrace a more solutions-based productive environment. Leaders should encourage a collaborative work environment, where cross-functional teams are encouraged to work together to develop “win-win” solutions that truly benefit everyone, building processes that work across silos. The end-goal? To move from an “us vs. them” environment to an all-for-one and one-for-all approach. Rather than a house divided, build a house unified around common goals.

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by Emily Cohen

In the last few years, I’ve noticed that a growing number of in-house creative team leaders and managers work reactively when dealing with changes. This is especially true in hiring, organizational and operational areas, where changes are required to grow/compress a team, streamline processes or add new technology. Often, in-house creative managers are simply accommodating the existing corporate culture as well as the limited attention span and focus at the executive leadership level. Corporate cultures are driven by fast-turnaround and an overall lack of planning and patience. Additionally, a kind of “Corporate Attention Deficit Disorder”(CADD) exists, where executive leadership changes their priorities, organizational models and reporting structures frequently; often without the necessary planning to ensure corporate-wide acceptance and a seamless transition process. CADD evolves in a corporate culture of over-committed and reduced resources and is nurtured within an environment where meetings and virtual communications are excessive and non-productive. This reactionary, unplanned management strategy becomes habit-forming and infects the corporate culture.

Executive-level urgencies often overshadow otherwise important department-level initiatives. While in-house managers start out with the best of intentions, their focus slowly devolves into a reactive management style where they get caught in the web of simply responding to the latest corporate-, organizational-, process- or client-driven urgency. This results in a lack of focus on big-picture planning. Few department-level managers or leaders are able to concentrate on one specific issue for more than a few minutes without interruption. These interruptions require that the manager drop everything else and are driven from the top-down based on corporate-level urgencies and initiatives.

One clear example of reactive change management is in the hiring practices of in-house teams. In the current economic climate, resources are already stretched thin and hiring is often responsive and unplanned. Many of our clients reactively hire for the short-term, without thinking of the new hire’s exact responsibilities or their long-term fit, based on planned or forecasted workload. What results is a hire that is often set up for failure, as they assume a role without clear definition of what they will be doing (other than putting out the current fire) and who they should collaborate and interact with. While they may fit in the short term, their role or skill set may not fit the ultimate long-term needs of the department, thus critical head count resources are squandered on the wrong hire.

Another example of reactive change management is in the area of procurement and implementation of much-needed workflow management technology. We’ve seen many departments invest in a complex workflow technology, without conducting the due diligence in:

  • defining clear, detailed technology requirements
  • researching a wide range of competitive options
  • testing the various options (not just falling for the sales spiel from the technology’s sales teams or literature)
  • developing a thorough implementation and training program.

What results is an expensive technology tool that is not used to its fullest or, worse, an overly cumbersome system that is never used at all.

So, what is the solution? How do you implement changes in a reactive culture? In working with many in-house creative departments we recommend the following ten strategies:

  1. Take Small Bites – don’t make changes that are too drastic for your culture or resources; ensure small, yet impactful quick wins and changes that can grow or expand over time
  2. Slow down – do not to be infected by the reactionary culture
  3. Evaluate – conduct a thorough internal assessment of the specific objectives and needs that will be achieved by the change – consider both short- and long- term needs
  4. Define – develop supporting documentation to support/define the change (e.g. detailed job descriptions, revised organizational structure, technology requirements documentation)
  5. Prioritize – prioritize your needs (what are most important & least?)
  6. Research – don’t make an immediate decision, conduct all necessary due-diligence
  7. Plan – develop realistic plans and timelines to ensure successful implementation (e.g. on-boarding/training programs or workshops)
  8. Allocate Time/Resources – make sure you have executive level support and their commitment to dedicate enough budget, time and staff to implement the change
  9. Engage – don’t sell or force your changes onto your team but include your entire staff, even juniors, in the process; form and empower internal teams to implement and own each change, distribute responsibilities and measure everyone’s performance related to their impact on change-management
  10. Be Patient – change takes time, don’t’ give up and stick with it

Ultimately, while CADD is not necessarily curable, the above strategies will help you make changes that can successfully alleviate the symptoms!

HOW encourages lively, informative and respectful dialogue. Please do not engage in malicious attacks on individuals or organizations. For more details on proper response etiquette please read our Response Guidelines.

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by Emily Cohen

I often think about what it is that makes one creative team work successfully and “click” while other teams are more dysfunctional and siloed. While there are many important aspects that influence a great team such as; quality of leadership, processes, systems, organizational structure, communications, what I’ve discovered is that it ultimately comes down to the quality and unique characteristics of each team member. In meeting with many great and not-so-great teams, there are always core attributes that, when combined together within one team, make for a powerful and effective unit. In creative teams, I’ve uncovered six core attributes that are particularly important when you have right and left brain personalities working together. These attributes include:

  • cheerleader
  • industry activist
  • tech guru
  • emotional quarterback
  • enforcer
  • political navigator

The cheerleader is the person that makes people laugh or is the great storyteller (you know who they are!). They bring energy to the team, keeping everyone creative and excited about their jobs. I’ve seen creative environments that are unusually quiet and lack energy and passion. This type of culture often is an indicator that the team is missing that one vibrant, dynamic and engaging personality that enlivens a work environment with their presence.

The industry activist loves to stay current with the latest design trends and attends industry events and disseminates this knowledge and passion to the entire team. They inspire the team by bringing in outside influences, demonstrating genuine passion for design and understanding that inspiration is what will ensure that the creative work developed is both fresh and relevant.

The tech guru hits the technology conferences and devours websites and publications dedicated to the latest software and hardware updates and offerings. They can’t help themselves as they troubleshoot departmental issues – often, before IT is even called in. Because most of our industry is dominated by Macs in a PC culture, this role is even more critical since internal IT’s are primarily skilled in PC issues.

The emotional quarterback diffuses the drama associated with managing creative personalities and minimizes internal conflicts. Similar to the qualities of a good therapist, this person is genuine, empathetic and conveys warmth and mutual trust. Most importantly, they are comfortable providing feedback and are not afraid to confront, challenge and, if possible, resolve the current emotional crisis. This critical and often challenging role is uniquely suited to the needs of a creative environment. In this environment right-brained creatives are often driven by their emotions and need some degree of hand-holding and patience.

The enforcer (or “bad guy”) doesn’t mind making the tough decisions and enforcing policies and processes that ultimately benefit the team as a whole. They are uniquely able to push back without becoming a divisive force, understand that following procedures is critical to successful client and creative relationships, and ensure a seamless cost-effective process.

The political navigator has strengths for working and even embracing corporate culture and internal politics in ways that benefit the team overall (not themselves individually). They have unique skills in balancing the needs of the creative team with the needs of the corporation as a whole and build strong internal advocacy for their team at the highest level.

While most of the above attributes are not always aligned with specific roles, the roles of enforcer and political navigator are best suited to those in leadership and management roles. These positions interact with corporate management, clients and decision makers, where the ability to embrace and navigate corporate politics and “saying no” gracefully are highly valued.

It’s the people that make the culture and often it’s the subtler things that make a team work together. In this case the not-so-subtle issue that makes a team great is the interaction and balancing of each person’s unique characteristics.

HOW encourages lively, informative and respectful dialogue. Please do not engage in malicious attacks on individuals or organizations. For more details on proper response etiquette please read our Response Guidelines.

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