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Archive for the ‘The Speakers Speak’ 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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The Speakers Speak is a series of insightful interviews with the 2011 InHOWse Conference presenters. In a special audio piece Dyana Valentine, speaker, group wrangler and functional muse, discusses the importance of team and personal dynamics to the success of an in-house group. Her perspective on the personal will impact your business.

{Dyana Discusses Dynamics}

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The Speakers Speak is a series of insightful interviews with the 2011 InHOWse Conference presenters. This week Sam Harrison, speaker, writer and thought leader, addresses an in-house team’s greatest challenge and greatest opportunity – creativity. His grasp of the challenges that creatives face when working in the corporate environment coupled with his ability to distill strategies and tactics that are an antidote to this existential issue are invaluable any designer trying to make a difference where they work.

I know you’ve worked with a number of in-house creatives as a mentor and advisor. From your perspective, what are some of the biggest challenges faced by designers working in corporations today?

Most in-house creatives participating in my workshop have some of the same problems I had back when directing a large in-house group. Value recognition, project workflow and internal bureaucracy are timeless and universal challenges for in-house designers.

Two other major in-house challenges I’m often asked to help with are creative stagnation and pitching skills.

Why do you think these two areas are particularly challenging for in-house designers?

In-house creatives are often dealing with the same brand, the same people and the same products. So they tend to have a greater likelihood of stagnation than agency people who might be interfacing with a variety of brands, clients and products. In-house designers need to constantly seek out and draw in fresh inspiration.

As for presentation skills, the selling of ideas within a company is frequently hampered by what I call the Tyranny of Low Expectations.

These low expectations exist on both sides of the table. In-house clients often have low expectations of their creative services group, wrongly assuming that in-house people are incapable of having fresh perspectives. And in-house creatives often have low expectations of internal clients – assuming Joe down the hall and Susan in the c-suite will forever have the same negative reactions they’ve previously had to new ideas.

How about the biggest opportunities they may not be taking advantage of?

In-house groups have the opportunity to turn a potential liability – constantly working with the same company, brand, products and clients – into a powerful asset.

After all, when competing with agencies, in-house groups have the home-team advantage. No agency will ever know the brand, culture, products and people as well as in-house designers. But to capitalize on this insider advantage, in-house designers must embrace a beginner’s attitude.

Keep learning. Arrive every day wearing a new pair of glasses. Find out all there is to know about end-users. Plunge into the marketplace. Talk and travel with product managers and sales people. Understand the company’s financials. Know the industry inside and out.

When in-house designers blend deep-and-wide knowledge with creative inspiration, no agency can touch them. These knowledgeable, involved in-house team members are seen as partners and advisers, not order takers and firefighters. They provide strategic, creative and focused solutions, making them invaluable to internal clients.

Whenever creative people quit expanding, they become expendable. But when in-house designers keep expanding knowledge and solutions, they become indispensible to the organization.

If there is one piece of advice you’d give to an in-house designer, what would it be?

Don’t always wait around for approvals to go into creative action. Instead, be willing to take risks and surge ahead. As Seth Godin says: don’t wait for authority, assume responsibility.

Because of rigid corporate structures, in-house designers often wait to be given authority to move in new directions or take on out-of-ordinary projects. While waiting, these designers can become stagnant and frustrated.

Instead, assume responsibility. Take calculated risks. Here’s a quick example. I presented a series of creativity workshops at the headquarters of a Fortune 500 firm. The facilities were beautiful but sterile. After my sessions, the design director invited me to his group’s workspace. What a refreshing difference! It was colorful and exciting – an inviting departure from the rest of the building.

The company had strict rules against veering from decorating standards at the headquarters. But a couple of years ago, this design director decided to take risks and responsibility rather than wait around for approvals and authority. He began making small, incremental changes in his area – painting a wall over here, adding artwork over there. Before long, the space was transformed into an energetic, inspiring environment. And wouldn’t you know it — his area is now the first place the CEO and other executives head when touring visitors through the building.

What books, conferences, blogs and periodicals would you recommend to the innie community?

I speak at lots of conferences, and the HOW and inHOWse conferences are without doubt my favorites. You can reach out and touch the creative energy – and the real-world content is smart and abundant.

I’m also an enthusiastic advocate of resources like the inHOWse blog, InSource website, “The Corporate Creative,” “Orbiting the Giant Hairball” and the other usual suspects for in-house people – all wonderful and worthy.

But it’s important for designers to reach beyond these in-house resources – and beyond design resources – to earn legitimacy as a partner and adviser to internal clients.

Read Business Week, Harvard Business Review and Wall Street Journal to understand business and talk its language. Read trade magazines and industry blogs to obtain in-depth knowledge of the marketplace. Read publications read by end users and watch the TV shows they watch to better understand their interests and lifestyles.

Could you give us a hint about what you’ll be presenting at the InHOWse Conference?

My content is summed up in the title: “Selling Ideas to Internal Clients and Bosses.” Designers and other creative folks often believe good ideas sell themselves, but that rarely happens. In fact, the fresher and bolder the idea, the more it needs selling, because we’re asking people to let go of the status quo and assume risks.

In a recent inHOWse blog post, you referenced the IBM survey showing that 1500 CEOs ranked creativity as the number one leadership attribute. That’s great news. But unless designers are able to communicate and sell their creative concepts, management will never recognize the power of the ideas.

Because in-house creatives are usually pitching to familiar faces in familiar environments, they sometimes get a bit lax with presentation skills. My session will focus on ways in-house managers and their teams can polish idea-pitching skills and improve idea-selling ratios for themselves and their teams.

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 recently released by HOW Books. 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.

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Dyana Valentine, self described Speaker, Group Wrangler and Functional Muse, will be presenting at this year’s HOW and InHOWse conferences. Below are some of her insights and responses to the HOW Expert’s Corner queries.

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

I see a lot of folks enter a new project with the outcome in mind, but not the availability mindset/perspective to take it on and make it happen without big adjustments or after-the-decision drama.  I think this falls in the lack-of-consideration-for-time category. For most seasoned teams and creatives, there is certainly the experience to determine the impact of a project, but often the outcome (e.g., new revenue stream, creative inspiration, organizational goals) is the decision-maker, not the impact it will have on other workflow.

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

I’m on the board of two great non-profit organizations and volunteer at a local after school reading and writing program. I found that after years of being of a certain kind of service, to clients and students, I felt drawn to be of service to a larger effort or cause. I participated in fundraisers here and there, tithed my income in multiple directions, but it wasn’t satisfying. I wanted to be part of something, be more involved. So, when I was invited to join two working boards, I made the time and am so deeply fulfilled by the action. It feeds my creative service hunger!

What does Chicago bring to mind? What do you plan to do while you’re there?

I’m committing myself to soaking in the multiple Design Week conferences and with five speaking gigs during the week, I’m not sure I’ll get out of the hotel much. I am open to adventures and invitations, thoughJ. One of the biggest treasures of being in a group of self-selected, like-minded creative folks is that we create on the spot collaborations (including play time!). For SURE, I’ll be joining a morning walk crew every day of the conference, so keep your eye on the twitter feed for meeting times.

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

For HOW: Well, to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t talk my way out of a paper bag during the first few years of my business. I would stutter and ramble when someone asked me “What do you do?” I saw many of my clients do the same thing—it was painful to watch. I got so frustrated always changing what I said, trying to read other people’s minds (what would sound good to them? What might they want to pay me for?)—it was totally exhausting and rarely went well. I started to do mini workshops with clients and teams on how they talk their walk. It started out as a tutorial on presentation skills—but really, when it got down to it, everyone (and I mean every one of my clients) needed help translating what they were really good at into conversational language that they could use to introduce themselves, sell their services/products and to cultivate compelling marketing language. So, over three years and 500+ clients later, Pitch Perfect™ was born! See you there.

For InHOWse: I’m going to be helping inHOWies work the network at the conference this year. For years, I spoke at conferences and watched folks sit with people they knew, chose the same seats day after day and I thought: Look Around! You have the opportunity to expand your network, your mind and your creative practice—just by getting up and saying HI. Now, I realize not everyone is as social as I am, nor are they necessarily at a conference to “meet new people.” But I do believe that we are showing up for our careers and ourselves, and that we could all use a little playtime and creative collaboration. So, I’m creating some fun games (for the extro and introverts) to get folks interacting.

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The Speakers Speak is a series of insightful interviews with the 2011 InHOWse Conference presenters. This week, Emily Cohen, partner at Cohen-Miller Consulting, discusses the realities of corporate culture and high-level strategies for addressing those challenges.

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I know you’ve been consulting for a number of Fortune 50 companies. From your perspective, what are some of the biggest opportunities available to designers working in corporations today that they may not be taking advantage of?

In-house designers limit themselves by purely positioning themselves as designers and not design-thinkers or problem-solvers. They also contribute to the “us vs. them” divisive culture that often exists between in-house design teams and their clients (often marketing).

The biggest opportunity, then, is for designers working in-house to be more proactive and offer strategic solutions to solve their client’s business objectives by positioning themselves as design thinkers and partners, not as reactive in-house vendors. In-house designers often complain they are not thought of as value-added partners to their clients. Yet, many in-house designers expect that level of respect automatically, when, in actuality, they really need to earn it and prove it. That takes an equal mix of fortitude, confidence, great personality, business-savvy and true talent.

How about the biggest challenges?

The two primary challenges faced by most in-house designers are compressed schedules and unclear, multi-layered and subjective approvals. Yet these are symptoms of a much larger underlying problem, which is that in-house design teams need to focus on operations far more than they currently do. We often see creative teams that lack overarching operational roles, yet they have project or account managers who are simply fighting-fires and working to solve daily project-level issues. Most design teams need dedicated operational resources that focus on big-picture operational improvement areas such as technology, performance metrics, workflow/process management and resource forecasting. Without that operational attention – it’s really hard to overcome many inherent challenges faced by in-house teams, including unrealistic deadlines and layered approvals.

As a consultant what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in working with corporations?

Corporate politics. Most companies – large and small – often have unwieldy internal politics or stagnant cultures that are averse to change. Overcoming or working within engrained politics is the hardest but most important challenge consultants and in-house teams have to address and navigate in order to do their jobs effectively.

If there is one piece of advice you’d give to an in-house designer, what would it be?

Build strong internal relationships with clients and colleagues alike. Those in-house designers and creative teams that are truly successful have focused on building authentic, one-on-one mutually beneficial relationships with their clients as well as with many individuals at the executive level. If you are respected and trusted by a variety of internal stakeholders, you build a much-needed network of internal advocates. Advocates will forgive your mistakes and provide guidance and support when you or your department needs it.

What books, conferences, blogs and periodicals would you recommend to the innie community?

Well, your blog (of course), as well as IHAF and InSource – both organizations focused on the issues faced by in-house corporate creative managers.

Books I love include:

Designing Brand Identity by Alina Wheeler and, for change management strategies, Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. Of course there is the classic book Orbiting the Giant Hairball, A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie that I try to read yearly.

Could you give us a hint about what you’ll be presenting at the InHOWse Conference?

This event is for those managing and working with different generations that are bewildered by their colleagues’ behaviors. Millenials can’t relate to Baby Boomers who are willing work crazy hours and “don’t have a life”. Alternatively, Baby Boomers don’t trust the younger generation who seem “distracted by various social networks, unfocused and have unrealistic career expectations”. Attendees will learn how to identify generational challenges and leverage them for a more successful team.

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The Speakers Speak is a series of insightful interviews with the 2011 InHOWse Conference presenters. Last week Jim Woods talked about how to best position an in-house team. In this post Jackie Schaffer, Vice President and General Manager of Cella, looks at how individual in-house designers can set themselves up for success in their companies.

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I know you’ve been consulting for a number of companies. From your perspective, what are some of the biggest opportunities available to designers working in corporations today that they may not be taking advantage of?

We typically work with the leadership ranks of the creative organizations and based on the outcomes of our engagements, I would encourage more designers to be open with their managers about (1) their career ambitions and (2) challenges they encounter in their current roles. Regarding career ambitions, designers shouldn’t be overwhelmed to respond with their 10-year goal or with a specific role. Just make sure your manager knows what you enjoy most about your job and what you want to do more of and then ask their support in determining what a logical next step to work toward might be.  When discussing challenges with your managers, please don’t provide a list of problems. Proactively share what you’ve done to try and address the challenge and other ideas of you may have—sharing your thought process and demonstrating you are investing in helping solve the challenge will show your manager that you aren’t just complaining, but are truly investing in improving the department.

How about the biggest challenges?

This one is a tough one, because I don’t think most people want to hear the answer. Being an in-house designer means you provide a function for your company that is not the core competency of the company. For example, if you are a designer at a pharmaceutical company, you don’t research, manufacture, or sell the product. And while marketing strategy is extremely important to the success of these products and creative execution of that strategy is also important, it’s not the company’s core service. What this means is there are less opportunities for career advancement for those in the creative department versus someone in sales or product development. That doesn’t mean there isn’t opportunity, but creative team members need to recognize that sometimes the best career opportunities are outside of their current company, not always within in it. The other part about advancement that designers need to keep in mind is that to make more money you need to learn new skills and your business must have a need for those new skills to pay you for them.

Designers generally take one of two career paths: the “star track” or management. Let’s be honest, most designers don’t want anything to do with a management role—it’s counterintuitive to what makes them tick as a designer. The “star track” is often not well developed at most companies, but designers can partner with their managers to develop one. This track should provide a career path for rock-star individual contributors. But to be clear, it’s not just about being good at your job. It’s about being an innovator and consistently upgrading of your skill set.

As a consultant what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in working with corporations?

For one reason or another, some corporations are “hand-cuffed” to employees. This presents itself in a few different ways:

  • For some corporations it’s extremely difficult to dismiss employees even when poor performance exists
  • Employees may be compensated too highly which leads to creative teams with very low turnover which has benefits but can also lead to complacency and staleness—some level of turnover is healthy. Low turnover makes it difficult for leadership to bring in new skill sets as the business changes which can lead to the team not being able to deliver against new-in-kind requests, specifically in the emerging media categories. And while on the surface overcompensating staff sounds like a good thing for the staff, it also handcuffs them to a job they may no longer be satisfied by
  • Organizations have designed their org charts and services around individual’s skill sets instead of the organization’s needs which can lead to too heavy a reliance on single individuals

If there is one piece of advice you’d give to an in-house designer, what would it be?

Don’t expect that your manager or your organization will map out your career path for you—take ownership of this conversation…it’s your career! And try and remove titles from your goals, articulate your goals by identifying the tasks and responsibilities you want to master.

What books, conferences, blogs and periodicals would you recommend to the innie community?

While I think it’s very important to gain insight into how the in-house community operates and I do believe there are significant differences—I advise designers and leaders not to limit their education to only experiences dedicated to the in-house community. That said, there are some great resources specific to the “innie” community. For creative leaders and managers, I have to recommend the In-HOWse conference and blog, as well as Cella’s CreativeExecs blog and Beyond the Creative training. And for all in-house creative team members if the term “Design Thinking” is new to you, start reading and researching starting with Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind.”

Could you give us a hint about what you’ll be presenting at the InHOWse Conference?

Of course! I’ll be presenting on the three major financial models that in-house teams are structured under—allocation, chargeback and a hybrid approach. I’ll spend most the session discussing the key benefits of chargeback models and time tracking, as well as what creative leaders need to consider when they advocate for a chargeback model. Many creative leaders tend to think that becoming a chargeback department is a silver bullet to solving their challenges—so we’ll also discuss the drawbacks.

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The Speakers Speak is a series of insightful interviews with the 2011 InHOWse Conference presenters. This week, Jim Woods, design director at United Pet Group, offers some thoughts on repositioning your team as a strategic partner.

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I know you’ve worked as an in-house design team manager for a number of years. From your perspective, what are some of the biggest opportunities available to designers working in corporations today that they may not be taking advantage of?

Every corporation is looking for ways to cut spending and become more efficient. This is the perfect opportunity for in-house managers and designers to reinforce the value they provide their company. We have been able to expand our department and get some new equipment based on our explanation of our team has been saving the company money. Before it would have been acceptable to spend money on outside vendors and we would not have been able to get these resources.

How about the biggest challenges?

Spending and budget cuts can lead to opportunities, but they can also put a lot of in-house design teams in jeopardy.   No one is ever completely safe from budget cuts, but the more your management team understands what you do and your value, the less likely your team will have to suffer cuts.

Could you talk about some of your recent successes at United Pet Group?

We just launched a new packaging line look that is a fairly bold departure from our existing product lines.  The new product is getting a lot of buzz in the aquarium industry because of the package design. This success has allowed us to create support material that marketing would have killed for being too “edgy”. Seven years ago we would not have been given this opportunity. Being able to deliver on a key product launch with a design that has been so well received has been a huge win for us.

If there is one piece of advice you’d give to an in-house designer, what would it be?

Do not let day-to-day frustrations make you bitter. It will only get better if you make it so.

What books, conferences, blogs and periodicals would you recommend to the innie community?

I have been attending HOW conferences since 2005 and find them extremely informative and inspiring.  I follow as many blogs as I can, including InHOWse and Creative Execs. Locally we are members of our AdFed that holds monthly meetings and events with very interesting speakers. We subscribe to many design publications, but I don’t have enough money to subscribe to everything I feel is relevant. As a compromise we try to go to the bookstore once a month to sit down, relax, and pull everything off the shelf that we find inspiring. I also think it is important to follow Industry pubs and blogs that tie in with my company’s products. I feel as the creative director it is my job to not only be up to speed on the design industry, but on the aquarium industry as well.

Could you give us a hint about what you’ll be presenting at the InHOWse Conference?

The title of my presentation “From Firefighter to Strategic Partner” really sums it up. I plan on walking everyone through the process I used to turn my department from a group of production designers putting out fires, to being considered true strategic partners. In-house designers have unique ideas and in-depth knowledge of their company and its products. Getting the decision makers in your company to realize this and allow you to leverage it is a difficult task. I feel that the attendees will be able to use some of my tactics within their own departments that will allow them to showcase their talents.

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