Archive for the ‘This Old In-house’ Category

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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Bruce, the “stick it in your eye” client facing IT guy, was polite enough when he told me that his department could not execute on my department’s request for more bandwidth. This, in spite of the fact that we were opening satellite studios in England, France, Germany and Spain and needed to be able to share files with them. And forget about the fact that it literally took an entire night to send press-ready files to our printers for time sensitive marketing pieces.

My IT colleague had a dozen different ways to say no – too expensive, not technically feasible, unfair favoritism over other groups, not sanctioned by management and on and on ad nauseum. Bruce was playing rope-a-dope with me and I was faltering in my resolve.

Fortunately, my bureaucracy battle-hardened boss gave me the perfect piece of advice – look into outsourcing the project. I dutifully did my homework and found a plethora of vendors who could economically and efficiently set our group up with point-to-point file transfer solutions.

I’ll never forget just how quickly old Bruce beat a path to my office door from across campus when he got my email giving him the heads up on my project. I couldn’t be serious, he whined. What about content security? Covered, I smugly responded. Cost? – Less than yours. Management approval? Our clients were already sending their managers emails praising my team’s can-do attitude.

Bruce folded when faced with the prospect of obsolescence and being outsourced. I had called his team’s bluff and they implemented the bandwidth initiative we requested thus benefitting our team and, more importantly, our company.

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I remember the first time I saw a timer pedestrian crossing signal. It was while I was on vacation with my family in Washington DC. We were getting ready to cross a particularly busy intersection where it was difficult to see oncoming traffic and I very much appreciated the specificity of how many seconds were available to make the trek across the highway with the my most precious cargo, my younger daughter, in tow.

While the stakes are considerably lower than my daughter’s well-being, that same specificity is critical to my success as an in-house designer and design team manager. Walk/Don’t Walk signals seemed to be good enough for intesection crossing safety until studies showcased the unacceptably high pedestrian accident rate requiring a more effective solution. Similarly, we may be patting ourselves on the back for getting a date for when a design project is due to our client, but with that general of a target, it’s still very likely we might get nailed by an oncoming Hummer.

It’s critical to not only get a day that a design is due, but a time of day, what the deliverable is and at what stage of development the deliverable needs to be. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a project due on, let’s say, a Tuesday and I planned my workload to allow me all day Tuesday to complete and deliver the project by end of day, only to have the client call me in a panic needing the design for a 10AM meeting. Another all to common scenario is one of my clients expecting the finished design to be handed off to them at a specified date when I assumed it was a comp that was required.

Getting a deadline that is more specific than ASAP may feel like a major coup but without more specificity than a date, there’s a very real chance that the signal will change to Don’t Walk while you’re smack dab in the middle of the highway.

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The above slide, taken from a DesignCast I’ll be presenting on April 7th, speaks to an all too common in-house affliction – being brand brainwashed. It’s so easy when living, eating and breathing your company’s brand to lose perspective.

  • Specifically, in-house designers can overestimate the power and impact of their company’s brands and either under or over design the branding elements on corporate materials.
  • Innies are also prone to making assumptions about who their brands’ audiences are. Demographics change and corporate creatives who have a deep history with their companies’ customers may be relying on outdated information and inaccurate guesses.
  • Everything looks better in a corporate conference room than in the world outside a company’s hallowed halls. It would be a big mistake to ignore that fact when creating branded materials that will have to fend for themselves in the real world.
  • In-house designers can invest a lot of themselves in the creation and nurturing of their branding elements. Like a parent with a child, they may become overprotective of their brand baby. Not necessarily the best mindset when having to keep a brand nimble and topical in today’s ever-changing marketplace.

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  • A marketing client paid a 5 figure fee for a repurposed web banner ad – not $10,000, not even $20,000 but $40,000 (it was static by the way)
  • Upon reviewing an agency contract, an in-house designer found that his company was being billed $80 per CD for burning CDs
  • In a preliminary audit of a company’s print spend, the design consultant conducting the audit discovered that the Finance department had no idea what the annual budget was, who the vendors were, if their projects were competitively bid, what their warehousing costs were and if outdated materials were being properly disposed of (putting the company at legal and regulatory risk)
  • The Marketing Services team of a prominent corporation negotiated a blended rate contract that allowed for administrative services rendered by their agency to be billed at over $80 an hour

While none of these examples have anything to do with providing design deliverables, they do speak to a tremendous opportunity for in-house teams to provide strategic value-added consulting to their companies. Most companies have no clue about how to partner effectively with their outside marketing services providers or manage the execution of marketing projects.

Many procurement departments have little to no experience with purchasing print, design, copywriting new media development or media buys. They don’t understand the terminology, let alone what reasonable costs should be. Internal clients often lack the experience and savvy to effectively direct their outside marketing services partners on the execution of creative, resulting in missed deadlines and exploded budgets.

This is all low-hanging fruit that, if addressed in a professional and productive manner, can validate the value in-house teams bring to their companies and, consequently, raise their stature in their organizations.

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It can be very difficult to get the time, money and resources needed for valuable training for an in-house department. We recently created a low-cost, low time intensive opportunity that was a halfway meeting of the minds between management and our team.

Called DG University, it’s a series of lunch and learn programs focused on design, design business topics and our industry which is greeting cards. It takes place during – you guessed it – our lunch break, with additional time added on beyond the normal break.

We’re tapping into many resources for the programming. I’m presenting some of the lectures I originally created for various conferences. Some members of our team are preparing presentations on topics on which they have expertise ranging from the apps we use to typography. We’re researching online videos relevant to design and our industry (we even found a comedy routine by Kevin James on greeting cards that offers excellent insights into our customers’ buying behavior). Time is also set aside after each presentation for discussion.

There’s compromise here both on the part of our team and management. Our designers can choose to spend their lunch in a conference room attending what are hopefully educational and inspiring presentations and management has “donated” some work time to the venture. (Our manager, actually, was so pleased with the proposal that she offered up dollars for speaker honorariums to allow us to secure presenters from outside our group.) In today’s hyper-budget conscious environment, I look at this as a win-win.

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In-house department managers often are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Non-design upper managers often assign them responsibilities without the needed authority to carry out those responsibilities. Reports possess expertise and skill sets that the managers don’t, making the managers feel inadequate to coach, mentor and manage those reports.

This segment will discuss a simple but effective approach on how managers can empower themselves to powerfully interact with the expert creatives whom they manage.


As adapted from a post on The 10 Minute Manager site:

  • Explain and agree to standards of performance for the job with your report
  • Expect your designers to consistently meet the agreed upon standards
  • Monitor performance against the established standards
  • Give focused specific feedback on performance – both the positive and less positive aspects
  • Identify areas of under performance and create a plan with your report to address those areas
  • Expect your designers to take on the designated actions to improve the identified areas of under performance

If your company has a formal performance review process fold the above suggestions into it. If there is no formal process, put one into place. The one-on-one reviews should ideally be held on a quarterly basis and certainly no less than twice a year. You should always take notes and follow up these conversations with an email detailing all important points discussed during the conversation.

Not only does this exercise help guide and self direct your reports – if handled correctly, it lets them know you care about them and their professional development.

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