Internal creative departments get a bit of a bad rap. They’re not all populated by burnt-out, ex-agency staffers looking for a quiet life. Mostly, your typical in-house agency team is full of hard-working designers, copywriters and digital staff doing their utmost to get high-quality marketing work out into the market.
In fact, with enterprise marketing teams looking to bring an increasingly diverse range of creative services in-house, and tech brands and start-ups establishing in-house agencies relatively early in their lifecycle, internal creative departments have come a long way from the LinkedIn ads and sales collateral that might once have dominated their working day.
More than 2 in every 3 marketing teams have some kind of internal creative resource – a figure that has grown rapidly over the past decade. And in enterprise marketing teams, the creative department can grow into a fairly large team.
But marketing teams often remain reluctant to brief complicated projects into their in-house agency or internal design studio, for a variety of reasons – from capability and skills limitations, to concerns about creative standards.
And it’s a rare beast, the in-house agency that can handle every project. Most marketing teams with an in-house creative agency will adopt a hybrid model that involves some external agencies working on brand, advertising, video production or public relations, for instance.
But if your marketing team is lucky enough to have an in-house agency or creative department, it’s critical to ensure you’re getting the best work from them. Here are 7 ways to ensure you get a better standard of work from your internal creative agency.
1. Allow adequate time
Think you’re the only marketer or sales operative to make a sneaky request today to the design team for a quick piece of sales collateral? Should only take them 20 minutes, right? After all, you’ve written most of the copy, and they can re-use an image from the corporate website.
Wrong. Ad-hoc requests tend to clog up your creative team’s calendar with small, time-consuming and ultimately invisible jobs that may or may not be aligned to your company’s overarching business objectives. And once received, they need to be evaluated alongside everything else the team is working on, which takes time in itself.
Plan ahead and allow your creative department enough time to work on your projects, big and small, and you’ll not only get a better response from the creatives in question, you’ll go up in their estimation for respecting them enough to give them time to do the job well.
2. Brief carefully
More often than not, marketing requests take the form of an off-the-cuff email or message, or rapid-fire verbal instructions barked out in a work-in-progress meeting. But your creative teams need much more than that to get the job done right the first time.
Have you included the basics? Is the work aligned to the business’s core strategic objectives? If you’re not supplying things like the reason for the request, what it needs to achieve, due dates, specifications, who will approve it, when and where it will launch, relevant competitor information and other crucial details, you could be shooting yourself in the foot.
Ensure you have at least a basic briefing template that can accommodate your most common types of creative request – or that can be customised to suit your needs.
And include instructions on how to fill it out so that stakeholders outside marketing – such as product or human resources – learn what is required.
That will ensure your in-house agency understands what is required of them, as well as ensuring they spend their time actually doing the work rather than coming back to you for more information, blowing out your deadlines with back-and-forth exchanges that could have been avoided.
3. Brand guidelines
Do you have established brand guidelines that give your creative department clear parameters for creative treatments that accurately reflect your brand?
Brand guidelines should go a long way beyond official colours, how to present your logo and specifying the fonts you should use. They should include the brand’s mission statement, its values, personality, visual guidelines such as treatment of photography and iconography, and other elements.
And if your marketing team is located in a number of different offices or geographic territories, or you conduct a lot of local area marketing, these rules can and should be enshrined using brand automation technology.
Above all, make sure your brand guidelines are centrally available, widely distributed, kept up-to-date, and well understood by creative, marketing and related team members.
On top of that, maintain a library of your current marketing work, so it’s easy for your in-house agency staff to check their work is consistent with the brand experience you should be delivering.
4. Manage and prioritise requests
A well-understood process for managing marketing requests, and prioritising, completing and distributing work, is essential to a well-run creative department or design studio.
This should include a way to:
- Accept, log, prioritise and monitor marketing requests,
- Assign jobs and share and monitor work,
- Receive and customise briefs,
- Record and communicate amendments, mark-ups and approvals so there’s one central record of a job’s progress, and
- Ingest marketing assets so they’re easy to find and re-use
A marketing operations and productivity platform such as Simple will help with all of these elements.
Otherwise your creative department team members risk becoming de facto traffic managers, or victims of disorganised team members, instead of creators of great work.
5. Track and communicate best practice
A common criticism of in-house creative teams is that they become so entrenched in the minutiae of your internal company workings that they forget to stay abreast of the broader picture.
Ensure your team stays up-to-date with industry best practice – such as by keeping an eye on industry leaders, award winners or newsmakers – and you’ll get better creative results.
You may need to supply these examples yourself. Ideally, your creative department will have more formal ways to stay in touch with industry best practice – such as attending industry events or hosting inspiring speakers.
Either way, your creative teams need to get the measure of great marketing work in order to match or exceed it.
6. Provide strategic insights
Do you have access to your own data, customer feedback, commissioned research or even public data that can provide an insight into how to best motivate your target audience to do what you want them to do? Mine that information source and funnel it back to your in-house agency when you brief in a project.
That’s an advantage a lot of internal creative departments don’t get in the course of their regular work – and it makes it much easier for them to generate break-through creative.
7. Test and learn
Testing is not just for digital ad headlines. Formulate a theory, find a way to test it, record the outcome and disseminate your learnings and you’ll ensure your in-house agency gets better at understanding the tactics, images and words that work best in your industry, in particular channels, and for key customer segments.
Having a centralised information source to record the outcomes and create playbooks that incorporate learnings from your past body of work is essential to ensuring your in-house creative department gets the benefit of those experiments, boosting creative standards and performance.