A common frustration for in-house creative teams is a misunderstanding of the work they do and the value they bring. Here are some of the reasons creative teams don’t always get the respect they deserve, and how to change that.
Ask Creative Directors for in-house agencies what their biggest challenge for keeping their teams motivated is, and 2 out of 3 will tell you it’s a lack of respect for the work creatives do across the organization.
This lack of respect stems from a lack of credibility, and contributes to many of the toughest challenges faced by in-house creative teams, such as unreasonable demands, client and stakeholders micromanaging, tactical rather than strategic direction and feedback, and unreasonable turn-around time requests. But what causes this lack of respect, and what can you do to gain your team the respect they deserve?
Lack of Understanding
There are many factors that play into the respect and credibility problem. The most common factor is lack of understanding. To many outside the Creative team, Creative seems fun, because, well, it is! It’s also extremely strategic, rewarding and complex work that requires technical training, advanced communication skills, and the ability to see beyond the Creative Brief. But to the untrained eye, the jobs of writing copy and art directing are sometimes reduced to “making something look pretty”. If I had a nickel for every time a client put that on a brief I’d be a very wealthy woman. There is a perception among the analytical marketing partners and management across organizations that Creative work is more play than actual work, and so sometimes creative work is not taken as seriously as it should be.
Another factor that comes into play is the lack of clarity on what the role of the reviewer actually is. Creative is GRAY and GRAY isn’t a comfortable place for highly analytical reviewers. Reviewing creative work is subjective with few hard and fast rules of what’s right and what’s wrong. Because of that, some reviewers think they need to give very specific feedback. “Make the logo bigger”, “I hate green”, “why is there so much white space?”…you’ve heard them all before. We need to find a way to educate our clients, stakeholders and reviewers on what we are are seeking as feedback.
Introverts v. Extroverts
Creative types tend to be somewhat introverted. We love creating but most of us don’t love presenting. Especially when we are pitching to strategists and analysts who are used to being objective, rather than subjective. There is an art to being a good creative presenter in today’s environment of collaborate work groups. You have to be confident without being pushy.
Tips for Success
Become an Analytical Creative
With the age of big data upon us, being more strategic with your creative is not just desirable, it’s required for reaching the growing demands of our advertising dollars. The more analytical your creative team can become, the more clout you’ll have with your marketing peers and stakeholders. That doesn’t mean you all have to become masters at grids and spreadsheets, it just means taking the time to use the data given to you to help build your campaigns, content and messaging. When you can point back to data to help present your creative, it gives it more credibility and helps the Creative team gain respect. That is just a sidebar benefit though, because the main benefit is that analytical creative drives improved results!
Master the Presentation
In order to get better at presenting, you have to practice. I signed one of my teams up for group Improv classes at a local theater. It was super fun, got us all used to being better listeners, and helped us respond to spontaneous questions. We also conducted cross training within our Marketing team so we could “walk in each other’s footsteps” a bit. Learning how to speak each other’s languages really helps create respect and build credibility. When it comes time to present the work, present rather than sell. Show that you heard what your clients asked for and show how you met their needs without giving up your creative expertise and leadership. It can be a tough road to navigate, especially if you don’t speak the same language. When Creatives use jargon like jpeg, tiff, sans serif, mp4, it’s the same as when marketers use jargon like ROI, SEO, CRM. Sometimes we just don’t understand what the other is saying. Also, provide context for the work by bringing a document, such as the Creative Brief for the project, that illustrates how you hit each of the key requirements, which leads to…
Provide Rules for Review
When presenting creative work for the client’s review, provide them with “rules” and structure. This works because that’s what they are used to. Don’t just show them the copy and/or art and say “what do you think?”. Instead, try presenting the work alongside the Creative Brief. Show them that you met their goals and objectives and tell them HOW you did that. Then ask them for the feedback you want. For one of my clients, I built a feedback form and we used if whenever we presented work to her. It provided her with guidance on how to give feedback, rather than just tactical direction. Instead of “make the logo bigger”, for example, we directed her to let us know if we used the correct version of the logo.
Find an Executive Advocate
Another tip for ramping up the respect among your marketing peers is to find an advocate who can promote the Creative team as experts in their field. It’s one thing for the Creative Director to promote their own team, but you achieve an entirely different result when the CMO does it. If you can gain the respect of an Executive Advocate, that person will “sell” your credibility across the organization. When your leadership believes in what you do and supports you, gaining the respect of your peers and stakeholders is much easier.
Communicate and Educate
The more your clients know about your process, the better they will understand your world. In one of my roles as Creative Director, I worked with my Senior VP of Marketing to formulate a sort of PR campaign across the company to help educate stakeholders and clients on the creative process. We put together a course outline and presented it to our internal marketing team as part of the internal coursework offered by our training division. It was called Getting Creative. We of course showed award winning TV spots, digital campaigns and our newly revised mobile site, but we also revealed the process behind getting the work done, explained the role of the Creative Brief, defined the roles of each team member and gave insight into the behind-the-scenes approval process that every single piece of creative work was put through. At the end of the session we broke into small groups and conducted a brainstorming exercise that gave each group an opportunity to come up with a TV campaign concept, pitch it to the larger group, and then we voted on the concept that was the “winner”. It really opened a lot of people’s eyes into just how complex the creative process can be, and how hard it is to get feedback, as well as give it. This became one of the most popular courses offered and always had a waiting list. We definitely noticed a difference in how clients who attended the class later interacted with the Creative team and the process. More respect, more understanding, more empathy and better communication.
It’s important for your Creative team to feel appreciated and respected not just for their own sake, but also for the credibility of the work. Understand where these misconceptions are coming from and try some simple tips to help close the gap with your stakeholders and marketing peers.
Learn more about how to Make 2018 the Year of the Data Driven Creative in our upcoming webinar!
About the author: Debbie Kennedy is former Head of Advertising Operations with CarMax, and is currently Creative Director for Capstone Production Group, and CEO of Write for You, a Digital Content and Creative Workflow Consulting Firm based in Durham, North Carolina. She’s been a power user and advocate of inMotionNow since 2014.