Now more than ever, creative teams have a responsibility to be creative partners to clients, whether internal or external. In order to go from an order-taker to a strategic partner, creative teams need to show their value to their organizations and demonstrate how their work directly impacts the success of organizational objectives.
The Day 2 inMomentum Keynote was led by Ilise Benun, author, business coach, speaker, and founder of Marketing-Mentor.com, and Andy Brenits, President of InSource. In their fireside chat they spoke about how creative teams can go from order-takers to strategic partners in their business.
Ilise began the session by describing what she sees as the two types of creatives: Order takers, and strategic partners. Order takers have an “employee” mindset – they take a more passive role by doing what is asked of them without necessarily thinking about creative solutions to the problems their clients are presenting them with. Strategic partners, conversely, have more of an entrepreneurial mindset – they see themselves as having a partnership with their clients, and are constantly thinking about creative solutions. Ilise emphasized that it doesn’t matter who is actually signing your paychecks or whether you really are self-employed. This dichotomy is a mindset and any creative can choose which one they want to be.
Andy pointed out that the current environment is a perfect one to start implementing change in. With many creative teams needing to change their processes due to the COVID-19 pandemic anyway, this is a ready-made opportunity for creatives to begin changing how they relate to their organizations.
Why are creatives treated like order-takers? Ilise kicked this question off by pointing out that this relationship is a 2-way street – creative teams that function as order-takers do so because of their behavior, as much as because of their clients’ or stakeholders’ behavior.
Andy agreed that creative teams allow this dynamic to continue by simply accepting the jobs assigned to them without ever pushing back to make the process a more collaborative one.
What needs to change? Ilise asked Andy to go a little deeper on that issue – if creative teams are just as responsible as their stakeholders for being treated like order-takers, what are specific actions they can take to change that? Andy provided several actionable steps that any creative team can start today to begin moving towards a more strategic partnership:
- Be fearless about asking why – and keep asking until you get to the actual problem the client needs to solve.
- Label yourself as a “creative consultant” and task yourself with coming up with ideas that solve problems.
- Start having conversations at the beginning of the project. Don’t just accept a form, follow up that form with a conversation with the requester to have a kick-off or brainstorm meeting to figure out what the goal of the project really is.
- Don’t live in email or chat – jump on the phone to talk with clients in real-time.
How do you contribute to the bigger picture of the organization? Andy shared the unique insight that creative teams are often the key to bringing down siloes in an organization. Because they work with so many departments, they have insight into what is going on all across the organization.
“Instead of putting up walls, build alliances.”
When creative teams start asking questions and building relationships with their stakeholders, they are able to have a better understanding of how individual projects contribute to larger organizational goals. The creative team will begin to see a shift as the organization gains respect for them and their cross-departmental knowledge that they are able to leverage to work towards organizational goals.
How can you handle the client or stakeholder that isn’t used to creatives having a seat at the strategic table? Ilise observed that many stakeholders aren’t used to this level of active collaboration from a creative team, and may be resistant to it at first. Andy outlined a few ways creative teams can deal with stubborn stakeholders:
- Find an ally – a stakeholder that does appreciate a creative team as a strategic partner who can function as a sort of testimonial about what your team is able to do when stakeholders allow them to work as partners rather than order-takers. Over time this has a network effect across the whole organization.
- If you are a creative leader, be willing to be the politician. Interface with stubborn clients to understand their perspective and get them to buy into the new partnership. Take the extra time and be willing to hold the line on process. Don’t ask your designers to do this, let them focus on great design and being helpful to clients.
- Show your work. Ilise pointed out that when stakeholders view a final deliverable it can be hard for them to see all the work that went into it – that certain design decisions were made for a reason. To combat that, she suggests not just shooting over a deliverable for review but taking the time to present the first proof and walk the stakeholders through how your design decisions contribute to the goal of the project.
Ilise and Andy ended their session by each providing a final takeaway.
Ilise: No matter who you work for, treat your work like it is your own and show that your care.
Andy: Prove your creative worth by being creative and getting your client involved in your creativity.
Ilise Benun is an author, business coach, national speaker, the founder of Marketing-Mentor.com and Program Partner for HOW Design Live, the largest design conference in the U.S. She has been coaching designers and other creatives for more than 30 years and is the author of 7 books, including The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money, The Designer’s Guide to Marketing and Pricing and Stop Pushing Me Around: A Workplace Guide for the Timid, Shy and Less Assertive. She hosts 2 podcasts, The Marketing Mentor Podcast and the HOW Design Live Podcast as well as her own blog. Her online courses, including Command the Fees You Deserve, can be found through CreativeLive. Her newest project is her role as “Business Coach” for the Savannah College of Art & Design. Follow her @ilisebenun and get her Quick Tips at www.marketing-mentortips.com
Elise Hauser is a product and content marketer with a passion for telling brand stories. She has produced inMotionNow’s annual In-House Creative Management Report for 3 years, webinars, content sessions for major industry events reaching audiences of 1,000+, and of course, countless blog posts. When Elise isn’t writing about the marketing and creative industry at inMotionNow she is teaching economics and hanging out with her cat, Tucker, at her home in Raleigh, NC.