The morning kicked off with a hilarious session as United Pet Group’s Creative Director, Jim Woods, and Director of Marketing, Sean Raines bantered about the formation of Skunkworks. The “rebel group” was borne out of a failing system – product development was controlled solely by R&D team, who was losing ground to competitors with better looking products. Jim saw they needed to inject some new ideas and asked not for permission to develop new products, but to change customer perception. With that green light given, he immediately added new product options. Customers loved it but R&D was pissed off.
High on the success of his first attempt and realizing that the more he could keep conversations non-traditional, the more he would get out of it, Jim created the first “Skunkworks” team. The first order of business, was to invite R&D in and make them allies, not obstacles. With a small but passionate team and a new brief that stopped setting United Pet Group up to make the same products that were failing, the Skunkworks team swung into action. They created novel products that customers loved so much, they pulled their own private labels off the shelves to make room.
Sean Raines saw the impact the Skunkworks team was making and stepped in to give them an official brand: Skunkworks team. This solidified their identity and made them more visible within the organization. That visibility helped to make joining the Skunkworks team something that employees aspired to. Ultimately, Jim’s goal is to make Skunkworks redundant, and make it United Pet Group’s culture, not a rebel group’s counterculture.
Next up was another duo, as Creative Directors Greg Sutter and Clinton Inselmann from State Farm discussed Increasing Influence In House. That increase is already underway – use of in-house agencies went from 42% in 2008 to 58% in 2013. Clinton’s team itself was originally an A/V team. As they grew to they added capabilities to do print, events, and whatever. The quick expansion led to a team that was fragmented and poorly organized. Clinton restructured and rallied around the team’s values, which aimed to make them the right brain of a left-brain company.
The group still had a big problem to solve. Account managers were “deer path-ing” – reacting to an incoming request by simply running it around to their favorite creatives to get it completed as quickly as possible, mindless of the requests’ urgency or importance. This was undermining the team’s ability to prioritize and wasted days as the account managers just tried to get work assigned. Morale was low, and managers were in the dark on what their team was actually working on.
Greg and Clinton decided the deep path-ing had to stop. They started by defining a workflow process, letting people who most felt the pain (the designers) help fix the process so they would feel ownership and needed to stick to it. Now account managers have new expectations: build relationships with clients and learn how to identify and solve communication challenges. And designers won’t start work on a project without an approved project brief. Additionally, the State Farm creative team has just implemented tier scoring, based on importance and urgency, to help determine the value of project requests and prioritize accordingly. And don’t forget, Clinton urged, that big opportunities can hide in small asks.
Ashleigh Axios took the stage next in a highly anticipated session on Designing for 1600 Penn in her role as Digital Creative Director at The White House. What’s it like to have America as a client? It’s continuous, fruitful, and exciting! Ashleigh urges creative teams to balance the serious with the funny and accept that mistakes will happen and can even be turned into opportunities. She shared how her team uses the concepts of Ethos (citing sources and using third party data), Pathos (using quotes and images), and Logos (using charts and a common thesis) to convey complex issues. And a diverse team makes it easier to ensure you’ve got all three types of thinking covered.
Echoing a recurring message of the show, Ashleigh told creative leaders that they need to create their own precedent. Instead of asking for things you’re confident will succeed, use your successes as leverage to ask for the harder things to get, like additional resources.
In the final session of the In-House Management Conference (whew!), The Fulcrum Agency’s Managing Partner, Jeni Herberger, told a crowded room about The Trifecta of Process Management. The first thing to understand, is that a process won’t work unless your team has the capabilities to execute that process – so keep it realistic. Know thyself, then evaluate processes for both your team’s business and production. Jeni cautioned strongly against picking any sort of project management tool without nailing down your processes. It’s like having a baby to save a marriage – a bad idea.
One of the obstacles you’ll face in fixing your process is communication, particularly between the creative team and the marketing team. Creatives’ communication tends to be human-centric storytelling while marketing’s communication style is more sales-driven, with research and analysis. But combine the two, and now you’ve got design thinking.
The hardest part for creative leaders is learning how to be proactive instead of reactive. Being proactive means reacting but with a plan in place. To be truly proactive, you need to take back your time (is that project request important, urgent, or perhaps neither?), fix your processes, and fix your communication. To fix your team’s communication, you need to understand the needs of stakeholders, the business goals of clients, and the wants of end users. And don’t forget to educate clients on how you do what you do.
Wow, HOW! That was a lot. Is your head full of new knowledge and ideas? Share them in the comments!