Having an in-house creative services team has been viewed as a luxury to mid-market companies, or a burden to the enterprise. “Our agency does that…” Right, and you pay for it in money and time. The traditional procedure is to hire an outside agency, or contractor (usually Web first, print second) to handle your creative projects for you. But this model presents a number of challenges.

A Real Need for Real-Time

An in-house team provides you with immediate access, flexibility and an ability to react and optimize in real-time. Even minor changes to a Web site like a banner, a page update or a new offer take several days; as you contact your agency, pay out the wazoo and then wait for them to make the change. Take that time and cost, multiply it over a year, and you’ll end up with a number that you won’t like. You probably would have paid for 2 or 3 in-house people that would have actually gotten the work done on time with less supervision.

Instead of viewing creative resources as a cost-center, there are a number of reasons to change your view to see it as a profit-center, with a potentially high return on investment-if running correctly.

So how do you align your in-house resources to support your direct marketing initiatives? There are a few key areas that will optimize your creative team to become a valuable resource in your marketing programs.

1. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

  • Headcount: Invest your headcount by supporting programs that have a tangible impact on your business. It is essential to have someone-in the marketing team-that is managing your Web site. Probably a couple actually.
  • Budgets: There are a couple of ways to manage your money. Either to outsource everything to contractors and agencies, do it all in-house, or both. Print is much easier to outsource than Web, though banner production can be shipped out.

2. A Little Help for Your Friends

  • Make sure your objectives are aligned with the objectives of the demand team. Objectives should be something like: supporting campaigns and programs, support brand and awareness and general services.
  • Teach each member of your creative team demand principles. Guide their solutions to business and creative problems toward improving response either through copy, creative or a combination of the two.

3. Don’t Go Following the White Rabbit

  • Focus efforts on demand creative. Prioritize demand-creation projects (offers, landing pages, banners, etc.) over projects that yield lesser tangible results (like t-shirts, or mudflaps for your boss’s truck).
  • Avoid distractions. Its easy to get caught up on details, or pining over perfection, rather that getting solutions to market.

4. Nothing Wrong with Cookie Cutters

  • Templates are your friends. Banner, headers, guides, whitepapers, product overviews, landing page mark-up and even some email can be outsourced. Original concepts should be home-grown, but all production should be outsourced to allow your designers to move on to the next project.
Steve Gustavson
Steve Gustavson

Evan, A large part of the dexterity comes from 4+ years of building trust within our organization through a thoughtful and systematic approach to aligning creative with business objectives and challenges. Though I do greatly benefit from a progressive management team that realizes—and is pioneering—the online marketing world. In essence we are writing the book on how to do online marketing—since that is what we sell! I feel your pain though, and I can only imagine how much red tape is found in many large organizations. I’ll contact the manager of Omniture Digital, a out-sourcing team within our Consulting division that does creative design, testing and implementation for Omniture clients (in essence, an agency within Omniture that deals with nothing but these issues). He may have some good data points on this issue. As far as the talent issue—where are you located? I agree most design/creative in marketing is horrid, but I will attribute that more to a lack of understanding on part of the clients, and less about the available capabilities. If a business isn’t willing to invest ($$$) in the right resources, they’ll get subpar results. This is a perfect illustration of current issues, and the very reason I decided to write a blog about this theme. In future postings, I will go deeper into ‘creative metrics’ that will help brand marketers embrace metrics, and how that data can overpower even the most powerful personalities in the organization. My goal is to help marketers realize the need for in-sourcing, and how to attract, retain and reward top-notch creatives. Please continue to follow my postings if they are helpful, and I appreciate the dialog and thoughtful questions. My goal is the same as yours—to move our businesses and agencies away from moving at a pangeaic pace? ;)

Evan LaPointe
Evan LaPointe

Steve, I am so glad to hear that there are companies out there with the dexterity you enjoy. Unfortunately, my own experience couldn't contrast more. While I agree with you that agencies can move at a glacial pace, I've seen that most businesses move at a tectonic pace (the gauntlet has been thrown - you are hereby challenged to find a slower pace than both glacial and tectonic), particularly when it comes to creative and web design, which is where it couldn't be more inappropriate. The beauty of the web is that you have unlimited white-out, so why product development can take months is a mystery to me. I would be fascinated to hear what the responses would be if you were to ask your base of Test & Target clients whether product/page/widget/visual design happens faster for them internally or with their agency. While it's my prayer that the masses would lean your way, I fear that the internal politics that plague most large businesses may push the vote the opposite direction. This would be especially relevant to tie back to Test & Target where rapid development and deployment adds to the quality of your tests and allows for more refinement. It might also illuminate a handful of great agencies who can be quick and don't take gold bricks as payment. While I would totally agree with you in an ideal world, I've just found that: a) There seemingly just isn't enough talent to go around. If there's any doubt about that, look at middle-budget web designs or flip your television on and watch some ads for local businesses. Final Cut Pro only costs $1,300. There are no excuses for this plethora of abysmal production quality other than a lack of available talent. b) Too many people have opinions in large companies, they are regularly lousy ideas, and somehow these people are in a position of authority. c) I've always agreed with what you're saying here, but rarely have I seen it happen. So maybe it would be helpful to share the Omniture formula and a few tips for F500's to consider?

Steve Gustavson
Steve Gustavson

Hi Evan, thanks for the comment. Glad to see this blog is relevant. Here at Omniture we’ve built a very collaborative creative team. In many businesses/agencies I suspect creatives still take the ‘ivory tower’ approach where their ideas are gold, and no one can say otherwise—that isn’t how we operate. I take some pride in our unique organization, where instead of running the team like an agency, we run it like every member is a ‘Brand to Demand’ marketing manager, with a focus on either art direction, copy or Web/email. There is a place for agencies when it comes to big picture brand positioning, concepting a major launch, etc. But you can’t move at the speed we do without a great in-sourced team who is intimately familiar with online marketing principles. Everyone on my team spends a significant amount of their time working side-by-side with our demand generation team to carefully craft our campaigns, and test and optimize them in as real-time as possible. I am also a major proponent of in-sourcing—in fact I am betting my career here on it. I’ve never worked at an agency myself, but in my 4 years at Omniture I’ve managed a handful of agencies, and though some produce fantastic creative they move at glacial speeds. My internal team produces everything that you see for Omniture these days, with very minimal outside production resources—and we do everything from the offers you see in our ad placements, to the corporate Web site, to video, to events, and the corporate collateral system. We also have a great culture within Omniture, where the Art Director on my team is able to push the boundaries on creative ideas without fear of repercussions. He is more of an extrovert, whereas I am more of a classical typographer—its is a perfect ying/yang balance where we are able to explore new ideas for conveying tough concepts. Sure some things get left on the cutting-room floor, but we don’t discourage brainstorming new directions. As far as hiring good talent is concerned—Utah is seemingly a small pool, but we know a dozen top-notch people we’d bring on if we could. But be willing to pay top online marketer-level salaries to hire the best!

Evan LaPointe
Evan LaPointe

Steve, Bold and interesting post for the Omniture blog. It's nice to see the blog stepping out of its box. Something I'd be interested in hearing your take on: the general plusses and minuses of the internal vs. external approach, particularly as it pertains to UX and design resources. Internal resources have the benefit (although not frequently the habit) of working hand-in-hand with the analytics team, ensuring that usability/design isn't just guessing. On the other hand, outsourced / agency teams have the benefit of avoiding corporate culture and worrying about whether defending their designs will get them fired, which is not to be under-stressed. I feel like the upsides and downsides of both approaches should be transparently considered before taking a firm position that hiring internal resources to replace external is better or even beneficial, or the other way around. We shouldn't forget that the biggest creative contraceptive in the world is corporate politics. Omniture is lucky to have found one or two or five good creatives in Orem, but not every business is so fortunate. If your business isn't in SF, NYC, ATL, CHI, SJC, LA, or another populated, creative place, you can be hiring creative talent from an extremely small pool. Thanks for the new topic on the blog and I look forward to many more posts like this in the future!