Location matters to every in-house creative services group. In a recent Cella/ InSource survey, almost 70% of responding in-house creative teams indicated they reported in to either the Marketing or Communications departments. The remaining groups reported to Shared Services, Sales, IT and other departments. Who your group reports to and where your group is physically located can create misconceptions within the corporation and your client base. For the 30% of creative leaders who report to organizations other than Marketing/Communications, this blog is for you.

As a creative leader, the challenges of reporting outside of Marketing/Communications will require you to:

  • Be a champion--continuously market your team's value
  • Be the ultimate coach--continuously raise the bar of team performance
  • Be a cheerleader--keep your team focused, energized and believing in themselves

Wrong Time, Wrong Place

Several years ago, my in-house creative services group reported to the VP of Finance and Administration of the largest business unit in the corporation. My team had the skills, talent and know-how to compete with any external agency. However, we were perceived as being a tactical, back-end production shop. Why? We were not viewed as a strategic partner, because we did not have a seat at the table of the corporation's formal marketing function.

Our challenge
It was important that we were perceived as part of the marketing team to:
* Be "brought in" early on projects for the team to do its best work
* Be known for the strategic design and marketing skills that our team offered

What we did to overcome
Through continual marketing, the addition of an account management model to ensure a strategic approach, and educating clients on achieving business results, our team was able to slowly shift the perception of tactical group to strategic partner.

A Square Peg in a Round Hole
After over a decade of reporting to an "outside" business unit, my group was then reorganized to report to the VP of Corporate Shared Services. This move did not help change anyone's perception of my team. With our new management's buy-in, we decided to make the move and adopt and implement an ad agency model and establish ourselves as an in-house ad agency

Again, moving to the ad agency model alone was not the silver bullet--we needed to continue to "up our game" and continuously improve our talent quality. We brought in talent from design firms and ad agencies, continued to market our services and won industry marketing/communications awards. Yet, perceptions did not change. Why? Because, the Shared Services organization was focused on HR and Accounts Payable and Call Center transaction-based functions. Our creative function did not align with the rest of that organization.

Our challenge
To educate transaction-minded and back-end focused management on the value of Creative Services

What we did to overcome
Prepared a briefing/overview for our organization's executive leadership and the CFO on offerings, clients served, track record, etc.; reviewed monthly budgets with an educational perspective; and solicited management contribution to marketing, open house activities, and in-house rate adjustments for the Creative Services group.

Elephants Never Forget
Finally, after six years of reporting to Shared Services, a new CMO was hired. Within a week of his hire, I set up a meeting to "sell" the value of my team. He instantly recognized our value. Within two months, our team was reorganized and became part of the newly established Corporate Sales and Marketing organization. Now I was reporting to the CMO who was responsible for marketing, communications and corporate branding.

The CMO immediately gave us a seat at the marketing table. We learned first-hand the strategic direction for the company and where we could contribute and add value. Knowing this first-hand information also enabled us to better plan and save the corporation money.

We were now sitting with some of our most critical and vocal skeptics, who for nearly two decades, perceived my organization as a tactical back-end production shop. Ironically, it was more difficult for them to change their long-held perceptions (which they never did) of having us sitting at the same table with them. As for me and my team, we felt vindicated because we had been preparing for this opportunity for almost two decades--ready to step up to the plate, prove our value and make a positive contribution.

Our challenge
Change the perceptions of our new colleagues have of my organization; being accepted into the new marketing team as a viable member

What we did to overcome
Reached out to colleagues for their annual departmental milestones to provide services; contributed to the Global Marketing and Sales internal wiki; contributed design expertise and editorial knowledge to the corporate re-branding initiative

Out-of-Sight, Out-of-Mind
Not only was our reporting location not in over favor, our physical location was also detrimental to our success. For more than five years, my team was located in the basement next to the print shop. Only a small percentage of employees knew we were down there.

Our challenge
Beat our location challenge by advertising our services to get work and "use "word-of-mouth" to tell everyone about us

What we did to overcome
We developed a mission statement that defined the vision, purpose and values of our department. And, we designed and distributed a brochure that featured our best work.

Creme de la Creme
When finally given an opportunity to move from the basement, I jumped at the chance. We were moved to a perfect location co-located with our client base. This move gave us the perfect opportunity to reinvent ourselves. This move dramatically changed perceptions. No longer known as "cellar dwellers"...we were reborn. Clients loved coming into our space to drink in the creative energy my team generated. Our workload tripled in the first three years in this location.

Our challenge
Effectively manage an increasing workload while maintaining consistent high quality

What we did to overcome
We developed and implemented new processes and procedures to ensure on-target, on-budget results. And we staffed up with exceptional talent, for both full-time and contingent labor

No One's Knocking on The Isolation Ward
Unfortunately our new location was not sacred and as the corporation grew, we were moved to another building, a 10-minute walk from our client base. No longer did we see our clients on a daily basis, therefore we had to be diligent about routinely going to see our clients, because they were no longer coming to us.

Our challenge
Maintain visibility with our client base

What we did to overcome
Stepped up our internal marketing and...

  • Developed a website and included information such as awards won, new service offerings and industry articles about branding and the benefit and value of having and using an in-house creative services organization on the organization's Internal Portal
  • Sent out email blasts announcing awards, new hires, etc.
  • Put banner stands in the lobby of the main building
  • Had Account Managers make daily/weekly visits to their clients to overcome the physical distance

Not the Final Word
While the design and production function was moved to remote building, the other Corporate Sales and Marketing team members were still at the main building with our clients. And while it was unfortunate our physical location was not with our clients or our colleagues, at least my organization was situated in the proper department. But unfortunately that didn't last long either. When executive leadership made changes "at the top," we were moved to Corporate Administrative Services. The reason for the move was described by leadership as the "best value" for our organization.

I wish this story had a happy ending of our group being situated in the best-case scenario--both our reporting structure and our physical location. But what's important is that we seized opportunities when they arose and continually strived to better ourselves and our service offerings. Whatever your situation, keep doing credible work that makes a positive impact on your organization and continue to market your value in hope that perceptions will shift.