There is a reason that the word "creative" is usually included in the name of in-house agencies (we'll leave the discussion about including the word "services" for another day). Regardless of whether an in-house agency's value proposition includes ease of access, robust institutional knowledge or cost-effectiveness and speed to market, if the work is not creative and innovative, those other benefits are moot and the team will become not just irrelevant but more critically, an unnecessary expense for its host organization. Therefore, creative excellence is the foundation of an in-house agency's value proposition and thus focusing on the drivers of creativity and innovation should be a priority for in-house team leadership.

There are three best practices that creative teams must successfully address to achieve the holy grail of creativity and innovation. Two of the three are fairly obvious: (1) having talented staff to execute on projects and (2) establishing a robust account services team to support both the in-house agency's clients and the internal team by acting as strategic liaisons between the two groups. The third may seem counterintuitive, but it is absolutely critical to driving that capacity. It is operations.

Creative agency operational practices that include project-specific and general studio processes, procedures and guidelines are often viewed by the creative team members of an in-house agency as a distasteful impediment to establishing a creative culture. They mistakenly consider operations as unnecessary bureaucracy and an impediment to making the "magic" happen when they are designing, writing or developing marketing and communications deliverables.

In actuality, when properly implemented, process streamlines the creative process and eliminates collaborative roadblocks, confusion about tasks and unnecessary or redundant busy work that often distract creative team members from doing what they love--creating innovative, engaging and exciting work. The key to putting in place operational infrastructure that actually drives rather than stifles creative output is determining what processes, procedures and guidance allows for the creative team to focus on their tasks with the bare minimum of required effort and participation in operational process.

To achieve this balance between the right amount of operational investment by your group's creative staff and the resulting benefits to them and the agency, it's important to not only identify and implement only the most necessary operational mandates and practices, but to communicate them in a clear, comprehensible format that is easily accessible to the team.

With a few exceptions, it should be relatively easy to show your team (thus driving process adoption) how most of the processes associated with in-house agency operations will afford them more time to do what they love best...being creative and innovative within their areas of expertise.

Some of the practices that will specifically allow your staff to be more creative include:

  • handoff guidance between team members also called Operational Level Agreements
  • workflows and work instructions that define who engages in what tasks at what point in the creative process
  • how to name and store files so they are easily retrieved
  • file specs that define how documents should be set up so that multiple team members can easily pick up and work on project files
  • collaboration guidance that clarifies and eliminates confusion around the who, how and when of communication among agency staff especially pertaining to concept development, review responsibilities and creative authority

Extending operational infrastructure to include account services best practices further enhances creative output by affording your creative team clarity around project objectives and strategies, allowing for:

  • fluid, clear and objective communication
  • feedback and collaboration between clients and agency creatives
  • opportunities to effectively change course or evolve creative deliverables if needed

If operational infrastructure and associated processes, policies and guidance are not put in place resulting in inconsistent and chaotic internal and client collaboration there is no place, and more importantly no time, for your team to even engage in creative work because they will be too busy trying to manage the administrative and logistical aspects of just getting the work done. And this creativity-suck doesn't even take into account the impact of the distraction and frustration on the part of team members that accompanies lack of operational rigor and discipline.

Steve Jobs once famously said, "The people who are doing the work are the moving force behind the Macintosh. My job is to create a space for them, to clear out the rest of the organization and keep it at bay." That is exactly what well thought-out and implemented operational infrastructure provides a creative team...the space to be creative.