Delivering on the promise


“Stuck and staid and ten people huddled round the mac giving feedback. Creatives lose interest and they become do-ers not challengers. How you make an internal agency prove it’s worth takes some effort”

Dave Edwards

Having an internal agency seems a no-brainer. Content has a more authentic voice, creative can be delivered swifter, accuracy is more easily achieved and budgets are more controllable. It enables entreprenuerialism and rapid growth, expansion into new markets and experimentation. What’s not to like? It all makes perfect sense.

The only problem is that those things that make perfect sense don’t always yield the most exciting work. Ensuring that happens is not rocket science, but equally it’s not easy either. Speak to any successful internal agency (as I have) and there are two things that need your attention. One I’d call the Art, of course, the other is Culture. Get these two right and you’ll prove the value of the investment.

The Art

The Art is to do with the creative thinking, idea generation, concepts, execution and craft – no surprises there. It also includes the practicalities of delivery, like improving processes to make sure everyone is getting what they need when they need it. It’s about skills and mentoring and training. And begins with recruiting the right people. And you can workshop most of this to raise the bar.

But that’s only the half of it. Underpinning this is the most important component. It is to inspire creative people with a creative vision that they believe in.

This is a vision for the brand, their role in it, the role of creative to deliver it and the creative vision for specific briefs they work on. Once you get this right everything else falls into place. Concepts tend to be stronger, ideas come more easily, crafting tends to be tighter. This is what drives creative people on. And is the instinct, intuition, intelligence that inspires (also known as the creative direction). Agencies thrive on it. Raising the creative bar, understanding what makes creative people tick.

Which is why brands are recruiting creative directors as fast as agencies are shedding them. But a creative director alone isn’t going to do it.

The Culture

Culture is to do with both the creatives themselves and the business at large.

For the Creatives it’s about building confidence, being proud of the work they do and knowing how to push back effectively when they may feel they’re at the bottom of a very vertical structure.  When line managers are telling them it’s ok to appropriate a civil rights movement to sell fizzy pop (that Pepsi campaign) or that the creative professions are really just hobbies people are lucky to be paid to do (.gov’s ill-conceived reskilling as a ‘cyber’ campaign), they need to be able to say no, and know their opinion counts. This comes back to their vision for creative’s role.

For the business it’s about respect and communication. A creative culture, or at the very least a culture that respects creative thinking, is the space creative people need if they are going to excel. All creative departments have a top and bottom line and all creative directors are very commercially aware, the only thing is how they deliver against that will be different to how other departments operate. When creative people are given the space to chase down ideas and explore dead-ends you’ll be rewarded with better solutions. And you won’t have 10 people huddled round the mac giving feedback.

But it doesn’t stop there.

When brands fully embrace the creative mindset, that’s when great things can happen

Creative thinkers can change the way companies operate. Think of AirBnB, think of Netflix, there are plenty of other examples. Product can be better designed, customers better treated, systems re-imagined because creative thinkers, from all walks, think differently.

And creative departments are full of people who think creatively. Well versed in ‘design thinking’. It’s what creative people do naturally. From time immemorial they’ve thought this way. ‘Design thinking’ is just the atomised way to explain the creative process. Empathising, understanding the problem, come up with lots of ideas, trying them out and adapting them is what creative people breath without thinking. It’s their natural state. Why wouldn’t you want them in the room thinking about how the business is changing? How it looks to customers, to partners, clients and staff? Coming up with left field solutions that sing your brand? And ensuring the alignment of internal/external experience?

The internal agency represents natural creative thinkers at the very heart of our businesses, sat next to marketing directors, product managers, HR, IT and customer service, not just limited to delivering executionally. Showing the internal agency that they can have a more ambitious role to play raises the game across the board.

Dave Edwards