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So you want to start or join a creative agency and be part of a creative team - congratulations!
You may already have what it takes to be a successful CEO, Resource Manager, Project Manager, Account Executive, Creative/Art Director, designer, copywriter, or photographer. But, if you don’t look beyond your work history, education, talent, or skills into what could contribute to a team’s success then there won’t be much personal growth involved. You might as well freelance so you can focus solely on the client without the burden of a team - plus the learning experience that goes with it.
While creativity, of course, is the lifeblood of a creative agency. Too often, disagreements arise among team members and projects are shelved, or worse, disappointed clients end up frustrated with the agency. Many successful agencies have a system in place to manage both their clients and their teams.
These characteristics help foster an environment that’s both conducive to creativity and becoming commercially successful.
A common, clearly-defined philosophy and approach
It’s always good to keep your eyes on the prize, but getting there requires a clearly defined team philosophy. Do you want to come up with “handcrafted” fully-functioning websites for your clients? Are you aiming for successful commercials and ads that would still look good in a more art gallery-like realm? Is your agency out to reap awards? Are you going to follow the good/cheap/fast diagram to manage client expectations?
While making the deadline and getting client approval (and referrals) are always great incentives, it’s also an important initial step to define your unique approach with each client so that you’re all on the same page about process and results. Write a great copy of your agency’s philosophy and have your team know it by heart so that it becomes everyone’s guiding principle for every project (also, having it in writing can pave the way for a good agency name - but more on this later).
Leadership that fosters creative thinking
In most companies, it is expected that the CEO has an impressive business degree to handle the entrepreneurship side of things and other client-related matters. However, a good leader is also familiar with his or her team’s creative process and doesn’t just sit in the background making executive decisions.
While it’s ideal that the CEO also has a creative background, it isn’t really a must. What’s more important is that a creative agency’s leader encourages and fosters creative thinking while respecting the team’s process. A good CEO is also approachable and not intimidating. Observing hierarchy in an agency goes with the territory, but it’s good practice to keep your office and communication lines open to new ideas and feedback from anyone on the team. Remember, inspiration can strike at any time when it comes to creative people.
A finance/resource team that values creativity
The main job of an agency’s finance officer is to balance the books, sign the checks, and make sure projects stay within budget. But too often, conflicts arise between the creatives and the finance team because of questions like “how many hours have you spent on this project?”, “is this tool/equipment upgrade necessary?”, etc.
Creatives can’t always quantify their output in the same manner regular office-goers do; that is, by punching in their time and logging hours on a daily basis. They require updated tools and equipment that meet the unique needs of a creative project. A good finance officer recognizes these needs, and regularly sits down with the Creative Director and the team to come up with a reasonable and flexible budget per project that doesn’t hamper the creative process, while staying within the agency’s financial parameters. Investing in expense forecasting/analysis software is also a good idea so that the finance team can stay on top of things without disrupting creativity.
A project manager who brings out the best in a team of diverse personalities and skills
A great project manager practices a hands-on approach with the team. The best way to understand the process and create a system from it is to go through it yourself, or at least see it from their perspective. Again, a creative background is not necessary in project management, but working closely with the Art Director will make the project go smoothly with less problems.
For instance, if the client is being unreasonable with revisions and expectations, it’s the Project Manager’s job to reason with him or her while making sure the team is meeting deadlines and working towards the end goal. Using a dependable project management software like Workamajig will ensure that scope creep doesn’t happen, and that the team stays on track with their deadlines and expected output.
In many creative industries, there is such a thing as “emotional management”. This involves balancing emotion and logic when it comes to decision making.
A successful creative agency’s project manager recognizes when someone on their team needs a break or is on a creative roll, and knows how to play up to each team member’s strength. Different personalities and skill levels make up a creative team - it’s counterproductive to force the same expectation from everyone at the same time, all the time.
Creatives who are professional
So far, what’s been consistently mentioned in this article is that even the higher-ups of an agency have to work with the creatives in any capacity that they could. That doesn’t mean that the creative team members like copywriters, designers, photographers, and directors can act any way they want to without regard for deadlines, budget, and circumstances. It is an agency, after all. There could be brilliant ideas put forth during brainstorming sessions, but if they don’t meet the agency’s philosophy and core values, or they aren’t a good fit with the client’s needs, a creative person should be willing to compromise their vision for what works best for the project.
In addition, work hours for creatives may not be as structured as those of more traditional company set-ups, but tardiness, constant absences, and other unprofessional acts must be avoided.
A team that practices work/life balance
Putting in overtime hours especially when a deadline looms near is par for the course, especially in a creative field. However, making a habit of putting in more than 8 hours a day on a project can take its toll on any individual, and on the entire team in turn. It doesn’t help productivity-wise, but also compromises mental and physical health. Long hours do not necessarily result in successful projects, but working smart and taking time to rest often yield positive results.
Effective creative teams recognize the need for mental health days, taking a break after a long drawn-out project, and practicing mindfulness at all times. If something isn’t working out in the process, speaking to the Creative Director or Project Manager should help.
An agency name with good and descriptive recall
For the longest time, the formula was to have the founder’s surname in the agency name, and if there were any senior partners, the name evolved into a series of family names. This antiquated practice not only results in the most unmemorable agency names possible, but it’s also pretty boring. Young creative geniuses with fresh ideas will not likely have their names splashed alongside more established creative directors - but that doesn’t make their contribution to the agency any lesser.
What better way to advertise what you do and how good you are at doing it than by having potential clients see it right away via your agency’s name? Today we see an influx of descriptive names that reflect the mood, energy, and vision of the people behind them without the necessity of name-dropping. They take inspiration from the color spectrum, physics terms, the table of elements, geometry, animals, weather conditions - even food! Basically, names that offer a general view of what you can expect the creative agency to churn out.
Choose a great team and your agency will go far!