My role in the agency is more of a hybrid compared to others in similar positions, in that I go back and forth between being a Creative Director (CD) and an Account Executive (AE). But that doesn’t mean one job is more important than the other or that I prioritize client communication over creative or vice versa. It’s just that when your agency doesn’t have 100+ employees to lean on, you start to wear multiple hats in order to support objectives.
Luckily in my case, these hats (CD & AE) are relatively similar in terms of what I need to know and the types of things I need to pass along to my team. To avoid muddying the waters, I’ll keep the focus on my responsibilities as a Creative Director – both to my internal team and my outsource partners.
And this is how I, B.G., keep team members moving in the same direction.
It’s not always possible for teams to hire a full-time, dedicated Traffic Manager. Sometimes the budget isn’t there, so you do your best to manage this. If business is good, this should be your hardest task to get right. That’s why my team and I lean on programs like MarComHQ, Asana, and BugHerd to make the burden of jugging tasks more bearable. These tools are especially useful when you’re coordinating projects across the globe. They help keep everyone on the same page and schedule.
The Best Laid Plans…
From my experience working with different personalities (both clients and team members), most hang-ups and roadblocks come from internal bias you might not even know you’re experiencing – or projecting. I call this my mind’s eye. Basically, it’s my own way of looking at things that dictates many decisions that can result in me relying on practices that worked in the past. This is where the best-laid plans can come undone. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean the “old school” ways are ineffective or that you need to move away from them. It just means that Creative Directors need to recognize when to push back and when to push forward. If a breath of fresh air is required to deliver on the client’s needs, then sometimes you go for it. Other times, you let your team know, from experience, what the client is going to prompt you for in order to avoid awkward conversations.
The Creative Brief
As much as the creative brief is helpful, they often lack what your team really needs to know. It’s typically a lot of high-level information that doesn’t necessarily tell you what the client is actually looking for. I find it’s my job to figure that out, then pass on relevant information to my team. And like I’m always saying to them, “The client came to us for answers, because they’re not sure what they need. Therefore, it’s our job to put new ideas on the table.” Like your clients, make sure to treat your outsource partners like they’re a new employee joining the company. After all, they are. They’ll need the same onboarding and team building you’d employ to a new hire. Depending on the partner, you may need to level up the amount of communication between parties to be successful.
Success is a Five-letter Word
As the CD, a lot of my responsibility has to do with making sure I’m working with people I can trust. Because at the end of the day, building a team of individuals with like-minded goals and solid work ethos’ isn’t about a lack of control. It’s about the capacity to let go of ownership. It’s about coordinating a collection of skillsets, expertise, and personalities that can take a project from concept to completion. Ask anyone on your team and they’ll tell you that too much herding or micromanaging is detrimental to a project. Because, over anything, this creates uncertainty in one’s own skillsets and causes a lot of second-guessing because there’s no inherent trust in one’s own output. If you don’t trust your team, they’ll manage every project to a specific outcome instead of the true purpose/possibilities it might have allowed for.
Outside the Box
As you’ve probably seen, a lot of marketing and digital production happens in a bubble. We can be very insular and rely only on the people we’ve always worked with to get projects done. But, by bringing people in from the outside, as is the case with outsourcing teams, we get new perspectives. You’ll also get to learn how other professionals work, how fresh creative comes to life, and which types of outlooks you might have missed along the way – cultural, regional, or otherwise.
3 Quick Tips for Making the Most Out of Your Outsourcing:
- Document as much as possible/practical.
- It’s amazing how many projects can be held up because of missed video call interpretations or lack of context over email/messaging apps.
- Give people the opportunity to do what they do well.
- By not forcing people to (always) work outside their comfort zones, they can further excel and choose challenges they’re passionate about. This doesn’t mean you should never challenge them, but you did hire them for a reason. Plus, if they’re allowed to focus on their core competencies, projects get done a lot quicker.
- Build out projects you used to avoid.
- Because there are more skillsets under your “roof”, if a partner puts an opportunity on the table, instead of saying no, you can now capture that business. As you do more of those project types, figure out if it’s something you can add to your core services. Then, either incorporate it into your business or continue to outsource it.
And a Truck Ton of Patience
Look, my team is going to get frustrated. They’re going to want to vent. I get that. I want to vent, too, because it’s human nature. But as the Creative Director, it’s my responsibility to listen. I try to make time to meet one-on-one with my team so they can get their frustrations out into the open. And sometimes, that’s all they need. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I don’t take their complaints seriously or that it’s in one ear and out the other. If something comes up – maybe it’s a tough client that I can’t necessarily control – I’ll find ways to release the pressure valve, for lack of a better analogy. If there’s something I can do, you bet I’m going to do my best to make it right. It’s not just what my team expects, it’s what I expect of myself. At the end of the day, if your team doesn’t believe you’ll go to bat for them, then there goes the trust you worked so hard to build. Everyone wants to know their efforts don’t exist in a vacuum and that someone will advocate for the things they put out into the world. As CD, giving every team member a platform to excel is all in a day’s (or long weekend’s) work. Sometimes it just takes a bit more communication and trust to get the job done.