How to Get Agency Results From Your In-House Creative Team
If your organization is in need of advertising agency-level work, there are two ways to go: lead the search for an outside agency or establish your creative team as the go-to in-house agency.
If you decide to go the outside agency route, here is my suggestion: Become the manager of that relationship. Most account executives prefer one point-of-contact. Make sure in-house stakeholders understand your role from the outset.
As the go-to person, follow-up is all-important. Take the time to type a project brief based on the information below. Keep a copy of the project brief in the job folder. Send a follow-up email no later than 24 hours after every meeting.
If working with an outside agency is not feasible, consider positioning your team as the in-house agency of record for the project. Using the agency-like approach outlined here, demonstrate how your in-house team can handle the project as effectively as any outside agency. Your leadership is key.
First, ask some essential agency questions. What are their standard billing practices? What are their author alteration policies? What is their creative development process? Will they give you more than one design solution? How’s the chemistry?
Then, develop a project brief outlining the following:
1. What is the budget? Discussing the budget up front with your in-house stakeholders prevents you from wasting time, which ultimately saves money. It also helps you narrow down agencies that might be a good fit for you.
2. What are the project objectives? What is the purpose of the project, the primary objective and the secondary objective? Some examples: raising market awareness, educating existing customers, identifying potential donors and building organizational loyalty.
3. What approach fits the market positioning? Is this a hard sell, a soft sell, an informational appeal, basic education or promotional? This should be congruent with your organization’s market position.
4. Who is the target audience? What is the gender, age, socioeconomic strata, occupation and geographic concentration? Developing personas to represent audience segments may help. Are they knowledgeable about your organization and its programs? What motivates them to act?
5. What is the product or service, and what are its features? Make a list of specifications, components and other details. How is it delivered and how does the prospect pay for the service? How has it been marketed? How is it used in everyday application? What sets it apart in the marketplace?
6. What are the benefits to the customer? Make a list of the benefits. How will the customer benefit from using this service? Does it save time or money? If so, how much? Are there metrics to back this up?
7. What are the strongest benefits? Rank them. Your audience will walk away with one main idea. But I suggest you put forward two—one that is an emotional benefit and one that appeals to logic. What should the main takeaway be?
8. What support is there for your benefits? Get test data, user testimonials, focus group reports—proof-of-benefit claim? Accentuate the facts, not opinions (only specifics, not generalizations). Is there a customer-satisfaction initiative, an online help chat and a money-back guarantee?
9. What similar products or services are available? If there’s a competitive market, get names, specifications, prices, and good and bad features. Did a key competitor launch a new service for a similar product?
10. What creative mandates, considerations or limitations do you face? Some examples: budget, schedule, paper size, use of color, number of photographs or illustrations, corporate standards, and organizational likes/dislikes. Establish ownership for the components of the creative end-product. Discuss who will be responsible for the necessary components: copy, photography, illustration, printing, back-end coding and mailing list.
11. What are the distribution and promotion methods? Where will the ad run, the brochure be used, the mailer be sent, the banner be placed?
12. Who is in the approval loop? Don’t assume anything. Establish which stakeholders must review the project during the creative process. Ask them to be present for the creative presentations and the initial kick-off meeting for the project.
13. What is the time-frame? A detailed timeline and schedule should be a part of the project brief. Be realistic, and allow plenty of time for the internal review of each step in the creative process.
Guy Arceneaux is senior director of marketing and communication for Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, and has more than 35 years of experience in general advertising, internet marketing and direct-response advertising.
Guy has spent many years crafting effective direct-mail fundraising appeals for a wide array of nonprofits and in the financial services industry. He's won several awards in video for United Way of Central Maryland and Catholic Relief Services, and has taught a design and illlustration course at the University of Maryland.
He lives in Baltimore with his wife, their college-age daughter, a dog and two cats. He enjoys reading, playing guitar and painting.