Agency strategy: democratizing creative teams

At Collabosphere 2012, we gathered five experts from different agencies to talk about agency-client trends and survival strategies. Here’s a condensed transcript from a portion of that discussion, focusing on the trend of democratizing creative teams and promoting cross-departmental collaboration.

The participants on our “Panel Island” were: Rachel DeFriend, Director of Technology Development at Javelin; Mona Heggem, Central Desktop Project Leader at CAHG; Brenda Miller, Project Manager at St. John & Partners;Anne Marie Schiller, Global Chief Client Operations at RAPP; and Jackie Stagg, Director of Operations at e-storm.

For more insights from these panelists, check out their discussions on dealing with new client demands, implementing Central Desktop and the 4 top challenges for the modern agency.


Do you think the trend of democratizing idea creation from creative teams out to the entire agency at large is productive?

BRENDA MILLER: We open it up to a lot of different divisions in our agency. Anybody can come up with a great idea – we can all do that – but how do you make that idea stick through all the different mediums we have to place it? We can come up with a great TV concept, but how does it work for radio or a digital ad at home?  Our creative teams have got to be the ones to take [these ideas] through the whole system.

MONA HEGGEM: Collaboration is in our culture. People are used to working together. When we custom configure our teams, we bring in the right talent with the right experts. If it was a digital project, we have the right UX/UI designers there to develop the creative ideas. It’s just inherent in our culture. We came up with something called spark sessions; we take people offsite for a week and we concentrate all of that creative effort with the right people on that team; [they] come up with ideas and they’re shown across the agency, they’re actually posted up on the wall and people vote on them… One of the things I’m trying to do in Central Desktop – I have a database now – is we have a profile on all of our staff. We have all of their strengths. We can run a report really quickly to see who’s available and can work with resource management to see if we can invite them in.

RACHEL DEFRIEND: I think creative is a department for a reason. We can all be creative and offer up awesome ideas and I think different perspectives help inspire a creative team and the creative process; I love to bombard them in their brainstorming sessions. But I think creative consistently has to deliver a solution and pull in the people they think they need to pull in, but opening it up to the entire agency as a whole, I think it could create some mediocrity. We all think that we’re artists or film producers because we have something up on YouTube, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually great art. That talent should be there for a reason: to consistently deliver on what we need every day.

ANNE MARIE SCHILLER: Not only do we democratize the ideation within the agency, but we’re shifting more to democratizing the development. Rapid prototyping. We even have a hothouse method – we call it Blender; you have 72 hours to go from idea to product. So a lot more of our shift is in the doing; the thinking is just as important, but not coupling the thinking and the doing.

BRENDA MILLER: We bring everybody in at the beginning of a brief, so everybody knows and understand the product, the strategy, the target, the vision. We have concept rooms where the ideas go up on the wall and people go through and add to it; social media experts will come through and say “Oh my gosh, that idea would be so fabulous with this.” By the end, when we are really starting to put it into buckets, all of those buckets come together because we have PR in there, we have media in there, we have everybody working together.


How do you promote cross-departmental collaboration?

ANNE MARIE SCHILLER: We have a couple reward structures. We have an annual team award. The company gets to vote – it used to be the Rising Star, like “Who’s the individual who’s coolest and we need to keep?” Now it’s migrated to a team award and it’s really recognizing team collaboration and who’s driving the client’s business forward. I think it’s a nice shift that the agency has done. In terms of process, we’re getting people together, cross-discipline, around the table in short amounts of time to think and do. That’s really helped us reimagine how we work.

MONA HEGGEM: We’re used to working that way. All of that goes back to our shared values and expectations. We have momentum moments – so if someone recognizes somebody else meeting one of those shared values and expectations, they can post a momentum moment on our intranet.  Whenever we do our timesheets, we see everybody who’s earned a momentum moment. It reinforces collaboration and reinforces our shared values.

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.