Excerpt: Jumping in from the Outside

AIGA Houston’s In-House Chair, Heather Loftiss, published an article recently on AIGA National’s blog as a part of AIGA’s In-House Initiative. Brought to you here is an excerpt from that article.

My experience as an in-house creative has recently taken hold again. For eight years, I ran Water Design Studio with my husband before abandoning him for a cushy corporate job (HA!) in 2010. The studio still exists, and he leads it now. I’m currently the in-house art director for Reliant, a major electricity provider in Texas and the Northeast.

Having worked on both sides of the design fence—in-house and in agencies—I’ve had the unique opportunity to see where each has advantages, faces challenges and benefits the client. Here are my top takeaways.

Distance conjures respect

When you own a company, it comes with a certain amount of prestige. People go into the relationship with the assumption that you are an established expert. When you work for an in-house group, that assumption is not part of the equation. It’s ironic, because in-house creatives build an enormous amount of expertise not only on design but also on the brand and company. They understand and drive how the company communicates, and they do it as well as, if not better than, outside agencies. But it’s the agencies that get more respect.

Costs create useful boundaries

With an outside agency, clients have an understanding of how much money and time they are spending—because they literally have to pay for it. With an in-house group that doesn’t bill back to the departments they work with, the clients don’t know what they’re investing because they never see the costs. Often this means requirements are not properly captured at the beginning of the project, which in turn translates into more rounds of edits and longer projects. As my friend David Baker, a creative services consultant, once said: “Money is the currency of respect.”

Clients don’t always know where the experts are

Agencies also tend to get the bigger, sexier, more time-consuming projects. Often the excuse for this is that in-house groups (generally) have faster turnaround times and must be kept available for daily tasks as well as any last minute projects. While that may be true, I think that bias also plays a part: There is a belief that agencies are filled with experts only and in-house creatives are less qualified.

My experience in both the agency world and the in-house world has shown me that this last assumption is simply false. The larger the agency, the more likely you are to have a junior team put on your project. The creatives I’ve worked with in-house tend to be seasoned professionals looking for more stability and better hours after starting families or simply after living in the crazy all-hours-of-the-day-or-night agency world. They also appreciate the opportunity to be closer to the products the company delivers and to the business itself. In-house groups often suffer from a perception problem that has to be acknowledged and mitigated if they are going to compete against agencies for the “good” work.

Continue reading this article.

By Nurit Shell
Published March 11, 2012
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