Forget who’s leaving. How about who’s staying? How to evolve your agency creative department

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teamwork-meeting-collaboration-ss-1920There has been a lot of chatter about talent leaving the industry of advertising, particularly creative. In this recent article, we are reminded once again that employees are departing to join large technology companies such as Google or Facebook.

For many years, we’ve heard the same story about talent dilution and departure. Instead of focusing on who’s leaving and why, let’s focus on who’s staying and the solutions for keeping them. In this article, we’ll highlight opportunities to evolve your creative department with new ways of working and skill sets that will modernize agency output.

Transforming the craft of creative

Creative ideas drive advertising. Make no mistake. Getting to those ideas, the core craft of creative, has largely remained the same for decades.

Ideas, the best ones, are still very much what agencies sell. Yet how those ideas are distributed and shared with consumers has evolved more in the last five years than in the previous 25.

For those agencies that have waited to address the evolution of their creative departments, lack of innovation is apparent. We see it in the work and agency A-lists published each year. A few powerhouse agencies of the past decade are not even on the industry radar today.

Some agencies might have failed to invest in their creative departments’ understanding of new technologies: platforms, mobile, social, content and publishing. Those agencies value skills and processes that are now outdated, limiting their ability to keep pace with technology.

The evolutionary needs of creative practice at agencies aren’t new. New agency models launch monthly with a spin on how they will produce the best ideas (services or products), and brands rush to hire them.

There’s big money invested in getting close to creatively led startups, with multi-million-dollar budgets invested in sitting closer to entrepreneurs who have a new take on a very established practice.

New ways of working, including sprinting and prototyping, are now part of the everyday employee vernacular. Examples of creative department evolution include coaching, labs, hothouses and open hours to explore innovation beyond client demands.

Yet the majority of agencies find opposition to change — status quo is still making money — as some creative leaders are more comfortable with traditional processes.

It’s no surprise that while many of the big platforms, brands and media companies rush to build creative capabilities, ownership of creative as a practice is anyone’s game. Creative idea-making is distributed. Talent is a mashup. Roles are less defined.

Creative is no longer assigned to a department. Innovative teams are working collaboratively, openly and transparently — putting combinations together that are not dependent on a designated group of employees’ skill sets.

But how does an agency begin to evolve a creative department that is still working like it’s 1995? How do you break down established norms and start working in a different, more modern way? How do you begin to evolve the craft of creative at your workplace?

Lazy Susans are for condiments, not departments

The industry has long depended on the next big creative hire(s) — that one person or two — who will come in and save the day. No longer.

Now, the most interesting agencies look for talent outside of the usual places, in roles and within industries that are complementary or lateral to advertising and media.

Find talent that brings in different perspectives. If you can hire new types of talent and keep them engaged, they will make all the difference.

Lose titles, gain talent

Titles limit an agency’s ability to hire creative hybrids. They can restrict our potential to understand breadth of employee contribution.

If you work within an “existing structure” for creatives, you might overlook the misfit who could make all the difference. Title does not define capabilities.

Hire spies, not executives

Now we look to creatives to understand remixing, retooling and putting concepts together with different technology partners and platforms. Creatives are part conceptual thinkers, part mixologists.

Recombinatory creative thinking is critical, and it is producing big results for brands and agencies. So if you want to innovate within an existing creative department’s way of working, teach them to hunt, spy and remix.

Now, go out and evolve your creative department. Your agency’s existence might depend on it.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Allison Kent-Smith is founder and managing partner of smith & beta, a talent development and digital education company that curates custom learning programs for brands and agencies.

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