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Unique Hurdles for In-house Designers
by David C. Baker

Four, you have all sorts of little companies within the same department, yielding a chaos that only John Cage could sell. Your “account” people are generally running things, viewing the project managers as subservient to their needs, clamoring for work from the same shared pool and making promises without any regard for real capacity prediction. Do not let your “account” people run things! That’s like letting the foxes watch the hen house. Front line people are genetically wired to say yes, and a thoughtful, humming department needs project managers at the same level who can bring greater objectivity to the workflow.

Five, there is seldom a real currency to assign value to various requests that your department receives. About one-fourth of you have some sort of chargeback system, which leaves three-fourths of you with no means of filtering stupid requests. What to do? Other than the obvious choice of implementing a chargeback system, develop other forms of (black market) currency that can be used for the same purposes. For example, you might secretly assign a higher priority to clients who give you enough time, complete the project brief, ask for more strategic contributions, are nice to you and so on. This isn’t rocket science, folks. You will always have more demand than supply, and so there might as well be some method behind the prioritization.

Six, your client doesn’t appreciate you like you imagine they should. Again, this is your fault. You are taking your client for granted, subconsciously assuming that there is no need to market yourself because there is no need for traditional new business activity: You are already busy. But with that approach you are missing so many opportunities to help your client’s perception keep pace with reality. Offer classes on marketing, initiate yearly strategic planning so that you can participate without it happen­ing behind your back, select and synthesize trends that will affect the way they approach go-to-market strategies in their depart­ment, and always suggest newer, better, more efficient ways to accomplish their goals. Aren’t these the same things you’d do for your client if you were in an independent firm?

Seven, you have way too many clients, and only about one-third of them are qualified. I’ll illustrate by describing an unqualified client. They don’t know how long things take, they don’t know what value you can bring to the table, they don’t distinguish between the higher-level work you should be doing versus the lower-level work they should be sending somewhere else and so on. In an external agency, not only are you typically working with a higher percentage of qualified clients (still not high enough, by the way), but you are working with fewer of them because they demonstrate an appropriate respect by consolidating your contact points down to one or two people (who are more qualified, by the way). When I say that you have too many clients, consider this: The most effective client-facing employees in outside firms have between one and four clients. The best way to solve this is to meet with some power source who can mandate more consoli­da­tion and fewer contact points. They will do this if you can clearly explain why it’s important for them too.

Eight, you have not determined how to say “no” to certain requests from other departments, even when your “no” is appropriate. You might feel that way because the solution they are requesting is not viable, there is insufficient time and/or money to implement it or it’s not a core strength of your department. The solution here is fairly simple. Put on your big boy (or girl) pants and start being honest. Your biggest fear is likely that you will no longer be considered that all important team player who climbs the ladder. Phooey on that. No expert always says yes, and anybody—expert or not—who never says no is not awarded real credibility every time they say yes. Quit thinking so much about consequences, start doing what’s right for the company, and to hell with what happens. You not only need to sleep well at night, but you’ll eventually get the reputation as someone who not only cares, but really knows what they are doing.

Let me close with one final observation. Every time I’ve been asked by a c-level executive to analyze an in-house department to present a fiscal argument for its existence, it has been clear that having an in-house department is more expensive than using outside firms. Please remember that the reason to have one is not financial. No, it’s because you are SMEs (subject matter experts) in what the company does in a way that an outsider could never be. Is that how you are acting? If not, start. CA C. Baker
David C. Baker (, author of Managing (Right) for the First Time, is a leading management consultant for the creative services field. Through ReCourses, Inc., he has guided hundreds of firms through management issues, difficult transitions and growth.