The Top Way Creative Teams Can Build a Better Partnership with Their Business

by Elise Hauser

posted on 10-01-2019

Over the past few years there has been significant growth of in-house creative teams. Businesses have gained a greater appreciation for creative work as they realize how crucial it is to the business’s go-to-market efforts. Marketing teams need a lot of high-quality content to fuel their multichannel campaigns and differentiate themselves from competitors, and they are willing to invest in quality creative to develop that content. A study from the Association of National Advertisers found that 78% of brands have some form of in-house creative team, 20% more than in 2013.

However, this increased focus on the creative team has highlighted some areas of friction. Businesses are demanding more of their creative teams than ever before, but there hasn’t been a correlating shift in how the creative team works to meet those production needs. In-house creative teams are still being treated as service providers, not as strategically significant contributors to key business initiatives. The simple fact is that creative teams are crucial to organizational success, and unless they are able to forge a stronger partnership with key stakeholders, they will continue to fight the same battles and suffer the same headaches.

In-house creative teams can begin to develop a partnership with their organization by becoming students of their business. Creative teams and their leaders need to understand how the organization and its stakeholders measures success, then drill down to how the creative team contributes directly to that success, and ensure that the leaders of the organization understand that connection. For example, Delta Vacations traditionally has had success with a large segment of their bookings coming from travel agencies. However, as the digitally savvy millennial audience has expanded their consumption of travel, customers are beginning to move away from booking through travel agents and are growing more comfortable with booking their vacations online. Therefore, Delta Vacations has identified that they will need to focus more on those consumer-direct bookings going forward.

The catch is that they needed to do that without cannibalizing their existing, highly effective (and yet not as profitable) travel agency channel. This paradigm shift has meant more focus on the UX aspects of the consumer website — as well as other digital advertising and social media marketing initiatives — in essence, taking a more individualized B2C marketing approach. Ultimately, it is a change in media strategy as well as brand voice, tone, language, and design. This is what it means to be a student of the business — you have to go a level beyond “We sell stuff” to really understand the drivers behind how and why the business operates.

Becoming a student of the business is by no means a quick fix. It’s going to be a process, but here are three things you can do to become more informed and connected to your business:

  1. Understand how the creative team contributes to the success of the business
  2. Learn to “speak marketing”
  3. Measure your own performance

Understand how the creative team contributes to the success of the business

The very first thing you need to do on your journey to a better partnership with your organization is to draw a line connecting the day-to-day work that your creative team does to the key performance indicators (KPIs) that the business uses to measure success. The most important thing is making sure you know, and are communicating to leadership, exactly how your team contributes to those KPIs. Use your knowledge of the business and of the creative team to show your stakeholders the impact creative work has on business success.

Learn to “speak marketing”

A close partnership with marketing is also the key to communicating the value creative has to the overall success of the organization. As creatives and marketers build and strengthen their relationship, creatives need to work to establish a common language and understanding of “marketing jargon.” Since creative and marketing teams are closely aligned — and often a part of the same department — much of the creative work is driven by marketing campaigns and initiatives. By having a clear understanding of what is being asked, creatives are better prepared to communicate any additional materials, clarifications, or alternative directions.

The e-book “How to Measure Performance for Digital Assets: A Creative’s Handbook” highlights why a close partnership with marketing is key to communicating your value within the organization and showing how your creative work drives the success of the business. “Before you even go into a project kickoff meeting, you need to have a common language with your marketing team to understand what they are asking for,” the e-book says.

Measure your own performance

For any department to be taken seriously and treated as a respected contributor to the business, they must track and report on the key metrics that drive their performance. In the 2019 In-House Creative Management Report, 45% of respondents indicated that their reporting is inadequate or nonexistent, and only 36% say their reporting is robust. For creative teams, those metrics fall into a few categories:

  1. Volume metrics: Show how much work the creative team is doing. Metrics include the number of requests per month, number of ongoing projects, and number of requesters of work.
  2. Performance metrics: Illustrate how fast and efficient the creative team is at producing work. Metrics include the percentage of projects delivered on time, average project turnaround time, and the number of versions needed for proof approval.
  3. Client metrics: Put the emphasis on the client and illustrate if they are slowing the creative team down. Metrics include identifying which clients are the slowest to complete reviews, which request the most work, and which clients tend to require the most versions of a proof before it is finalized.

As a cross-functional team, you have to be able to show how you work with other departments and hold them accountable to do their part.


There has never been a better time to be on an in-house creative team. Creative teams that want to move beyond functioning as service providers to being respected, strategic partners to their business need to become dedicated students of the business — and understand what the organization’s key objectives are and how their team contributes to them directly.

Join Colleen Phelan, director of marketing services and web customer experience at Delta Vacations and Brian Kessman, founder of Lodestar Agency Consulting in their session at Adobe MAX at 3:15 on November 5, “Analytical Creativity: The Key to Successful Collaboration with Marketing.” The session will discuss how your creative team can become an informed, respected contributor to your organization.

Topics: News, Adobe MAX