In-House Agency Model Provides Greater Job Satisfaction for Creative Directors, Study Finds

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Creative directors are a pretty miserable crowd, according to a new report released today by Workfront in partnership with Mighty Guides. But there’s hope: If you’re a creative director or aspiring to become one, a job at an in-house agency may be your best bet.

Workfront gave HOW an advance look at the report, which compares satisfaction and productivity at external design agencies, in-house creative services departments, and in-house agencies.

All told, only 23% of the creative directors surveyed reported being “very satisfied” with their jobs. However, 33% of creative directors at companies that implement the in-house agency model reported high satisfaction, while 19% of creative directors in in-house creative services departments—and only 16% from design agencies—found their jobs highly rewarding.

The report is based on feedback from 457 creative directors at mid-sized agencies and companies with more than 500 employees. About 52% of respondents came from mid-sized external agencies, 30% from in-house creative services at mid-sized to large companies, and 12% from in-house agencies.

The benefits of the in-house agency model—from cost efficiencies to quicker turnaround time, greater institutional knowledge and a more dedicated team—have been touted by businesses as the model has grown more common over the past two decades.

But what about the in-house agency model makes being a creative director less frustrating?

“The large number of happy creative directors [at in-house agencies] speaks to the unique qualities of that model,” said Shawn Dickerson, Director of Solutions Marketing at Workfront. “The in-house agency model combines the best things from in-house and creative agencies: flexibility and independence, also stability.”

Dickerson aims to understand the needs of creative directors in order to gauge which project management tools and software might benefit them the most.

In the interest of pinpointing strengths and weaknesses within each model, the report also addressed roadblocks, challenges, project management practices, software usage and KPIs.Creative-Director-Report-Final-Infographic1

Not enough time for creativity

Ah, the woes of pursuing success in your creative career, only to find yourself mired in the chaos of managing projects and teams. Tragically (but perhaps predictably), 50% of all respondents reported that not having enough time for creativity was one of their top two challenges in the workplace. The study suggests that this might be due to a lack of organization and processes.

Dickerson said that creative teams thrive when they place more emphasis on project management procedures and tools. “There tends to be a resistance among creative teams to structure and process, thinking it will hinder their creativity and productivity, but the right structure and process unleashes your creativity,” he said.


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Creative directors at in-house agencies—the most satisfied group—were twice as likely to rely on project managers, which may indicate a level of willingness to let go of the reins in the interest of productivity. Plus, those project managers freed up time for creative work.

“In most cases”—42% of those surveyed, to be exact—”the CD was doing the project management, doing administrative stuff,” Dickerson said. “That wasn’t the reason they got into [a creative career] in the first place. All of these in-house agencies have tools that help enable their creative work requests.”

External agency creative directors, the least-satisfied group, also reported ROI as one of their most important KPIs, while the other two placed less emphasis on it. An overemphasis on ROI might put undue stress on creatives, Dickerson suggested. And with the least reliance on project management resources, agency creative directors are bearing the brunt of that pressure.

“Creative directors are always making tradeoffs,” Dickerson said. “Manage the business, create brilliant work. Tradeoffs are more pronounced for agencies. Losing a client can have a big impact and add pressure in a leadership role, the person whose job is to create brilliant work.”

Manic meetings and excessive emails

In all three groups, email and meetings presented the biggest roadblocks that kept creative directors from spending their time on their creative work.

Results showed that external agencies struggle most with excessive meetings, chaotic request and intake methods and a lack of resources than CDs in the other two categories, while the other two groups didn’t have as many issues in these areas.

Dickerson said that excessive meetings points to problems with well-organized communication when tackling big projects. “Instinctively, creative teams want to get in a room and sort things out, but doing work-request intake processes in such an ad-hoc manner means there’s a lot of overhead they have to deal with down the line,” Dickerson said.

Teamwork and unity both play a huge role in job satisfaction as well. “Even on the in-house agency side where you treat other employees like clients, there’s still unity with a team,” Dickerson said. “Agencies have clients from all different walks of life, tools, cultures, etc. You have to spend more time syncing up. Differences in culture, geography and tools make it more challenging for agencies.”

In-house agency CDs did report that too many meetings and emails present a big roadblock, but they rely on and value project management more than the other two groups. So if project management software and resources are meant to reduce the timesuck from emails and meetings, why do these still present problems?

Turns out it might be growing pains. “Creative teams think spreadsheets are a project management tool,” he explains. “It’s better than having it written on a notepad, but it’s not that much better, and it still necessitates face-to-face collaboration. To get people to a point where they’re more comfortable leveraging a cloud-based piece of software requires a little bit of a learning curve.”

Check out more stats from the study in this infographic:

Creative Director Report Final Infographic[1]


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