HOW Design Live: Andy Epstein Previews the In-House Management Conference

Andy Epstein has been a part of the In-House Management Conference since its inception, and for the past 8 years has helped shape the event’s vision and lineup. As program director, he’s particularly pleased with how the 2014 event reflects the latest trends for in-house designers.

Andy knows the particular joys and challenges of working as a creative person in a corporate environment. He’s lived them, in spades. After starting as a freelance designer and illustrator, Andy jumped into the in-house design world and has led corporate creative teams for several Fortune 500 companies.

In-House Management Conference

When he’s not programming the In-House Management Conference, Andy is the head of The BOSS Group’s team of 80+ multidisciplinary creative pros working in-house at pharma company Merck. Yes, he’s one busy guy.

We recently asked Andy to share what’s new and exciting in his world – and about the 2014 program.

First, tell us what you’re working on now (besides the IHC program) that you’re excited about.

What’s been exciting for me is generating a lot of content about in-house design for a lot of different organizations: for HOW (including writing for the In-HOWse Designer Blog), for InSource, and for Cella Consulting (sister company to The BOSS Group). And I’m just now back from HOW’s digital asset and project management forum that was last week in Chicago.

I’m also excited about new business development, and how critical that is for in-house teams. The Association of National Advertisers just released a survey that compares the use of in-house teams to agencies—it was first conducted in 2008 and again in 2012—to see why and how much companies are using in-house groups over agencies.

The survey shows a pretty significant rise in in-house work—cost is part of the equation, but another big driver is that in-house teams are being viewed as being more strategic, and they’re being engaged in serving social media marketing and new media because they’re in a better position to service that work.

In-House Management Conference photo, Todd Henry

That growth in in-house creative teams … is that one of the trends that you’ve responded to as you developed the conference program for 2014?

There are a couple of trends that we’re continuing to address with the conference program.

First, there’s a focus on the strategic value that in-house teams can provide to their companies. So we’re bringing in people who can speak to that; for example, Justin Knecht of the LUMA Institute is coming to talk about how in-house designers can drive innovation not just in their teams but throughout the organization.

Project management is the biggest gap I’ve seen with in-house teams—if we don’t get this under control and implement powerful project management processes and metrics tools, we’re going to be in big trouble. It’s a huge opportunity, and we’re going to be talking to that at the upcoming conference.

Finally, we’ve listened to attendees who wanted more case studies. When the content was super theoretical, it was hard to see how that applied to their individual work. So we’ve invited Adam Kondos from PepBoys and Jennifer Cortner from the Discovery Channel to talk about what’s going on with their teams. Adam just went through a major rebrand, and their team was heavily involved in that; Jen’s team was chosen as in-house agency of the year by the In-House Agency Forum.

People also want more opportunity for dialog among each other. Last year, we offered breakfast roundtables, and we were victims of our own success. We had two rows of people around every table. For 2014, we’re planning two days of breakfast roundtables, with 10-12 topics, all facilitated by in-house team leaders.

Looking ahead to 2014, what’s new for the program? For folks who’ve attended before, what will they find that’s new and different?

One thing that’s not specific to the In-House Managers Conference is the overall HOW Design Live format: There’s more opportunity to freely move between the conferences. (Learn more about the Big Ticket and customizing your conference experience.) And the caliber of the keynote and HOW Leadership Conference speakers blew my mind—people like Dan Pink and Seth Godin. These presenters absolutely speak to the whole strategic imperative for in-house departments. There’s a lot of value in that flexibility and in getting to hear those high-profile speakers.

The focused, intentional mix of tactical, strategic and case study formats for the presentations really separates this event from ones in the past. It’s been evolving over the past few years, and we’ve really got it down to a science, and this year is really going to leverage those three formats.

When you’re evaluating potential speakers and topics for the conference, what do you look for?

Certainly, topics that are relevant to those three formats. On the case study side, we’re looking for people who’ve undertaken some specific initiative that tells a powerful story. On the strategic and tactical sides, we want to find people who haven’t just dabbled in topics like metrics or project management, they’ve practiced it, they’ve lived it.

People who are attending can learn from the successes and mistakes of the people who are presenting. The presenters are in the same types of environment and come up against the same challenges. Unless you’re in it, you really can’t possibly understand all the nuances to run a creative agency in a corporate environment.

If you were to choose one word that would describe an attendee’s state of mind at the end of the conference, what would it be?

Anyone who’s truly engaged in the conference walks away totally inspired and informed.

HOW Design LiveLearn more about the program of outstanding speakers that Andy has developed for the In-House Managers Conference. Register for HOW Design Live before February 11 and save $300 off the price of a Big Ticket.

Can’t wait ’til May for your conference fix? Check out the HOW Interactive Design Conference Online, December 3-5! Experience the best of the 2013 interactive design event from anywhere. Register today