IHAF’s Sarah Cavicchi on Learning and Networking for In-House Designers

These days, creative professionals working in corporate environments have excellent opportunities to develop career skills like managing their workflow, hiring and retaining capable staffers and advocating for their work with executive types. Resources like HOW’s InHouse Designer Blog, online courses for in-house designers from HOW Design University,  the InHouse Management Conference, and organizations like InSource and the In-House Agency Forum help creatives connect and learn.

IHAF’s Sarah Cavicchi on Networking for In-House Designers

Recently, we touched base with Andy Brenits, president of InSource, to chat about how the in-house design landscape is shifting.

SarahCavicchiToday, we connect with Sarah Cavicchi, executive director of IHAF, to ask her what she’s seeing in the industry. IHAF began in 2005; member companies include CarMax, Charles Schwab, Godiva, L.L. Bean, Revlon and University of Arizona.

First, give me the elevator pitch on IHAF. What’s the organization’s mission? Who are your members?

IHAF (In-House Agency Forum) is the leading professional association for in-house advertising and creative services organizations. Our mission is to provide our members with the tools, insight and networking opportunities they need to advance as marketing communications solutions providers to the businesses they support. IHAF is the only membership organization dedicated to delivering tools and insight in support of all in-house functions. From creative to media to executive management, IHAF offers exclusive, year-round benefits to our members via benchmarking data and best practices, conferences and events and in-person as well as online networking.

The in-house agencies that are members of IHAF employ anywhere from 4 to 400 people across a host of industries nationwide. It is the willingness of our members to share everything from best practices to war stories, coupled with IHAF’s expertise in topics and trends specific to in-house agencies that makes our association unlike any other.

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If you were to deliver a “state of the industry” speech, what would the high points be? What’s the business like for in-house creative agencies these days?

The in-house agency industry has evolved significantly over the past five years. Not only are more and more corporations employing in-house teams but the work those teams do is more complex, sophisticated and essential to the business and the brand.

IHAF conducts quarterly field studies, and in recent years we’ve seen a significant shift in the mix of media and marketing communications initiatives that are planned and executed in house. While internal agencies have historically been focused on print-based projects, these teams are experiencing a marked increase in demand for digital output (including online advertising, website development, social media and mobile apps).

In-house agencies are ideally positioned to understand the businesses they support from the inside out—partnering closely with clients and delivering timely, cost-effective solutions. And although there’s been a lot of negative press about this lately, that shouldn’t spell trouble for external agencies. At IHAF we firmly believe and advocate strongly for collaboration between internal and external agencies, with both teams working together to ensure the integration of their efforts and resulting communications.

I think it’s meaningful that the organization uses the term ‘agency’ to describe its membership—as opposed to, say, ‘department’ or ‘group.’ Why is this agency mindset important to in-house creatives and marketers?

While most in-house agencies are, in fact, departments or workgroups within larger corporations, they also have many of the same organizational, operational and functional characteristics as traditional external agencies. Most of our members function in the same way as an external agency, and many are led and staffed by people who have external agency backgrounds. Some pitch work against outside providers, some provide estimates and charge for their time, some call their customers “clients.” We use the word agency because that’s what they are.

Seems like IHAF is a great resource for working documents and tools like benchmark studies, salary reports and creative brief templates. In-house creatives often feel like they work in isolation and have to build a lot of these tools and best practices themselves. How are you helping managers run their businesses better?

Thanks—and we agree, IHAF is a great resource for a variety of reasons. IHAF was founded in response to the absence of resources and support to meet the unique needs of in-house teams. External agencies had the 4As. Client-side marketers had the ANA. But in-house agencies didn’t have an organization or association specifically focused on the needs and challenges they face. In a short span of time, what started out as a handful of companies coming together to form a local trade group has evolved into a national membership organization that serves the needs of all in-house agency functions, particularly the folks who lead those teams.

In-house agencies can feel isolated because they’re often dedicated to one industry, one company and one set of products. IHAF started sharing project tools and templates with our members because many of them were creating those materials from scratch. IHAF provides access to everything from creative brief templates and workflow system comparison charts to focused insights on in-house agency trends and functions.

We also recognized that although there’s a lot of research out there, there was nothing focused solely on “in house” as an industry. So we started conducting research and publishing quarterly field studies to provide our members with benchmarking data they can use to compare their organizational structures, operating models, compensation practices and more with other in-house teams.

Designers and communicators can feel like square pegs working in corporate environments. How do events—like the In-House Management Conference or IHAF’s own gatherings—help them connect and learn?

Swapping stories with people who operate within a similar framework—with similar organizational structures, creative challenges, chargeback models, talent-development issues, and client satisfaction goals—is a powerful thing. So sharing and learning from one another is a major part of what IHAF is all about. We even have an online community that enables members to connect virtually, when in person isn’t possible. However those connections are made, when it comes to being a member of IHAF, people come for the content and stay for the community. (And there’s not a square-peg in the bunch.)

As Sarah Cavicchi notes, learning from peers is an important part of the IHAF experience. Likewise, at the InHouse Management Conference, in-house teams can learn from other in-house design leaders about topics ranging from organizational structure to client relationships to project management. Check out the InHouse Management Conference program—it’s a tremendous learning and team-building experience for your whole group.

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Did you know that HOW Design Live offers group rates? Don’t forget that the Early Bird Registration Deadline—which means big savings for your entire team—is February 11, so register now!