In-house Issues: Off To A Bad Start

There is no factor that contributes more to the failure of a project (or an entire department for that matter) than poor project initiation. It’s bad enough when there’s no creative brief included, but it’s downright absurd to believe a project will be successful if no deadline, no support copy, no images and no list of project stakeholders are communicated to in-house teams up front. Yet over and over again in-house departments become resigned to this situation allowing them to be set up to fail.

Many agencies have no problem with this particular counterproductive client behavior since the confusion it generates allows them to bill more hours. Unfortunately for in-house designers, this enabling codependent relationship ends up legitimizing the client’s bad habits and in-house teams end up struggling to justify their value in the face of lost efficiencies brought about by incomplete and inaccurate information being supplied to them by the offending clients.

I’d like to say the solution to this problem is as simple as refusing to start a job without proper documentation, but that would be unrealistically simplistic and create a whole host of other problems – most notably the loss of client trust and confidence. As emotionally unsatisfying as it may be, one of the best approaches to establish a productive partnership with uncooperative clients involves a slow two-part incremental strategy.

Initially it will mean doing much of the clients’ job for them. This will require in-house designers to reach out to others in the company who can supply them with missing information, proactively write copy, create proposed timelines and of course chase down clients to get needed information.

There are real consequences for the clients who refuse to properly initiate a project and the companies which ignore it – longer project lead times, less resources and time that their creative teams can devote to other marketing projects and more expense in additional hours and possibly the need for additional staff. Here is where the second part of the strategy comes into play. The key is to clearly, objectively and powerfully communicate these “hidden” expenses to the client, upper management and Finance. Most importantly, current inefficiencies, that without this information might be perceived to be breakdowns in the in-house team, will be recognized as legitimate challenges to the creative group that can either be addressed or left to fester. The point is to clearly illustrate and articulate the consequences and their root cause so that the company can make an informed decision on whether and how to address the problem.

Ideally, upper management will mandate the clients to assume the responsibilities that originally resided with them. If not, though, the in-house team will have made the case for their expenses and need for additional resources to take on and manage the functions being ignored by their clients.

Whatever actions the company takes in response to this assessment, the in-house group will have professionally and honestly communicated the consequences of poor project initiation thereby positioning them as a strategic business partner trying to establish best business practices. Who could argue with that?

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One thought on “In-house Issues: Off To A Bad Start

  1. seanparlan

    Getting what you need from your codependant client has so much back and forth.

    We use a combination of Project manager + CB as gatekeeper, but try to head-off the inevitable whinning by value through “client edutainment” in the beginning and end.

    Sounds like rhetoric, but if your CB has metrics that reflect the customer cycle and sales system, it’s easier to assess.

    That said, weening sales people off the 3PM ASAP deadline is like pulling teeth.