In-house Issues: Proactivate – Improve or Perish

At a previous job I worked with a great product photographer who gave our company superior service at reasonable rates. One day a competitor approached me with guarantees of comparable service at a lower cost with a value-add DAM solution at no charge. Valuing my relationship with our current photographer, I informed him of the offer which he promptly met. When I went to my boss with this success he immediately told me to fire our current vendor and sign a contract with the new one. His rationale? – Why hadn’t the original vendor approached us with a better business proposition before? In the view of my manager, the photographer had been fleecing the company before being forced to change his ways. We successfully transitioned to the new vendor who provided us with comparable service.

I’m ambivalent about how this situation played out. The original photographer was loyal and was not excessively expensive, yet the new vendor was honorable and did not lowball to get the business; he merely quoted at the lower end of current market rates. I found my manager’s reaction to be disproportionately extreme, he got pretty angry and indignant, but I’ve found that his response is typical of many business people.

What does this have to do with in-house teams? I’d say that we are vulnerable to the same fate as the loyal photographer.  If an outside agency offered my internal clients, upper management or procurement department better terms than I and my team were providing, I don’t believe, even if I was able to match it, that they would stick with the in-house model. Our team would be viewed as having become complacent and might possibly be perceived as being disloyal in not attempting to increase our efficiencies and value to the organization.

Given this reality, it’s imperative that, as in-house designers, we constantly look for and implement ways to enhance our value to our companies and then document and communicate our successes. This is achievable without compromising our working conditions and long-term sustainability. In other words, I’m not advocating adopting a sweatshop commodity-driven mindset. What I am saying is that along with meeting our company’s expectation that we provide great deliverables we must also constantly find ways to do what we do more quickly, cost effectively and strategically.

We must be proactive. Are there improvements that can be made in the management of our projects, in our workflows, in how we’re staffed? Are there opportunities to provide value added services? Could we be assisting clients with the routing and approval processes they’re challenged with? Might we be able to support our clients in dealing with their external marketing services vendors? Could we assist procurement in the creation of contracts with outside printers or new media development firms? Are we actively advertising our successes and educating our companies on how we contribute to our companies’ bottom line?

If we don’t consistently engage in these practices, you can bet that an outside provider will up the ante and threaten the existence of our teams. Should that occur, shame on us.

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2 thoughts on “In-house Issues: Proactivate – Improve or Perish

  1. Randy C Johnson

    Great post Andy!

    This really opened my eyes to a different perspective!
    When asked why I’ve chosen the in-house design path, one my responses has always been “security”…I’m on the client’s payroll…they can’t leave me (jokingly). I’ve never let that dictate my work ethic or drive the quality of work that I produce, but I did feel more comfortable/safe than I have in agency environments. Now, I realize that my assumption wasn’t very accurate. I guess that feeling safe, isn’t very safe at all. While I believe that I do a good job for my employer , I recognize that I can definitely do more (on a regular basis) to truly prove my value.

    Thanks a lot! This was very helpful!

  2. Arnie Kirschner

    While it is normal and quite common to allow ourselves to become accustom to the status quo it is equally senseless as a manager/businessman to place price so far above your people that for even relatively small amounts of money, you will toss them and yet expect their best work for the company. When in the end you get what you want with your own people and suppliers. It is the job of the manager/businessman to challenge the in-house staff to reach higher and accomplish more at all times. It is up to the staff creatives, as individuals, to not fall into the rut of the comfort zone. You continuously learn more and push for that better idea and execution. As for me, I’m always looking to learn new things and better ways of doing them. That constant learning and improvement is the blood that feeds the creative internal fire. The bottom line for any creative is, don’t drink the complacency Kool Aid and for that manager/businessman don’t create an atmosphere of distrust and fear from your in-house people or suppliers because you won’t get your best work and in the end you promote disloyalty and you lose. Challenge them and yourself instead, then everyone wins.