There was a quintessential boy toy that came out back in the sixties that was coveted by every kid I knew called Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. A perfect outlet for any eight year-old’s aggressions, it was a game where the players used levers to control boxing red and blue robots. The goal was to wallop the opposing robot’s head causing it to pop off, signaling a plastic ratcheted TKO.
In-house designers can often find themselves in a position similar to the aforementioned robotic pugilists when competing clients and managers exploit them as proxies in their petty turf wars.
Most often this shows up as clients battling for a creative team’s time and resources to execute their projects that happen to have the same deadlines. In-house teams often don’t have the authority or enough information to prioritize these competing assignments which would enable them to avoid these political skirmishes.
The remedy to this poisonous situation is for innies to refuse the prioritization responsibility assigned to them in this ad hoc manner without the needed authority to effectively handle it. Instead they should escalate the problem to their manager for them to handle and inform the battling clients of this action.
Another scenario that frequently confronts in-house teams is the “diminishing resources round” in the ring. Managers one level above in-house team directors may not be willing to fight with Finance to get their internal design teams the resources needed to successfully meet their clients’ needs. The in-house team is then placed in the untenable position of either having to battle with the bean counters on their own to get the additional funding that they need or tell clients that they don’t have the money to be able to support them because their budget is maxed out.
When faced with an unsupportive manager who is too fearful to rock the boat by duking it out with Finance to get more money, it becomes the creative director’s responsibility to either spur their manager on by providing a powerful rationale for a budget increase or take up the battle on their own while making sure to insulate their team from this process.
There are many other scenarios where an in-house team can be wielded as a weapon or forced into battles it should not have to engage in. The solution that is common to all of them is to anticipate these problems before they become a crisis and address them in as straightforward and transparent a manner as possible. If forced into a corporate combat, it should at least be an engagement where the in-house team is afforded some control, strategic advantage and chance for success. Nobody likes to have their head knocked off – especially if the fight is fixed.