One BIG Lesson Learned

One BIG Lesson Learned
By: Ed Roberts

If you are a member of a small in-house team and find your circle of local “go tos” for professional advice exist only within the confines of your company, are steadily dwindling, or even worse—nonexistent. It’s probably time you hit the road (figuratively and literally) and look for opportunities outside your city limits.

Start by looking into opportunities provided by the AIGA, AAF or InSource. All three of these incredible member-focused organizations will point you in the direction of a group of people and events that will most certainly enrich your professional life. The following article reveals the one BIG lesson learned from an event I attended—outside my city limits.

I was sitting at a stoplight one afternoon rifling through 19 emails I received on my iPhone ten minutes after leaving work. “Yep,” “No” and “fantastic!” were the one word answers I frantically typed in response to three of the five emails I was able to read before the light turned green. It was 1:45 p.m. and I was starving, overworked, multitasking and late for a meeting held on the utopic park-like SAS campus. I eked out two phone calls and by the time I ended the second I leaned out my car window and said to the guard, “InSource Regional Roundtable.”

I’m the creative director of a small in-house corporate communications team that markets the services of an organization that manages billions in electric generation assets. I rebuilt this department and its team from the ground up. Reconstruction began in 2009. After many late nights over nine months, the work produced bettered the lives of hundreds of thousands of customers, garnering my team regional and national recognition. Two and a half years into this extreme in-house makeover I found myself running on empty. I wanted fresh, creative ideas on effective team leadership and most importantly needed to congregate with seasoned in-house leaders who could relate to the gravity of my responsibilities.

As I raced through the winding roads and manicured sculpture gardens connecting one SAS building to another, I felt like Alice probably did entering Wonderland for the first time. I arrived at my location and really didn’t know what to expect.

I sat down just seconds before introductions began. I was amazed to see regional, national and global in-house leaders in attendance representing a wide range of industries. There were a couple of familiar faces and a few people I’ve heard about but never thought I would actually get the opportunity to collaborate with. There we were, each wanting to learn something valuably insightful. The first question revealed career interests unrelated to the in-house design industry. When it was my turn to reveal my alternate career choice I said, “I’d choose to be a stay-at-home gardener.”

This was an excellent icebreaking question because whatever our reputations were outside that room no longer mattered. After revealing our personal interests through our alternate career choices we (executive global creative director to senior graphic designer) became regular folks meeting up to share best practices and to receive advice on how to clear our most challenging management hurdles.

So, what did I learn from my InSource Regional Roundtable experience? I learned that to become an effective in-house creative leader—particularly one who works within a highly political and bureaucratic environment—I must manage without exception and resist managing to the exception. It is the latter that will keep you from navigating your in-house team into a successful future. The key to managing without exception is to cultivate at least one advocate who resides within the C-suite, someone whose opinion is respected and can easily influence the course of the entire organization.

From there, build advocates throughout all other levels of your organization by developing creative that exceeds expectation and supports those goals outlined in your company’s strategic plan. Your advocates will begin viewing you and your team as more than just an in-house agency comprised of writers, designers, video producers, web developers and production artists—you’ll be viewed as necessary strategic business partners.

How have I been able to measure success since attending the InSource Regional Roundtable? Simple—I was asked to speak at two major conferences within my organization’s industry. I believe I was asked to speak at these conferences because my team is focused on developing work that is beautiful and strategically coincides with the objectives our company and its industry strives to meet. Now there is more confidence in our abilities and less red tape in acquiring necessary approvals. We are no longer crippled by the exception. We’re positioned to help propel our company into a successful future without exception, that’s a damn good feeling!

I’m still reaping the refreshing benefits gained from this amazing event held on the beautiful SAS Campus! If you attend a roundtable, I guarantee you’ll become a better creative manager through insightful thought partnership alongside your region’s best and brightest creative leaders. So don’t walk, run to the next InSource Regional Roundtable nearest you—seriously it’s that beneficial. In three invaluable hours you’ll emerge creatively refreshed!

This personal account first appeared on InSource. InSource aspires to be the global network for in-house creative business leaders connected by common professional experiences, knowledge and best practices.

Ed Roberts is a Creative Director who has assembled a brilliant in-house team of strategic, creative superheroes. Together they develop and execute the marketing and visual strategies for ElectriCities of NC, an organization that manages billions of dollars in electric generation assets and serves over 500,000 consumers. Follow Ed (@InHouseObs) on Twitter for more inspiration and insight.