The new year is often a time when people consider making a career move, particularly after experiencing another year of flattened salaries and bonuses. In a slow economy, however, what are your options?

  • I began my career many moons ago when design was something not yet in the business vocabulary. But thanks to folks like Steve Jobs, companies cannot compete in today’s marketplace without paying attention to product detail and excellent customer experiences. I’ve spent time during my career on both sides of the client desk and I have to say that the attitudes have changed, but not really.

    What I mean by that is that in-house creatives were always looked at like the strange red headed stepchild by others inside big companies. Today, because of the sensitivity to the bottom line, companies have included in-house creative as part of their cost effective business strategy. Why pay big agencies big bucks when we can hire artists (that’s what they think we are) to do all that stuff for us!

    Some in-house creative teams have been turned into “the art department!” This is the worst thing that can happen to any creative. The mindset is one of a drive thru where orders are given and taken and your product is passed on to your customer like McDonald’s moves fries.

    The best position any in-house creative can take is to stop thinking like a servant and start thinking like part of the business team (even though you may not be a welcome partner at the business table). Treat your inside business partners like clients. Remember that in most cases they are not the end user. Every decision you make to provide a business solution should be evaluated from the customer’s POV. Learn what makes the customer tick.

    The more you think like your business partners and show that you can add value in a way they cannot (because you’ve learned to think like a designer), they will learn to respect you and think to include you and look forward to your involvement. Become indispensable to them. Elevate your status by raising the bar on your game.

    As for the poll, consider this. Job models inside companies look like pyramids with more worker bees at the bottom making less money and fewer queen bees at the top making more money. Some day the organization will be forced to allocate funding for the things that will move the business forward and look at priorities. In-house creative support (that’s what you do – support) is relegated just below marketing and communications which falls below manufacturing (product creation) and finance (maximizing value). In a tight economy companies are forced to consider whether you are a “have to have” to make the business succeed or a “nice to have” to make the business succeed. And when the day comes when your position has been eliminated or you just can’t understand why you can’t advance, you’ll understand that it’s “nothing personal,” it was a business decision.

    As for career change, if you haven’t been forced into it you need to think about what you’re doing to prepare for it. Network with colleagues. Get involved in organizations like InSource. Start learning how to build something new into your portfolio of skills. Reinvent yourself. Open up the business section and pay attention to hot industry sectors. If they’re hot, then they will need growth support. Migrate. Prepare. Learn how the world operates outside your cubicle and from both sides of the client desk. One day you may need to know what it takes to differentiate yourself from others. Start building your brand today!

    (Stepping down off my soapbox now)

    Andre Paquin
    Past President, InSource
    Current President, American Marketing Association (New Jersey chapter)(take note, I’ve learned how to live among who used to be my internal clients and have been accepted by them as an authority)

    Make it happen for yourself!