A Perfect Partnership

Pairing In-house Teams with Design Firms
Photo: IStock

I was recently at a symposium for design firm creative directors and the topic of working with in-house creative teams came up. Many people were surprised to hear that my firm partners with in-house teams. We have found that this partnership leads to positive results by combining our expertise and fresh perspective with their deep knowledge of the institution. Through these partnerships we have launched an enrollment campaign, completed redesigns, and consulted on an ongoing basis on multiple publications.

It is a style of working that we enjoy and our clients do as well. If your institution has the right culture it may be a valuable partnership that could work for your team. Consider the following:

Your in-house team is curious and supports a spirit of collaboration. If you have a culture of territorialism and insecurity it probably won’t work to partner with an outside firm. This move would be seen as threatening to your team vs. an opportunity to learn and grow. So if people can’t share the nut internally they are not going share it with an outsider.

Your team is open to a fresh perspective. The positive of in-house teams is that they know the institution and brand really well. This can also act as a weakness. People tend to go to “we have always done it this way or we can’t do it thatway because it will never get approved.” This holds them back and they aren’t as quick to push the boundaries of a project.

Sometimes a fresh perspective is just a matter of getting out of the office. We have worked on collaborative redesigns with the in-house designer working at our studio. My team gets to tap into the institutional expertise and the in-house team gets to step out of the weeds.

You team is overworked and is dying for help. Many in-house teams are juggling multiple projects at a time. I had someone tell me recently that she had over two dozen projects cross her desk each day. This means that the most the in-house person can do is stay on top of getting day-to-day projects completed. An outside firm can be seen as an extension of the in-house team and take projects to the level the in-house team really wants to, if they had the time.

Your team wants the best for the institution. As much as they want to work on the big juicy projects they know they don’t have the capacity. They understand that the day-to-day workload doesn’t allow them the time and focus for a project like a redesign or brand campaign. An outside partner has the capability to do a deep dive into research and discovery to develop the final work. The in-house team can support them by bringing their expertise to review and critique the work as it is developed.

While these examples are focused on working with creative teams it can extend to the media & photography and marketing teams. Many institutions have lean staffs and cannot afford to have a visual communications specialist in-house. Tapping into an outside firm for creative direction brings another perspective and professional eye to the work.