Working in a studio when one used to work in-house
This is a chalk drawing I made of Adelbert Hall—where I worked when I was Webmaster at Case Western Reserve University. The drawing was made at the Cleveland Museum of Art's annual Chalk Festival.
Once upon a time I was a client.
Sometime back in the last century I was a product marketer for what is now Thomson Reuters West. My job was to develop marketing campaigns to sell legal research products. I worked with editors and authors to understand the products, researched the competition, defined my target audience, developed my marketing plans, then communicated my needs to our in-house agency (and sometimes outside agencies). They would then write and design my catalog, postcard, brochure or whatever vehicle I had chosen for the project.
While the strategy was in my hands, design and copy were in theirs. But our mutual success depended on my guidance. I had the best results when I gave them the information they needed to fully understand the product and the key messages I wanted to convey. I might also suggest imagery, such as a photo of a book cover, or perhaps a shot of an interior page feature that helped illustrate a selling point. After that I left it up to their imagination to develop something compelling. The trick was to give them the information they needed to create without dictating how they should do their job. When we struck the right balance, everyone developed a feeling of ownership for their part of the project and we had successful results.
Sometimes I was the in-house agency.
During my years at West, I wore a variety of hats. One day our art director left. I'd worked closely with her, apprenticing in a way, so I stepped in to fill the gap until we hired a new one. Even after that I spent half of my time in the studio, designing book covers, ads, brochures, t-shirts, trade show displays, etc. Sometime during this period we were missing a copywriter. So I took to writing my own copy as well. It seemed to work. I even placed in the finals of an advertising competition for my headline "Bill is Braising Shrimp."
On to Academia and wearing more hats.
After I left West I landed at Case Western Reserve University. They needed someone who could build web sites, write and edit a newletter, and edit and design printed materials such as brochures and invitations. In that respect I was the in-house agency for our department. Armed with a Mac, a PC, digital camera and color printer, I could write articles for the alumni magazine, create posters promoting an event, update the Alumni web site, etc. As time went on I was spending more and more time building web sites, and less on printed matter. At this point I was transferred to University Marketing and Communications where I could focus entirely on the Web. Here our department functioned as the in-house agency to the whole university. We produced publications, handled media relations, conducted marketing campaigns and managed the Web. In addition to maintaining the main site and building sites for central departments, we also guided Web maintainers across campus. We also often hired outside agencies to build sites for special projects. So sometimes I was the vendor, other times I was the client. Playing both roles helped me to better understand how to serve my clients and to communicate with my vendors.
Now I'm at an agency.
Before I landed at designRoom Creative, I'd always worked in-house. When you do that you develop in-depth knowledge of your products, services and industry. Working at Case gave me the opportunity to learn about a variety of topics. While we were an in-house team, we worked with departments ranging from Music to Macromolecular Engineering. It was a good stepping stone to the variety of clients one meets on the agency side. In a given week at dRC, I may learn about everything from skull implants to greeting cards. I work with clients who are in a role similar to one I once played. They teach us about their products, their competitors, their customers, etc.; then we develop strategies and marketing materials to serve their goals.
What I've learned.
Now that I've been both client and vendor I've learned that it doesn't really matter which role one plays, as long as we all work together towards a common goal. Ideally, my experience helps me to understand the client perspective, though I learn more and more each day.
What about you?
What roles have you played? How has your role impacted your perspective?