The New Creative Enterprise

Steelworks

An ongoing area of interest for me is how we can innovate in the guidance and leadership of a creative enterprise, and thus sustain successful operations. This is centered around the challenges facing most professional services in the creative arena, something that it would seem all are struggling with, at least at some level. The core of this is the commodification of creative work, whether that be advertising, architecture or graphic design. Many firms have allowed themselves to become factories, to become production houses. In some ways, this is the result of our own devaluing of our efforts. In others, it is born out of an entirely different decision-making process that has been progressively gaining ground with the clients for creative services… the prevalence of value assignment based on time worked and not on value created.

I came across an article that was very insightful in relation to these realities by Avi Dan in It succinctly lays it all out. His article is leveled squarely at advertising agencies, and why so many are facing the music as their business model is yanked out from under them. As I read his article I could not help but see strong similarities to the realities we face in architecture, and those I experienced in other creative businesses. Avi outlines five key areas that agencies, and by extension most creative enterprise, need to investigate:

  • COMPENSATION
    Should be tied to value creation and not based solely on labor. Clients and creative firms need to work out a fairer compensation scheme recognizing the value of intellectual capital.
  • OUTSOURCING
    Smart creative organizations should evolve into creative portals, outsourcing external creative talent in areas such as production, as well as in logistical operations.
  • REVENUE STREAMS
    Firms need to explore ways to monetize new areas of involvement such as licensing, e-commerce applications and even the work itself.
  • SPEED
    Creative enterprise must recognize that in a web-based world that moves at warp speed, speed itself is a strategic asset and those that can help their clients with speed-to-market executions will have an advantage.
  • SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
    The firm model should recognize that social responsibility is at the core of the modern firm, hand in hand with its financial accountability to shareholders, and is essential for recruiting top talent.

Of special note are the ideas around outsourcing and revenue streams. There is a controlling mindset in most creative firms that they must own all waypoints in the project process. I cannot help but ask “why?” Outsourcing is a tremendous opportunity to not only diversify your talent, but to allow you to focus on what you are truly good at… and seek support from partners who are better at the other project roles than your team may be. Additionally, seeking complimentary and supplemental revenue streams is enormous. As creative businesses we are perpetually innovating with respect to our client’s businesses. Why is it that we cannot bring this same approach, this innovation, to benefit our own businesses? Over the course of a year there will be any number of revenue opportunities available to a firm that are outside of their traditional business model, but because of that model these ideas will make it scarcely farther than the whiteboard.

All of this to say, many companies face an environment of intense change and competition. Those that get it are focused on changing with the environment in which they operate. Some are changing fast, with a cultural premium on innovation and knowledge in the value created by their own people. Those that do not are not going to last. I feel it is that simple.

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