A 5-point framework for creating a high-performing marketing organization

Learn what it takes to develop high-performing creative marketing firms and in-house agencies that go beyond best practices.

Did you know that most creative and marketing organizations still rely on organizational strategies, structures and management philosophies that date back to 1911?

During the Second Industrial Revolution, Fredrick Winslow Taylor published The Principles of Scientific Management. His work was groundbreaking back then, providing new efficiency-driven practices for mass production.

But unfortunately, most companies still unknowingly apply the philosophies behind his thinking today, over 100 years later, to scale their operations. The reason? Because “we’ve always done it this way.” 

Taylor designed his practices for manufacturing in a stable, slow-moving, predictable world. He did not intend them for creative or marketing services. And he certainly did not create them for a world exploding with complexity from disruptive technology, online marketing channels and unpredictable consumer behaviors.

Creative and marketing professionals building and supporting today’s brands must be able to make fast decisions and respond quickly to market opportunities or crises. And with technology, it’s much easier to share information and collaborate in real-time.

Traditional ways of working are not as valuable as they once were. It’s the opposite; if those ways of working are too siloed or slow, they work against you.

You know you have an outdated operating model when…

A creative marketing firm or in-house team with an outdated operating model often has the following types of indicators:

  • Client concerns about turn-around time.
  • Siloed disciplines, poorly integrated work.
  • Too many people in too many meetings.
  • Significant rework, late delivery or high costs.
  • Unclear roles and responsibilities.
  • Inconsistent processes and quality.
  • Lack of accountability, low team morale.

It’s time to break from legacy thinking and push toward new ways of reconfiguring your creative marketing firm or in-house agency.

Leave ‘business as usual’ and ‘best practices’ in the past where they belong

What got us here won’t help us reach the horizon we’re all heading for as modern, high-performing creative marketing firms or in-house agencies. But it’s tough to know where to begin introducing change when everyone has worked similarly for over a century. 

If you’re looking for best practices, you’re missing the opportunity in front of you. Your operating model should generate a competitive edge compared to the other service providers your clients or in-house customers could use. You won’t gain a differentiating advantage by copying what others have done, a.k.a., standardized “best practices.” 

The idea of a best practice — having a single method or technique superior to all others — is naive in today’s modern marketing environment. Best practices are the regurgitation of an approach meant to address a challenge or opportunity with a particular set of influencing factors at a specific moment in time.

The assumption is that your situation will be the same as all others and that you can apply cookie-cutter solutions and templated approaches. But in the complexity of today’s environment, we know there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution to even many of our most common problems. For those who take this approach, the result is often mediocrity.

Rather, we should develop our own evolving set of “next” practices built on a process that helps us continually improve how we work. While organizations still need guidance for alignment, we can achieve this by introducing a set of operating principles for high-performing agencies.

By using a principles-based approach, we can shift from rigid best practices and achieve a level of alignment balanced with adaptability. More on this shortly.

Dig deeper: Driving marketing at scale: People, processes, platforms and programs

Acknowledge the needs of today’s talent

Our talent and teams fuel our growth and competitive advantage. But our workforce has dramatically evolved from only one or two years ago. 

Today’s talent expects a new kind of day-to-day work experience. However, traditional management principles, organizational structures and processes don’t match up, making it difficult for many creative and marketing organizations to attract and retain top talent. We must adopt new ways of collaborating and driving these changes throughout our remote and hybrid teams. 

Modern leaders and managers also need help supporting their teams in a remote or hybrid environment. They need practical human-centric leadership tools to become “a liberating leader” — someone who unlocks the full potential of their people and, ultimately, their entire organization.

What a high-performing creative marketing firm or in-house agency looks like

High-performing creative marketing firms and in-house agencies focus on meeting the needs of a well-defined “right-fit” client. They:

  • Deliver unique solutions and creative products based on their core competencies (what they’re best at).
  • Avoid expending resources on other services they could do, but that wouldn’t be central to their service strategy.
  • Align their people and operating model to deliver in a repeatable and predictable way. 
  • Create an environment where people can find meaning and passion in their work.
  • Shed siloed structures and traditional workflows and instead adopt new operating principles, value-driven teams and lightweight processes that improve the quality of work while reducing costs.

Leaders and managers create the space, time and sense of psychological safety for employees to test and debate new ways of working to produce the best work of their lives.

As a result, client and employee satisfaction soar and the creative marketing firm or in-house agency can grow, adapt and deliver at the speed of modern marketing.

The path to a high-performing operating model for creative marketing firms and in-house agencies

We can design a high-performing operating model for creative marketing firms and in-house teams by thoughtfully aligning the needs of your clients and in-house customers, employees and your business.

A 5-point framework for creating a high-performing marketing organization

I view your operating model as five interconnected points on a map. The five points are:

  • Proposition: How do you align and concentrate your creative marketing firm’s or in-house agency’s services with a focused vision, positioning strategy and value proposition? 
  • Principles: How do you unify your people with a shared set of operating principles that guide them on how to lead, collaborate, communicate and make decisions related to their work?
  • People: How do you align your organizational structure, staffing and professional development opportunities to deliver on your vision, strategy and value proposition? 
  • Process: How do you employ lightweight processes and tools for nimble ways of working? 
  • Performance: How do you measure, analyze and improve how your firm or in-house agency works? 

We can begin to map your Path to a High-Performing Operating Model™ by answering these questions. 

An adaptable, not linear, pathway forward

I offer The Path to a High-Performing Operating Model™ as an adaptable framework. That’s because every organization is different.

Your type of business, size, location, talent, digital maturity, clients, competitive landscape, resource constraints and more will all create a unique operating environment. And so, your organization’s challenges and goals should determine which points you invest in and the depth in which you do so. 

The framework is not meant to be followed linearly, but it is important that we understand each point informs and impacts the others that come after. Furthermore, as you optimize one point on the map, it will often happen at the expense of others. So, when introducing change, it’s always essential to evaluate the tradeoffs and impact to prioritize the next steps for your firm or agency.

And lastly, our work to optimize our operating model should be ongoing. You should revisit the different points on the map as your business grows and your market evolves.

A 5-point framework for creating a high-performing marketing organization

How to adopt the Path to a High-Performing Operating Model™

Over the next few months, I’ll share more about each point on the Path to a High-Performing Operating Model™ and how you can begin to adopt the framework for your organization. However, if you want help sooner, you may be interested in the Agency Wayfinder™ Program — integrated strategy and organizational design for creative and marketing firms.

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About the author

Brian Kessman

Brian is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Lodestar Agency Consulting, a consulting firm that provides actionable organizational design and positioning strategy services to creative agencies who want to find their best “next” practices to grow smoothly in today’s rapidly-evolving business world. Brian is best known for helping agencies keep pace with rapid growth by redesigning their operating model to run leaner, deliver work smarter and faster, and prevent talent burnout. He partners with agency leadership teams when they begin to struggle with organizational alignment, meeting client expectations, and retaining talent. Brian developed Lodestar’s innovative Agency Wayfinder™ model over 20+ years as a leader at interactive, brand strategy, product design/development, and full-service creative agencies across the United States. Passionate about sharing what he’s constantly learning about the future of work for creative agencies, he’s a keynote speaker and workshop facilitator for major industry associations and conferences including AMIN Worldwide, TAAN Worldwide, Worldwide Partners, MAGNET Global, Mirren Live, the Bureau of Digital. He’s also a past judge of the Favorite Website Awards (the FWA).