Creative Agency Organizational Structure In a Nutshell
Everything you need to know about how to structure your agency
Building a successful agency requires a strong organizational structure where everything falls into place. Whether your agency has 25 or 100 people, the way how your teams are structured will always have a huge impact on your efficiency and client satisfaction. In this blog article, we’ll talk about the creative agency organizational structure and how it can evolve with the agency itself.
Creative Agency Organizational Structure In a Nutshell: Overview
What is a Creative Agency?
Creative agencies handle any type of marketing and advertising services that aim at supporting the client’s brand strategy. They do so by providing a fresh perspective to improve your brand, expert execution of marketing strategies, insider knowledge of the trends and what works, connections, and resources, and quickly creating quality content. These services include the following:
- Strategy: Advertising, brand, content, marketing, and social media strategy services; as well as analysis.
- Content Creation: Web and graphic design, web development, videography, presentations, motion graphics, Data visualization, blog articles, case studies, and other creative services.
- Communication: PR, sponsored content, influencer marketing, paid placement, and other communications services.
Usually, creative agencies offer services from more than one of these categories, which makes them different than other types of agencies that focus on just one category. For example, a design agency that offers design services is not a creative agency, despite the fact it provides services that overlap with what creative agencies do.
Here are the types of agencies that focus on just one particular service:
- Design agency: Offers design services for digital and print mediums.
- Web development agency: Specializes in developing websites, apps, platform integrations, etc.
- Digital agency: Develops digital marketing strategies related to SEO and generating leads.
- SEO agency: Develops search marketing strategies to increase traffic and generate leads.
- Social media agency: Focuses on developing social media strategies and managing social media profiles.
- Advertising agency: Specializes in advertisement on a variety of mediums: digital, print, radio, TV, etc. This type of agency usually offers marketing services as well, however, it’s not a requirement.
- PR agency: Provides content distribution and promoting brands to maximize brand awareness.
In short, if an agency offers two or more of these specialized services (for example, web design, web development, and SEO), it’s a creative agency.
So How do You Structure a Creative Agency?
Every agency sets its organizational structure slightly differently based on its services, emphasis, and strengths, so there isn’t an exact blueprint that everyone should follow. Most creative agencies improve their organizational structure by trial and error. Hiring people when they see a gap that they must fill, moving teams, and making necessary changes until landing on a good system that works for them.
No matter the case, however, it all goes down to two teams: the management team, and the creative team.
This team is responsible for communication with clients and managing the brand of the creative agency. Its members meet with the client and understand who the client is and what their goals are. Think of strategists (or account managers), salesmen, marketing teams, and project managers.
In some creative agencies, there is a particular hierarchy regarding client communication.
For example, the strategist (or account manager) is the one who meets with the client and all the project’s important stakeholders in session zero (initial brief session) to discuss the project, its goals, audiences, and what needs to be accomplished. Then, they develop a strategy based on the initial brief session and meet with a project manager (or project managers, depending on the project’s complexity) to communicate the actual project and deliverables.
After being briefed by the strategist, the project manager splits the project into individual phases, each split into tasks, and assigns each task to a creative team member.
In other creative agencies, the strategist’s role goes to the project managers. For example, a project manager specialized in custom WordPress development communicates the project with the client directly and develops a strategy. The project manager and the client agree on deliverables, estimates, and a timeframe. Then, the same project manager splits the project into phases and tasks and assigns each to their team.
In such agencies where the project managers meet the clients directly, it’s a common practice that there is a project manager assigned to each type of service. In this case, if a particular project requires design, development, and specific platform integration; the manager of each team will most likely attend the initial briefing session with the client and will create project phases and tasks for their particular service.
This team consists of all the people that do the creative work: graphic designers, UI/UX designers, developers, testers, videographers, copywriting, and so on. These creatives don’t talk directly to the client so each team has an assigned team leader (project manager) who communicates the client’s project to them.
In short, everyone who’s doing the creative work falls into the creative team category. This includes your in-house team, your remote teams, and even the teams that you hire when you’re outsourcing services.
Creative Agency Organizational Structure Example
Most creative agencies have in-house project managers and strategists to deal with projects. Here is a typical creative agency organizational structure.
Level 1: [The upper management in the agency] Finance, Marketing, and Product Management. Finance management distributes the financial resources of the agency and plans the budget; marketing management develops and executes strategic marketing plans for the entire agency; while product management develops the services that the agency offers to its clients. They don’t deal with clients’ projects directly.
Level 2: [The middle management in the agency] Strategist and account managers, as well as the head of client services: This is what we called “the management team” in the previous section. They are responsible for communication with clients and managing the brand of the creative agency. They meet with the clients, organize a briefing session and aim to understand the client’s needs, and what the project needs to accomplish.
Level 3: Project Managers: They manage the creative team directly. Usually, each creative team, based on a particular service has an assigned project manager who assigns them tasks and deadlines. When a project, for example, requires multiple different services, the project managers work together on a schedule and task assigning. Effective project management is more important when an agency grows since you have more contributors to each team.
Level 4: Creative teams: The graphic designers, UI/UX designers, developers, testers, videographers, copywriters, and other specialists who create the deliverables.
Types of organizational structures
Although everything comes down to a management and creative team, there are a couple of ways to go about it.
Flat structure: Common for very small start-up agencies with just a few people, flat structures rarely have any levels between management and creatives. What is typical about this structure is that the creatives have to do many different tasks in different categories of work. As a result, a typical employee in an agency with a flat structure is a jack of all trades and rarely a specialist.
Functional structure: This structure organizes teams by services as it concentrates on their specific expertise. It works best if a client requires more than one service. As a result, a couple of specialist teams handle the different aspects of the project while the communication between teams is handled by the project managers of each team.
Matrix structure: At its core, the matrix structure resembles the functional one with additional levels of management and communication. This structure adds account managers to the mix, to manage the sales and relationships with particular customers.
Holacracy structure: This type of structure offers no clear roles as team members have the flexibility to move between teams and take on any role they can handle.
Pods structure: This structure organizes teams by client type or sector. It aims to create deep specialist teams, each providing services for a particular category of clients in different sectors. Unlike the functional structure, teams in a pod structure don’t depend on other teams within the agency. This eliminates the need for complex internal communication.
How Does Your Structure Evolve?
Of course, when you start up as an individual practitioner and then grow to the size of a full-service agency that takes on large-scope projects, your structure will be different at each stage.
Changing your structure is needed once your current one doesn’t serve you anymore. This usually happens when you start to get larger projects and the clients have certain expectations about your organizational structure. Another thing is to look for patterns that tell you that some changes are needed: for example, missing a deadline a few times in a row is a pattern and a clear signal to create a new structure that can support your current situation.
The easiest way to shape your creative agency’s organizational structure is to do it around your clients. What kinds of projects do you usually work on? What kind of communication do you have with your clients? And what type of clients do you wish to work with? Think of your clients as part of your agency, as they will inevitably determine how your agency evolves.
- Typical types of structure: Flat, Holacracy
When you first launch an agency, there’s hardly any particular structure. In most cases, creative agencies start with one or two services and a team of individual practitioners. For example, you decide to launch an agency for web design and web development projects with other freelance creatives. This structure involves one team and there isn’t a pronounced division between management and creatives.
A good example of a startup web design and development agency with a team of 5 individual practitioners is a team of brand strategist who focuses on building a client base, two web designers, and two web developers. The brand strategist can also take the role of a project manager, however, this role can be executed by any other team member.
Over time, as this small startup manages to expand its client base, it will also need to develop relationships with other designers and developers, as well as other creatives to fill in gaps where particular skills are necessary. This kickstarts the next stage of agency evolution.
- Typical types of structure: Flat, Functional
In its next stage, the startup agency offers more services and its structure reflects that. Large projects require bigger teams and now we can see a more pronounced management team and a creative team. Since the team is still relatively small, usually the senior developer can take the role of a project manager for the development team, and the most experienced designer- for the design team. The agency will still keep on acquiring more individual practitioners on different teams with more specialized skills in order to take on more complex projects.
- Typical types of structure: Flat, Functional, Matrix, Pods
This is the stage where your agency has a reputable brand and a solid client base. Your agency has over 25 people (in some cases up to 100) with specialized teams, each with a project manager, senior expert, and a QA. Here we can see functional structures where teams are organized by services, each team concentrates the expertise and knowledge within those services.
In addition, communication and coordination between these teams become more organized. This involves account managers who coordinate other functions.
Are you looking for white label web development? Schedule a meeting with our tech-savvy managers to discuss if this approach is right for your business.
To Sum Up
Every creative agency sets its organizational structure differently based on its services and expertise. Most agencies improve their organizational structure by trial and error. In the end, there isn’t an exact blueprint that you should follow, however, no matter what type of organizational structure fits your agency best, it all goes down to two teams: the management team, and the creative team.
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