The CMO Payoff for Aligning Creative and Marketing

Alex Withers

Studies and countless anecdotes show that CMOs are increasingly taking work in-house and building internal creative agencies. They hope that bringing deep brand knowledge inside the business will yield higher quality creative and provide greater efficiencies for their overall marketing organization.

However, there are indications that things may not be going as planned.

A recent survey of 566 creatives and marketers – conducted jointly by my company, inMotionNow, and InSource, a professional organization for in-house creatives – found a sizable number of respondents seemingly lack confidence in their leadership and reported morale issues.

For example, just 64 percent of respondents said their creative leadership is effective and even fewer (54 percent) said their marketing leadership is effective. Less than half (45 percent) said morale on the creative team is high. 


The organizational transformation has unfolded in such a way that it has knocked these two teams out of alignment. Marketing leaders must realize they can’t just bolt on a creative team and expect miracles.

We know this because it shows up repeatedly in the data: in a climate where many businesses brought substantial creative resources in-house, just half (47 percent) said the relationship between creative and marketing was better this year in comparison to the previous year.

Likewise, collaboration between marketing and creative didn’t fare much better with just 51 percent saying collaboration was effective. In other words, upwards of half the combined team in some organizations aren’t playing well with each other.

Collaboration, or the lack thereof, has an outsized impact on ordinary day-to-day tasks. Nearly half (46 percent) of creatives indicated they don’t get enough information in the creative brief to just to begin a project – and most (72 percent) say it’s is the single biggest administrative task that soaks up time that could be better spent being creative. Moreover, an astonishing 79 percent of creatives said they receive feedback on the performance of creative assets just some of the time or not at all.  

These statistics suggest a consistent theme of troubled collaboration throughout the core process. Creatives don’t get the information they need at project kick-off, which means campaign expectations aren’t aligned, and therefore, unsurprisingly there’s a lack of feedback and performance insight.

How can marketing expect better performing creative if a collaborative process does not exist? The simple answer is… they can’t. As a result, higher quality creative and marketing efficiencies never materialize – and the deep brand knowledge remains untapped.

Creative Process is Lost in the In-House Shuffle

Our study isn’t the only one that’s bringing awareness to the scope of the problem. Indeed, a new report by the CMO Council – Reshaping Global Engagement Operations – found similar viewpoints among senior marketing leaders:

“Serious questions about structure and resource alignment were called into question as marketers shared that rather than an aligned network of connected in-house and agency resources, 76 percent faced a disconnected and scattered collection of multiple creative teams, partners and contractors whose responsiveness and capabilities were in need of improvement (according to 32 percent of senior leaders), more often failing to meet the needs of both global and local marketing execution.”

Scattered organizations usually have disparate processes and that data suggests it’s hindering execution. In addition, the lack of alignment is beginning to cast doubt on the future of marketing performance as well:

“Only 10 percent of marketers are exceedingly confident in their current capabilities while 39 percent admit that they are still hedging their bets… confident in their teams, but willing to admit there is plenty of room for things to go horribly wrong.”

It’s clear that something is being lost in the shuffle. I suspect, in the course of moving creative teams in-house, one of two things have happened:

  1. The marketing team treated their creative agency like a vendor – a factory for prettying things up – rather than a strategic partner. Subsequently, when the CMO brought that creative team in-house, marketing naturally treated this team the same way; "mechanical artists," as one respondent put it in our survey.
  2. In the course of bringing the creative team in-house, marketing leaders lost the commitment to process and collaboration that outside agencies demanded to do work effectively: strong creative briefs, project management, traffic control and analysis and feedback.

The Payoff for Aligning Creative and Marketing

In order to reap the benefits of in-housing, creative and marketing teams must develop a strategic relationship. It means marketing leaders need to establish clear standards, documented processes, open communication and culture where marketing and creative both harbor a healthy respect for one another.

There are sizable benefits – a payoff – for focusing on this area too. When we cross-analyzed the answers to our survey by just those teams that reported strong alignment between creative and marketing, the results were significant.

Strongly aligned creative and marketing teams are:

  • 18 percent more likely to say collaboration is effective;
  • 16 percent more likely say their marketing leadership is effective;
  • 12 percent more likely to report using best practices;
  • 12 percent more likely to have high morale; and
  • 11 percent more likely to say their creative leadership is effective 

These aren’t just feel-good statistics, rather these translate into high performing teams that produce real business benefits. For example, the pro-basketball team Minnesota Timberwolves shared an anecdote in the study, that a highly collaborative process builds trust and fosters cultural environment also leads to better feedback.

“Creative can freely focus on being creative knowing marketing is simply looking to keep the creative on brand and ensure it performs optimally,” wrote Courtney Brown, the creative project manager for the organization.

The result? The collaboration between creative and marketing analysts discovered ticket sales improved when creatives used a logo on their promotional material, as opposed to player imagery.

Three Ways CMOs can Align Creative and Marketing

If you’ve grown your in-house team and you see things are going sideways – what can you do? In my experience, there are three key areas senior marketing leaders should focus on:

1) Create parity among teams.

The first step is to create parity between these two teams. Dispel all notions of “internal client” and “internal service agency” and replace it with a philosophy of collaborative partners in pursuit of the same business goals. To paraphrase my colleague Andy Brenits, president of the InSource board of directors, creatives don’t serve anyone, they are every bit strategic partners.

2) Foster a culture of respect.

It’s not enough to demand process – people need to know why as well. CMOs can foster a culture of mutual respect with understanding. This has a profound upside across the organizations because marketers that understand the creative process tend to be stronger marketers. Likewise, creatives that understand the metrics of marketing produce better creative.

3) Embrace collaborative tools.

Marketing has poured all sorts of budget into technology: marketing automation, multitouch attribution software, and programmatic advertising among others. These have improved the efficiency of distribution in marketing, which ironically, all depend on content developed by the creative team. If there’s ever been a time to arm creatives with collaborative technologies that drive efficiency, improve creative productivity and facilitate alignment with marketing, it's now.

Alex Withers is the Chief Marketing Officer of inMotionNow, a leading provider of workflow management solutions for marketing and creative teams. Alex is a seasoned digital technology and marketing executive, with more than 20 years of marketing leadership experience, driving both B2C and B2B marketing strategy and implementation at media, sports and software businesses. He’s had the privilege of working with some of the world’s most prestigious brands including Pepsi, ESPN, USGA, the Financial Times, and LexisNexis, as well as exciting growth stage businesses. He’s earned a reputation for building talented and high-performing teams, that deliver innovation, brand engagement and commercial success.

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