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Four approaches to creative leadership in consumer packaged goods companies


Four approaches to creative leadership in consumer packaged goods companies


Scott Lucas and Jen Bethke offer four approaches to creative leadership for CPG companies, and outline how to choose the best fit for your organisation.

Jennifer_BethkeDeveloping and maintaining a clear approach to managing brand design within a consumer packaged goods (CPG) company can be a tough but decisively productive way to make brand design more efficient. How you’re doing it now may ultimately not deliver the best results. Something that appears to work for other brands may not be the best approach for your brand model.

When the grass always appears greener on the other side of the fence, you must to decide whether or not to jump over.

Just to give some context, approaches to managing brand design have changed drastically over the last ten years. Historically, Agency of Record (AOR) relationships were typical, with large external agencies responsible for the bulk of brand work.

At the time, this made a lot of sense because channels of communication between consumers and brands were traditional – print, radio and TV.

However, as the internet changed the way brands interact with consumers, communication touchpoints exploded. There were simply more ways to communicate as a brand – and it became important to find and work with agencies that excelled in these channels as well. In essence, driving down the prevalence of one AOR relationship and driving up the need for multiple-agency relationships, with design playing a much larger role internally through creative leadership and design management.

Based on our experience with clients who represent many ways of managing brand design, we have provided four approaches from several large CPG companies to understand emerging approaches.

A new way to look at managing design: common archetypes

Scott_Lucas_2013There are 12 common archetypes that describe basic human motivations. Each type has its own set of values, meaning and personality types. These markers for human motivations can also be used to illuminate the motivations of brands.

Both for consumers and brands, archetypes build trust and authenticity by communicating core values consistently. To better define, evaluate and understand each design approach, we have aligned each to an archetype. This helps clients and agencies understand motivations, recognise fears, communicate and interact more effectively, and build more effective and efficient teams both internally and externally.


1. Global creative leadership: one leader can change everything

Archetype: Knowledgeable sage

The expert, scholar, detective, advisor, thinker, planner archetype. Think Yoda or the brand Dyson. This approach is largely characterised by a single leader, partnered closely with a C-suite level operator like a CMO. Global creative leadership elevates managing brand design from the top down and expands its role in the business, as the head of design creates the vision for all facets, from strategy to execution. This approach sets a bar for consistency across projects, brands, teams and regions.

It often vaults design, process (and budgets) while guarding brand equity. However, it can also represent the potential for stagnant design. When disconnected at the brand or project level, access from a single leader can be time-consuming.

The question to ask yourself when considering this approach for your own company is: ‘While vision is important at the top, how well will it trickle down?’

2. Design management: one design manager per brand drives efficiency

Archetype: Helpful caregiver

Can be most closely compared to Mary Poppins or the brand Toms. A nurturing, helpful, best friend. Design managers become the go-between for agencies, internal clients or marketing teams. They are responsible for bringing to life the needs of the brand while delivering on the needs of the business.

The benefits are quite simple: the design management approach represents a dedicated, expert resource for design and collaboration. While 10 years ago this role was very tactical, today it can be characterised by a stable and trusted brand stewardship, responsible for overseeing not only design but also brand identity and voice in several channels. This approach presents some challenges.

Finding qualified design managers can be difficult, determining their ROI even more so. Establishing a consistent process and benchmarks while juggling different, often opposing agendas, desires and fears can also be a challenge. This matters because if the design management team isn’t critical to different agendas, the gaps in design leadership will be amplified and create risk.

At every level your organisation will need to get on the same page.

3. Brand management: with no design leadership, life is easier, cheaper and better

Archetype: Confident ruler

Consider this archetype to be closer to a ruler or stable boss, confident leader or role model; like Warren Buffet or Microsoft.

Where there is little to no management of brand design leadership internally, CPG agencies work directly with brands and marketing teams. The marketing organisation is tasked with building the business, managing design and maintaining brand equities both with and without global creative leadership.

This approach allows business needs to inform design directly.

Teams share brand goals and collaborate effectively. On the agency side, the approach is great for combining the design marketing team with the external brand management team. The agency defines and owns the process, outcomes and benchmarks.

On the other hand, high turnover or account rotation on the part of the brand team can leave gaps in leadership. Agencies with minimal design background are challenged with leading brand management teams and it can be difficult to get design to be viewed as higher importance within the organisation at the C-suite level.

When considering this approach, remember the brand team may be consistent in their design role, but success depends on strong leadership from the agency side to keep the collaboration together – this means time and money.


4. Agency of record (AOR): For the agency, being in control doesn’t always mean freedom

Archetype: Innovative creator

Independent, inventive and creative, like Steve Jobs or the brand Lego.

An AOR relationship typically consists of a brand choosing an agency they could trust to be the ongoing brand steward for all creative work – allowing the brand to seek out an agency that suited their taste, rather than hire creatives internally. Even with an AOR relationship, work can be project-based. But this approach has the potential for creative solutions to become ‘expected’ and defining the relationship between brand and agency as a vendor rather than a partner is a ‘watch out’ from a creativity standpoint.

For the agency, it’s easier to predict workload and create a staffing plan that benefits from the strategic relationships formed with the senior management, marketing teams and potentially other outside agencies. When considering, ask yourself: can I find a permanent partner that can adapt as quickly as my brand?


Will the grass always be greener on the other side?

Yes, and no. Ultimately, it depends on what you’re working with right now. Getting an entire design management department to try a new approach is an undertaking with a lot of risk, but a study of these approaches can help you identify the benefits and pitfalls of each. That way, you have an idea of what the future will look like and whether or not you wish to adapt.

In the constantly evolving world of CPG brand design, knowledge is key.


Scott Lucas is managing director, and Jen Bethke is account director at Brandimage – a division of SGK Inc, the global brand development, activation and deployment company.


Further reading


Image copyright: themorningglory / 123RF Stock Photo


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