Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Customer Service. Duh.

What felt like a revolutionary epiphany is really little more than understanding why inhouse design groups operate with an agency mentality. The concept is simple. Coming to terms with my character is not.

As the two-year anniversary of my move into a creative director position approaches, I have started to look back and see where I’ve gone grown, where I’ve faltered, and where I’ve exceeded my own expectations. More importantly, I am paying particular attention to the future. Where I can, will, and desire to grow as a manager and leader within the company.

Recently, I had an out-of-management experience. It’s hard to describe, and hard to put into words, because it’s one of those things that seem deadpan obvious in hindsight. But I’ll try, because I like you.

In my conversations with peers, teammates and managers, I’ve been trying to come to terms with the kudzu-like growth of our marketing team, and how teams with fuzzy boundaries need to work together. Since I manage the “creative services” team (I hate that term; please give me a good alternative) that includes writers, designers, web developers and demo engineers, I am exposed to the river of projects that tirelessly swells and recedes inside our marketing ecosystem.

Because this flux of work streams directly to my team, it is my responsibility to manage that flow — diverting projects to the right people, making sure things are reviewed (and approved), and pushing back when we do not have capacity. I am occasionally required to push back hard, and have been known to create a fuss when things get out of hand. Not an unwarranted fuss, mind you, but a fuss nonetheless.

Many inhouse design groups operate as a self-enclosed “agency,” fully staffed and some even billing different departments for time and materials. I’ve always rejected this concept, as I wanted to be part of the marketing team, and participate as an equal in high-level strategy and planning. The stereotype, after all, mandates agencies are the bitches in the relationship. Agencies sell their children into slavery to keep the account. They create work tailored to win awards. They stay awake all weekends only to be flogged in Monday morning pitches.

But I missed the one big thing successful agencies excel at — customer service.

I am the first one to preach collaboration. But the revelation, such as it is, is that I have only been practicing collaboration when it’s on my terms — when I can ultimately dictate the agreement. When I have control. I have not been collaborative when my team is put at a disadvantage; frankly, I can come off as a despotic asshole. This not only affects how people view me, but begins to paint a darker picture for the rest of the department. My team deserves better than that.

I am contrarian by nature. Some people like to play soccer or chess; I like to sit in a conference room and pick apart arguments and ideas. Being agreeable is disagreeable. When someone pitches me a ball, I don’t aim for the back fence, I aim for the pitcher. I have the position of creative director because I’m a darned good designer, understand good copy, and would lay down my career to defend my team. I am not the creative director because I make friends easily. (Or at all, depending on who you talk to.)

I am rambling.

My out-of-management experience is simple. Practice good customer service. Stop being a contrived dick. Work with people, not through them. Like I alluded to several paragraphs back, this is not a revolutionary thought, but it was like a tiny lightbulb flickering to life above my thick skull. In an inhouse group, its too easy to get comfortable and arrogant. Agencies, if nothing else, have to practice good customer service in order to stay in business. So will I.

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commentary + criticism


wrote the following on Tuesday July 1, 2008

I miss working with you guys. sigh


wrote the following on Thursday July 3, 2008

if i were only to judge you by your blogs, i’d say you’re a contrived, insecure, depressed individual. there’s much negativity in you. look at your blog history, how many of them are merely rantings of somesort?

again, only from your online presence, rl personality may vary.


wrote the following on Sunday July 6, 2008

JY — Thanks for adding your thoughts (and I say that with no sarcasm). I am disappointed you thought this post was negative; if that’s your take, then I obviously failed in my attempt to communicate what I feel is a positive learning experience.

While I appreciate your opinion, you only got one out of three right. I can be contrived at times. I am not, however, depressed or insecure. I know exactly where I measure in all areas of my life, and I have no ego or insecurity related to any of them. The reason I rant about stuff is because someone has to. And don’t think I hide behind the internet; I am just as vocal in real life.

This post was an attempt to share a learning and growing opportunity I have had as a manager. Sometimes admitting you have been making some serious mistakes is not easy; finding the brio and energy to correct them is harder.

Kyle Racki

wrote the following on Sunday July 6, 2008

Just stumbled upon this blog, great articles, thanks for sharing.

To be honest, I find it pretty humble in it’s tone, I don’t get where JY is coming from.


wrote the following on Tuesday July 8, 2008


My comment wasn’t directed at this particular article. It was more directed at your post history. Again, as I said before, I’m only drawing my judgement from what I see on your site. It’s very possible that you’re a much laid back person irl.

In my experience of reading other’s writings(over a long period of time), it’s fairly easy to tell the author’s personality, and statement of mind. Believe or not, I like your writings. However, when i see most of your writings are merely rants, i almost sense an inbalance. Everyone rants, but not everyone rants majority of the time, or rant for the sake of ranting.

Even you yourself admit:

<blockquote>I am contrarian by nature. Some people like to play soccer or chess; I like to sit in a conference room and pick apart arguments and ideas. Being agreeable is disagreeable. When someone pitches me a ball, I don’t aim for the back fence, I aim for the pitcher</blockquote>

Do you argue for the sake of arugment? Looking back, how many times did you argue with people to WIN, instead of on the issue? How often do you put yourself in the other person’s pov? That’s how I drew the conclusion that you may be insecure, since the vibe i get from your writing is, you’re trying to approve yourself, or rant about otherwise trivial things(although some topic are worth ranting about, however you take it way too seriously). Think about that for a minute before you dismiss it.

Just to be clear, This is my favorite post of yours as a long time reader. I’m in no way suggesting you should change your style(obviously it’s working, since I still come here). I’d just like to remind you that, there are a lot worse things out there to rant about, and far more wonderful things we take for granted, to put things in perspective.

Adrian Bye

wrote the following on Thursday July 10, 2008

I haven’t read Kevin’s other posts, but from reading this one he comes across as a very passionate guy, someone I’d love to have on my team.


wrote the following on Thursday September 4, 2008

your human, you make mistakes, you learn, you grow from those mistakes. the key is to not keep making them over and over as time goes on. plus your in an environment where day to day agency life is like tug of war. our industry is very opinionated and egotistical. what is the most perfect answer to what we do for our clients? what will the client go head over heals over? how can you project your ideas into narrow minded non-creative’s? we never know what the outcome will be exactly. its a game. some master this game, some don’t. and if it was easy, everyone and their mother would be a creative director. the title holds a very specific challenge.

how does one direct creative? one has to become the creative. walk in its shoes, get beaten up in the boardroom, take criticism (well), remaining confident yet not too cocky… if i start dissecting the ego, i can be hear all night.

plus, customer service is not all the same. your not a telemarketer or some shmoe trying to sell car insurance. your an idea guru that strives to achieve magic for your client. they came to you in need of something magnificent, no matter what your selling for them. the customer needs to be aware that they might not always be right at all times. the only way they will see that is through trial and error. treating them like special-ed students isn’t the trick. stroking their ego’s will get you nowhere. i wish to be treated the way i treat others. is that gonna always happen… no. but i still try to understand what it will take to get through to people and that’s respect. respecting other people’s opinions. that doesn’t mean you need to buckle and fold for everyone. hold on to what you believe will work and try your best to sell it.

it comes down to this. you do your job and you try to do it well. always watch your back at all times. everything else is just fluff as they say.


wrote the following on Wednesday August 26, 2009

People can be one of the largest challenges you’ll ever face in the work world! Sometimes, we all have to learn to deal with difficult ones. Good CS is really vital to any business. I learned so much in the 6 years I worked at a grocery store behind the service desk than I can even begin to tell you. It trickled into all of my later design jobs that came along, and into my life in general.