Organisational structures for creative agencies: Which is the best?

Structure is the key to agency growth. Without it, employees can be left idly wondering how to move forward.

So, whether you are a new start-up with just a few employees or an established, large scale organisation with well over 100 team members across several departments - the organisational structures for creative agencies directly impacts customer satisfaction, company culture and the potential for growth. Failure to implement an effective, well-thought-through structure could see your agency suffer from poor communication, demoralised staff and ultimately poor results. And, of course, you certainly don’t want that when trying to grow!

So, you may be left wondering, what the best option is for your creative agency? And you aren’t the only one! I'll be answering this question in today's article, exploring the different factors you need to consider to ensure you choose the most efficient organisational structure for your business - one that will contribute to your continued, sustainable 'scaling up' journey. 

Do you even need organisational structures for creative agencies? 

Many organisations within the creative industry want to avoid enforcing a strict structure as they feel this limits opportunity for development. But this is not necessarily the case. 

Whilst flexibility is beneficial and allows for adaptation, a business with a well-thought-through and considered structure is more likely to scale up successfully. But why is this the case? Let’s delve into a few of the benefits of a structured approach:

  • Provides clarity and guidance on matters of authority.
  • Removes the potential for complication when a new position is added, the roadmap/structure ensuring this is correctly aligned with agency growth
  • Focuses department and increases productivity - eliminates any ambiguity. 
  • Employees understand their position and value, setting their own personal targets geared towards their development within the organisation. As a result, employee's are also likely to stay loyal with the hope to move up into the next position in the future. 
  • Centralises responsibilities and ensures employees are held accountable for these tasks, allowing for an improvement in efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Cuts operational costs as you can identify where you lack certain skills, identifying gaps and seeking out the right talent to fill these. It's far cheaper to provide the full-service in-house that it is outsourcing a certain skill, ultimately this will lead to increased profitability and growth. 

You can quickly see then, there are a range of different benefits of an organisational structure and therefore, it’s an area you should dedicate some time to investigating further. Who wouldn’t want to allow for organic scalability within their organisation? 

What job positions do you typically find in a creative agency? 

Before we begin looking at the most common structures found in a creative organisation, it's important to first consider the different hierarchical positions within a team. Typically, there are just three levels of authority, but you may have less or more depending on the size of your creative agency:

  • The management team: a composition of top-level managers tasked with vital agency decision-making and administration. Typically, this level is composed of directors, company CEO, general manager, managing director, and assistant. 
  • Mid-level: leaders below the top-level managers acting as the middle-man between those making the executive decisions and more junior employees. They also serve as a support system to their team and typically, are the first-line of contact for a client. This level usually consists of a creative director, SEO lead, production director, project manager, account director, marketing manager - and so on, depending on the organisation. 
  • Junior-level: the day-to-day operators of the company, commonly they may need the support of more senior team members to assist them with fulfilling a brief. These employees hold various positions, such as account executives, creative teams, designers, account managers, and marketers.

What are the 5 most common organisational structures for creative agencies?

There are hundreds of different organisational structures, and whilst there is no specific 'right' choice, it's important to understand the pros and cons of each. Generally, an organisation will call up one of the most common and personalise this to best suit their business - remember, it’s not one size fits all! So, let's look at the 5 most commonly used by creative agencies...

#1 Flat

A flat team structure is most commonly found in start-ups or smaller creative agencies. They'll have just a couple of levels, if any at all, between management and employees. Typically, these organisations require employees to take on a range of different responsibilities and as such, tend to produce generalists rather than specialists. Now, this isn’t to say this isn’t beneficial; a customer may have a question and instead of having to ask another department, an employee will likely have the answer there and then!

However, to successfully scale up, you want to narrow down your offering to excel in a specific niche. Of course, having knowledge in several areas is highly beneficial but to gain a competitive edge, it's crucial you look to build out your team with specific subject experts. Otherwise, there will be no scope to develop into a larger departmental team. 

#2 Functional

Functional structures are those which are organised by services; for example, a creative agency may have a Sales Team, Design Team, Client Service Team, and so on depending on the services they offer. This can work successfully as each team is recognised as the experts within their certain area - no longer are there ‘generalists’ floating about. 

Particularly as the agency grows, communication and coordination between different teams will only become more and more complex and successful growth becomes all the more difficult. Even more so if your creative agency has chosen to adopt a flexible hybrid-working routine that sees individuals splitting their time between the office and their home. So, what other options are there for you to combat this? 

#3 Matrix

The matrix structure is rather similar to a functional one, but it has additional levels of management and communication woven into the fabric of it, hence the origin of it's name - matrix (black trench coats and sunglasses optional!). 

Whilst communication between teams is streamlined to a degree, the organisational structure is still limited to an agency of a certain size. Then, once again, the separate divisions will suffer from the clunky communication involved. 

#4 Holacracy

Holacracy turns the tables on how authority works. There are no clearly assigned roles and employees are instead given the flexibility to take on any duty or role and move freely between teams. It's an organic, complex take on organisational structures for creative agencies and can work highly successfully. 

However, again much like the most basic flat model, holacracy tends to limit specialism within employees which is essential within the creative industry. Perhaps you would consider training employees to a certain level across all general areas to provide them with a basic understanding of the ‘essentials’.

#5 Pods

Perhaps the most customisable and effective structure of the five, a pod is when an agency arranges their teams by client type or sector rather than functionality. This creates complete, specialist teams equipped to provide high quality results. Think of these pods similarly to sports teams - every base is covered. For example, each pod may have a SEO specialist, graphic designer and social media manager assigned to it and this pod would serve a particular category or type of clients. 

Pod structures have no other dependency within the agency and therefore, internal communication difficulties are almost eliminated, if not entirely! As a result of this streamlined workflow, your customers' experience will be enriched. Remember, customer experience should be at the heart of how your agency operates so keep this in mind when you look at your organizational structure!

So, which are the best organisational structures for creative agencies to utilise? 

Changing the structure of your creative agency can be a disruptive move, but by doing so you are opening up the opportunity for scalability in the future. 

And, whilst there is no specific ‘best’ organisational structure for creative agencies to utilise, the pod can be a highly effective solution for companies of all sizes. But, tailor this to suit your requirements - one size doesn’t fit all! 

Of course, for smaller start-ups this may not yet be a viable option but at the heart of your business’s structure, you should consider scalability - and customer experience. 

With 25+ years of experience in the industry, I can help you develop specific objectives and identify the right organisational structure that propels you towards your overall vision and allows for scalability. To learn more about me and what I do click here or get in touch here and discuss your individual requirements today.


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