Meet a Member: Jeremy Brazeal of Coca-Cola

IHAF member, Jeremy Brazeal, knows a thing or two about leading an internal creative team. As the Group Creative Director at KO:OP, the in-house agency at The Coca-Cola Company, Jeremy was kind enough to offer his perspective on what’s happening in the creative world today and share how he keeps his 17-person team motivated. Here’s what Jeremy had to say.

I started my 20+-year career in 1996, at a catalog house in Colchester, Connecticut called S&S Worldwide. I learned a lot there about how to be organized and about the pre-press and printing process. I was always a creative person, but I was a mess everywhere else, to be honest.

S&S was one of the first companies to go 100% digital with direct-to-plate printing and I was a part of that. After three years, the experience led me to The LEGO Group and I guess the rest is history. We went on to build a massively successful internal agency that I would lead, then on to Coca-Cola.

Everything is different now than it was 10 years ago. Back then, internal agencies were in this phase where they would do anything to prove that they were a strong solution. We were no different at The LEGO Group. We took on massive projects and built a large infrastructure to do all this work and became very specialized. It was fantastic but also risky.

Combine that with the fact that employees stick around in-house setups way longer than they do external agencies, and you can end up with rigid teams that make it difficult to try different things or adopt different ways of working. You also end up having a lot of people dedicated to a specific partner or business group and if those businesses decide to do something different or work with someone else, you end up having to make some tough decisions that could affect your team’s future. I would have implemented a business structure like the one we use today back then if I knew what I know now.

In my current role at Coca-Cola, there are a lot of new and exciting things happening. It’s a rare opportunity to be hired to build an agency from the ground up—to take learnings from my past experiences, carrying the most successful things over and shaping new ways of working that are different than what didn’t always work well in the past.

We’ve built an agile team that allows us to move quickly as a group—all this from a team that started out creating tier-two work and, in a short period of time, switched over to almost all tier-one work. Of course, we still maintain a foundation of steady tier-two projects, but we are now leading tier-one strategies, campaigns and video-production projects. It’s been great to see the team succeed and show their true creative talents.

As an in-house agency leader, the challenge I face is keeping teams motivated when we bring experienced creative leads in as freelancers and work with them to tackle some of the more challenging projects. To be successful at this type of work you need strong specialists with a lot of experience from a creative direction perspective and that specialist knowledge has to come from the outside. To do this, we need to get everyone on board—to find a place for all of them as contributors to the project, and to have the patience for them to realize that success reflects on everyone. I’m told I lead with a human touch. I suppose that helps. We all strive to ensure that our contributions are not led by ego. That’s part of the culture here, and we all believe in it.

Thanks for your insights and inspiration, Jeremy—and for your enthusiasm for IHAF. If you’d like to share your story or that of your in-house agency, please be in touch. We’re always interested in learning more about the people and personalities that comprise our eclectic, energetic membership community.

1 Reader Comment

  • pbyrnes said

    A recent Drum article supports your claim about in-house teams now handling tier-one work. The story refers to the pending closure of Wexley School for Girls, a highly regarded creative shop in Seattle.

    “There are major shifts of what clients are expecting from agencies large and small,” noted [owner Cal] McAllister. “They're keeping some of the best creative opportunities, where they used to rely on agencies, in-house.”

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