Meet a Member: Wade Franks

Wade Franks leads Torque Creative—the 62-person internal agency at TTI Group, an international company that designs, manufactures and markets power tools and household appliances for brands ranging from Ryobi and Craftsman to Hoover and Oreck. Torque Creative was recently honored as a finalist for 2013’s In-House Agency of the Year—and Wade was kind enough to share his thoughts on what it takes to be an effective leader of an in-house creative team.

“Earlier in my career, I went through the stages of being a micromanager to the opposite extreme of being totally hands off. I learned that to be an effective leader, you have to be somewhere in between—to let your staff put their individual talents to use, but also to be there to give guidance when it’s needed. Still, you have to give direction in the right way. It’s easy to say, ‘Why don’t you just do it this way?’ There’s an art to delivering critiques—to point in a direction, but still provide your staff with the freedom to figure out how to execute it.

“Managing creatives, in particular, is very different than managing say engineers. I’ve worked a lot with our HR team and had discussions about our year-end review process to make sure we’re evaluating our staff in the right way. Even though we produce a high volume of work, it’s not simply a matter of cranking up the conveyor belt and asking everyone to work faster. That type of pressure doesn’t always lead to the best work.

“As a leader, you have to know when to deliver praise and when to be firm. I learned those lessons from some of my former managers. One of the best managers I ever had was back in my younger days when I worked as a head bartender and had to manage other bartenders and waitresses who were all my age, and also my friends. I learned that you can be friendly but still have to maintain enough distance that your staff isn’t shocked or angry when you have to make the decisions a manager does. Another lesson I learned came from a senior art director I worked for at an ad agency while living in Germany for a period. He taught me the value of being direct. He pushed me very hard, and while I try to give feedback a little more gently, his critiques helped me grow and develop as a designer.”

When asked what advice he has for new managers, Wade suggested they strive to not be too heavy-handed and to give people time to find their own solutions. While it’s sometimes tempting, Wade says you can’t simply issue orders the way a military commander would. When leading a marketing team, you have to learn the art of coaxing people to go in the direction you want them to go. If you can do that, you end up with a far more motivated staff. Wade’s recommendation for experienced managers who need to keep energized with the occasional recharge: “Join IHAF. I’ve found it to be a great experience since my team joined four years ago—to have opportunities to remember that I’m not alone and that there are a bunch of people out there dealing with the same issues I deal with every day, and who have lots of ideas on how to address those challenges.” (We can assure you, we didn’t coax Wade into saying that!)

What insights do you have into successfully leading an in-house creative team? We’re always interested in hearing from the community so be in touch, ihaforum.org. And thanks to Wade for sharing his experiences, as well as his time as an ambassador for IHAF.

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