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4 Brilliant Ways to Manage Multiple Internal and External Clients

Colleen Devanie of REI talks agile studios on The Creative Operations Podcast.

Screenshot 2022-10-04 at 12.55.40 PM
Head of Community at Creative Force
Head of Community at Creative Force

It takes agility for a studio to work with both internal and external clients, and Colleen Devanie of REI knows it all too well. First a photo assistant at a large agency, Colleen then worked for a commercial agency on accounts for Under Armour and Petco before coming to REI, to guide the company's eCommerce, editorial, and lifestyle content for its private-label brand as well as outside brands it retails.

Ready to hear the full episode? Stream it from our website, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Amazon Music. But for just a few easy pointers on navigating internal and external clients, read on.

Start with a Style Guide

In Colleen's case, she's dealing not only with internal and external clients but also with products across many categories, from roof racks to backpacks. "So it's complex, both in how we decide, 'Does this set of imagery come in to support this product from the vendor?' or 'Does our studio produce that?'"

Instead of letting variability become the excuse for chaos, REI's team commits to the organization, making style guides-Colleen says there could be a hundred of them to cover the variety of clients and products.

Of course, it's easier to delve deeper into style guide specifics for in-house brands that are shot internally. "I like to call them the VIP style guides," Colleen says. "So how do we apply the VIP treatment to the products that are our own products?"

Think Beyond Your Shot List

While 100-some style guides serve to organize Colleen's team, the rules provided in those guides are merely the baseline, there's still room to improvise. "The style guides are the minimum requirements of content around this particular item," she says. "But that doesn't mean we can't capture additional shots."

Being an agile studio sometimes means creating more work, not less, Colleen explains. If there's something her team believes the customer should know about a product, there's the freedom to get an extra shot.

"We think of agility almost synonymous with cost savings," Daniel says, "when in reality, what we're talking about is doing right by the product."

If your studio is working with both internal and external clients, then it's likely that people are bringing business to your studio because they trust your versatility and intuition, so put your senses to work.

Of course, not every studio is ready to become this agile instantly. "Adding an additional shot in some studios would grind the process to a halt because your retouch teams, your QA people, your digitechs, whatever software platform you may be using to run production may only expect a certain number of images," Daniel says. "I've worked in studios where we've had to give that feedback and say, 'It's not up to you to just shoot whatever you think is important. You have to shoot what this process prescribes.'"

Whether or not your studio is ready to think beyond scripted shots, remember that such freedom comes after organization, not in place of it. "Make sure you have a plan in place that allows some of that flexibility, because if you don't have the baseline of the process, then you're just winging it, reacting," Colleen says.

Form a Team with Product Passion

Making improv decisions about what a customer needs works only if your team can think like customers. Do you know what helps with that? Actually being customers.

Colleen's team at REI is made up of people who love the merchandise. "We are obviously all members and outdoor advocates and enthusiasts and gear heads as well," she explains. "So there's a lot of expertise inside of the studio in different areas that we're able to tap into."

Let's be real-not every account is as cool as an outdoor lifestyle brand "I shot plenty of things when I worked for Amazon that I felt pretty passionate about and I shot plenty of things that I have no idea what it was to this day," Daniel says.

If your studio is working with both internal and external clients, then look for hires who not only like your company but also understand the entire product categories that you shoot most often.

Trust the Numbers

So you're supposed to be ultra-prepared yet know when to think beyond your preparation, and also hire a bunch of enthusiasts. Easy, right? We realize we're talking about implementing a lot, so you'll want proof that these changes are serving your agility with internal and external clients. Here's where numbers can be your guide.

"No matter how big or how small, being agile means having a process that the team follows but one that allows you to adjust and pivot to the business, where the needs are, when they are, and you have data to support that," Colleen says.

"You cannot be agile with guesses, propositions, ideas. You've got to use data and facts to influence the work you're doing, and make sure the decisions you're making and choices you're making are right for the business."

Want to hear the full chat, including Daniel's request for side payments and discussion of REI's penchant for using customers as on-camera talent, stream the episode on our website, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Amazon Music.