3 key categories of a high-performing marketing organizational structure

In earlier parts of this series, I have covered two out of five interconnected points of a framework for designing a high-performing marketing organization: 

  • Proposition. How do you align and concentrate your creative marketing firm’s or in-house agency’s services with a focused vision, positioning strategy and value proposition? 
  • Principles. How do you unify your people with a shared set of operating principles that guide them on how to lead, collaborate, communicate and make decisions related to their work?

In this article, I’ll cover the third related point:

  • People. How do you align your organizational structure, staffing and professional development opportunities to deliver on your vision, strategy and value proposition? 

The purpose of structure

The purpose of organizational structure is to guide your people down a pathway to deliver on your firm’s or agency’s vision and strategy. In other words, structure also prevents your people from going down other pathways that don’t support your vision.

Every organization will have a unique vision and strategy. In the environment we’re all operating in today, we should aim for three common goals when designing or evaluating our structure:

For your people to work in an environment where they can produce great work. That’s what your people want, so that’s what you should want. But, for that to happen, they need to feel heard and valued and have a sense of ownership over their work. They’ll need the right information, tools, resources and support to flow freely.

For your stakeholders and clients to be happy. For that to happen, they need to receive their work quickly and with the flexibility to change marketing priorities. Overall, they want to see business value from your relationship, which comes from your interactions, how you manage their work and the outputs and outcomes you can deliver.

For your firm or in-house agency to have the flexibility to quickly and easily adapt to any shift in the market, new disruptive technologies, business opportunities or crises.

3 categories of organizational structure

When thinking about the organizational structure of your in-house agency or creative marketing firm, consider three categories:

  • Foundational structure.
  • Departmental structure.
  • Team structure.

Foundational structure

Foundational structure is the starting point for guiding how your people work to support your agency’s vision, strategy and operating principles. Agency leadership should define this layer of structure because it provides a critical level of business value, and it would be costly if anyone in the organization opted not to adopt it.

Some examples include:

  • Reporting lines.
  • Process maps.
  • Project management software.
  • Centralized file-storage.
  • Internal company-wide policies.

Foundational structure should be adhered to by all staff. However, everyone should still feel empowered to propose improvements or changes. But guidance is needed. 

When proposing a change to your existing foundational structure, use the following questions to evaluate the benefits and costs: 

  • How will the change impact our client’s experience?
  • How will the change impact other teams?
  • How will the change impact the integration of work across teams?
  • How will the change impact the agency’s creativity, quality of work or ability to innovate?
  • How will the change impact revenue or expenses?
  • Is any of the above more valuable than other gains that the business is receiving from leaving the foundational structure intact?

Departmental structure

Departmental structure works to guide how groups like functional areas, disciplines or departments. These group members should define this layer of structure because they are the subject matter experts and closest to the work.

Some examples include:

  • Roles and responsibilities.
  • Department-level decision-making.
  • Department-level meeting rhythm.
  • Department software (i.e., Photoshop, DAM).
  • Professional development/career pathways.

Team structure

Team structure works to guide how cross-functional project teams or delivery teams operate. Like departmental structure, the team should come together to determine their specific structure because the outcome defines how they will work together. Each subject matter expert on the team will know their craft and what they need to do their best work. 

Some examples include:

  • Team-level agreements.
  • RACI and similar frameworks.
  • Project-level decision-making rights.
  • Team-level meeting rhythm.

Striking the right balance of structure and agility

As your firm or agency grows, it’s common to introduce new structures and processes for scalability. But it’s critical to balance that structure with agility.

Too much structure can hinder creativity, innovation and adaptability, while too little can lead to chaos, inefficiency and misalignment. Encourage open dialogue and invite your people to propose improvements and adjustments.

Next steps

Designing a high-performing marketing organization requires a thoughtful approach. Begin by evaluating how your foundational, departmental and team structure work together to support your vision and strategy and achieve our original three goals:

  • To create a supportive environment for your people to produce exceptional work.
  • To create happy stakeholders and clients.
  • To develop your organization’s ability to adapt to the market, new technology and current events.

Just know that the best marketing organizations don’t start that way. Instead, they begin by testing new working methods, learning and iterating. That’s what I’d like you to do.


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