Creative Leaders: Balance Business Strategy and the Latest Technologies

An interview with Alex Calicchia, Founder & President of Hive Partners.
(This is part 1 of a series on managing and creating world-class internal creative teams.) 

With the increasing speed and digitalization of business, creative teams are under a lot of pressure to deliver projects - faster, better and in higher volumes. With this interview series, we learn how creative leaders can succeed even under these circumstances and we share their advice with others in the field.

In this interview, we converse with Alexander Calicchia, Founder & President of Hive Partners, who has 25 years executive experience in the financial services sector as both strategic planner and project manager. Prior to this, he held senior leadership positions at Capital One and regional banks such as Amegy Bank and MidSouth Bank. In those positions he's built internal creative agencies from scratch, grown creative teams, and driven marketing strategy — all while working past internal challenges. His creative agencies became strategic partners for their larger organizations. Here's his outlook on what it takes to lead an internal creative team to success.

Alex also contributed to our free ebook, The Definitive Guide to Building a World-Class Internal Creative Agency.

On the challenges of marketing

What are the biggest changes you see in marketing happening right now and over the next few years?

First, I think the pace of change is in constant flux. The technology with which we can communicate with our target audiences is always changing. This requires assimilating information and changes at breakneck speed. If you stop to reflect for too long, your competitors outflank you. But without reflection we might miss the next big Idea.

Second, because the pace of change is so fast, there is a void in experienced talent that can use the newest solutions. This puts more pressure on leadership to be aware of the next big thing so they can be hiring ahead of the curve.

Third, because of this rapid pace of change, institutions of higher learning need to focus on the foundational aspects of strategy and not just how to navigate the latest tech. In fact, creative leaders need to demand this change from institutions. I often see lots of great tacticians who can navigate the latest high-tech innovations in the digital and social media space but who lack a core understanding of business strategy.

"I often see lots of great tacticians who can navigate the latest high-tech innovations in the digital and social media space but who lack a core understanding of business strategy." —Alex Calicchia, Founder & President, Hive Partners

On being a creative leader

What's one piece of advice you'd give to a new leader now heading an internal creative team?

Trust your instinct AND trust your team. You are not in it alone and if you set a clear vision and hold your team accountable to the goals you set forth. You will gain their respect and also get the greatest output from them.

What's the difference between leading an internal creative team vs. leading an agency?

I don't think they're all that different. At its core, the client leads the strategy and the creative team. Without strong leadership on the strategy, the internal or external creative team is likely to miss the mark. It's critical that the client drive the strategy and define what is expected from the creative message.

Who is a creative leader you admire and why?

This one is easy. Stan Richards. I was lucky enough to work for The Richards Group early on in my career. Stan and his team have demonstrated time and time again that they can keep up with the changing information consumption preferences of customers while creating strategically-driven messaging that resonates with them.

What are some blogs, podcasts, websites or other great design resources that you regularly follow?

I find myself going through Flipboard at lunch, when taking a break, or before going to bed. I set my preferences so I receive a regular stream of information on topics such as business, film, design, emerging technologies, branding, business intelligence, street style, culture, personal development, and ethics. I believe that in order to develop great strategies and ultimately great messaging, you have to look in areas that are not always your core discipline.

"Trust your instinct AND trust your team." —Alex Calicchia , Founder & President, Hive Partners

On creating value for your company/clients

How did you get your first big career "break?" How would you advise people looking to start a career in the creative space?

My big career break actually came through an internal layoff due to a RIF (reduction in force) at the organization I was working for. Initially, I was a casualty of the RIF. But rather then accept the layout without a fight, I chose to challenge my layoff as a missed opportunity to keep a strategic thinker on staff during what was going to be a difficult economic period for the company. I laid out a scenario that illustrated that I could focus on both strategy and the day-to-day tasks thus ensuring a smooth transition through the layoffs.

You recently launched Hive Partners. Tell us about what Hive does and your inspiration for starting it.

Hive Partners helps organizations harness the individual and collective intelligence of teams.  We design custom solutions tailored to our clients needs; whether it be around strategic planning, leadership development, or problem solving.

The inspiration for HIVE really came from years of working with internal teams who often struggled with growth. Just as in a beehive, each individual — each bee —has a role. But when the hive is under threat from the outside, the collective intelligence of the hive kicks in and everyone works together to defeat that threat. At HIVE, we look for ways to amplify the individual intelligence of teams while ensuring that, should the organization come under threat, individuals are prepared to work collectively as a team to ensure long-term sustainability.

Now, Go Build Your Creative Team

We hope you learned a lot from the discussion with Alex. For a comprehensive guide to building your creative agency, download our free ebook: The Definitive Guide to Building a World-Class Internal Creative Agency.

Download the free ebook: The Definitive Guide to Building a World-Class Creative Team

Author Bio:
Kate Thome is a writer and consultant. In over 15 years in banking and payments in various marketing, analytics and risk-related roles, Kate developed a keen understanding of the internal workings of marketing and creative organizations. She's worked for Visa, HSBC, and Capital One, leading marketing teams to success. Her writing appears on LinkedIn, Mutha Magazine and Talking Soup. She blogs about her memoir in process at http://irememberthatnight.blogspot.com. Follow Kate on Twitter @kthome219.

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