How Spotify built its in-house creative team

When Spotify’s brand chief joined five years ago the plan wasn’t to build an in-house creative function; she now manages a team of 90 but still believes external perspectives are crucial.

Spotify

Spotify’s vice-president of brand and creative, Jackie Jantos, joined the music streaming site five years ago from Coca-Cola. At the time it had a “tiny” in-house team, but over the past five years it has grown to more than 90 people across every aspect of marketing from events to B2B to performance.

Yet Jantos admits the aim when she first joined was not to build an in-house agency, and that despite the size of the team outside perspectives are still crucial. Here, she talks to Marketing Week about in-housing, creativity and how Spotify ensures its strategy acts as a “north star” in all its creative work.

How does Spotify think about creativity?

When I joined the organisation there was a really strong but tiny creative team already there. We had been doing a lot of design work ourselves, we had been thinking about how we market out brands, how we market artists, but what we’ve done is build out a really robust brand and creative team. The team I lead now is about 90 people, and of that 35 to 40 are working on creative.

That has put a huge emphasis on creativity. A large part of the work we are doing now that we weren’t doing five years ago is really grounded in marketing artists and trying to help artists grow their careers, create bigger fan audiences. We are always thinking about artists, their audiences, how we can connect the two.

What is that team responsible for?

We have a group that leads artists and content marketing, everything from strategy to planning. We have a group that leads brand management and brand strategy, so they are thinking quite holistically about Spotify products and services. We have an integrated production team, a social impact team thinking about how Spotify can leverage its platform and resources to create more equity and equality. And the last team is creator marketing, thinking specifically about the tools and services we create on Spotify for emerging artists and marketing to that audience so they know how to use the tools, that the tools exist.

How does Spotify decide what to do in-house and when to bring agencies on board?

We do most of our work in-house but use agencies where we need help, where we don’t have the skillset. We work very closely with Collins the design agency – they built our visual identity system; design is very iterative and our needs for how the design system works are always growing so we are continuously working with that team when we need an extra set of hands or we want an outside perspective.

Another example is Saturday Morning, a small collective of senior creatives of colour. They’re important partners for us in thinking through the work we do to support communities of colour. They provide strategic guidance, they will look at creative work and give us a point of view. We do most of the actual work ourselves but we have partners to help make sure our perspective is holistic, outsiders who are not living within our business and brand Spotify.

It’s not enough to have one person’s perspective in the room. There needs to be more people with more voices contributing to dialogue or you just don’t look at an issue from enough angles to have the context and perspective.

Jackie Jantos, Spotify

We also have an organisation of organisations we’ve created ourselves that we call the Culture Change Collective. And its partners are groups like GLAAD, Colour of Change or The Jed Foundation, and those organisations are meaningful to us because they give us perspective by looking at the work we are doing.

Why is that outside perspective so important?

It’s not enough to have one person’s perspective in the room. There needs to be more people with more voices contributing to dialogue or you just don’t look at an issue from enough angles to have the context and perspective. One of my observations from judging [Cannes Lions] is it’s an audacious goal to put 10 people in a room and expect that group to have all the context it needs to evaluate that work.

Why did Spotify end up in-housing creative?

I didn’t join Spotify with the intention of building an in-house team. For a long time, I rejected the conversation about in-house versus agency. It’s not really a ‘versus’ in any capacity; sometimes people want to frame it that way but it’s not motivating for either team.

We do a lot of work connected to artists and that moves very quickly. We do a lot of work that is about helping people find content on our platform, so leveraging all the channels we have to promote artists and content on our platform, we know those better than any external partner ever could. And we have a leadership team that gives us tremendous runway and a culture that enables not just creativity but the ability to move quickly.

Spotify's David Bowie New York subway station campaign
Spotify’s campaign about David Bowie took just four weeks from conception to execution

We are getting awarded quite a bit this year for a tribute we did to David Bowie in the New York subway station (see above). That opportunity presented itself and four weeks later that execution was live. There are very few partners who can work in that way.

How does the in-house agency work with the rest of the business?

We provide our creative services to a variety of stakeholders. We are taking briefs from the Premium marketing team to drive subscriptions, from the content team for the next release for a major artist, from our finance team to build out an investor event – it’s all over the place.

We’re also giving and receiving briefs from ourselves to ourselves, which is often the most exciting work we do. We also do performance marketing, Premium upselling, B2B marketing. We recently launched a campaign around the world to promote our free service. It’s a huge range.

How do you ensure the creative work links back to Spotify’s strategy?

We have a clear set of values that come from the founder that exist within the entire employee culture. Even when we’re thinking of engaging with culture, putting work out about the new free tier, there’s a north star for how we want to see the world and what role we want to play within it. It’s always about supporting artists, helping artists find fans, helping fans discover more music, and that holds us together so we know which direction we’re all running regardless of the type of work we are trying to produce. The team has that deeply ingrained in everything.

There’s a perception that being brand side gives you more control and power. But all the greatest work and the greatest brands know that to get there you need to give that control and power to your creative partner.

Jackie Jantos, Spotify

I see maybe 75% of the work that leaves Spotify before it’s out in the wild. There is a lot of work I just see in the wild, which someone else [in my role] would be quite unnerved by. You can imagine my boss Seth [Farbman, Spotify’s CMO] sees even less. We are making these statements, doing this work, and we feel quite audacious in our approach and there are very few points of approval along the way because we are guided by our culture and the company’s mission.

Has that ever backfired?

Life is not perfect! We have had examples of things that people might question a headline, or consumers might question a story we’ve told, but we’re always listening and we’re a tech company at our core so we react and iterate and are really transparent with what we learn from anyone that has seen something that they might have an issue with.

How is your team’s success measured?

The growth of the business, the platform, the people listening on our platform, the opportunities we create with artists.

Why did you make the move from agency to brand?

I wasn’t thinking that [when I moved from Ogilvy to Coca-Cola], I really enjoyed the diversity of business challenges you got to think through on the agency side. Being on the brand side has its pros and cons like anything. There’s a perception, particularly in the ad industry, that being brand side gives you more control and power in what you’re doing. But all the greatest work and the greatest brands know that to get there you need to give that control and power to your creative partner because that’s what they’re brilliant at doing.

You just learn a lot of things being on the brand side about how to keep creative people motivated, how to set the bar for the type of work you want to create, how to help creative people push ideas through the building before they become too smooth, that’s the way I view the difference between the two. Brand people have the power to create a better process, a better relationship with creative partners and provide all of that to get the best work and to really listen and learn from all them.

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