Considering that the creative industries have been recognized as a global economic force and contributor, more and more research has looked at the study and development of creativity in these enterprises. Additionally, the creative industries have seen significant growth due to the ease of access to the internet and digital technologies which have sped up creative production processes. Two industries that have been positively impacted by this growth are the fashion industries and marketing industries which have seen Year-over-Year growth, especially in North America. Considering that these two industries have seen significant success in the age of digital technologies, an analysis of their small business practices and mechanisms for creativity management could teach other industry players how to maximize and hone in on their employees’ creative abilities.

The literature review, secondary research, and pre-conceived notions of these industries suggest that there is a lot of influence from larger brands and companies on smaller to medium- sized enterprises (SMEs). Considering these notions, it is important to study how SMEs in both fashion and marketing are managing creativity despite the lack of resources they have in comparison to the larger enterprises that dominate their respective industries. In the fashion industry, despite the lack of financing to provide employees with extrinsic motivators to incentivize creativity, both the secondary and primary research have revealed that employees have an internal motivation to perform well and create based on the desire to learn, grow, and continue to participate in the fashion industry — a community that is often glamorized and romanticized in the media. In contrast, the marketing industry has actually had to rely on financial incentives due to the high-stress work and competitive work environments. But unlike the fashion industry, marketing and advertising agencies’ services cost significantly more for their clients and thus, they earn enough revenue to pay for incentives. However, according to both employees as well as journal articles and studies by Dessler et al. (2013), these incentives do not fully balance out the burnout that marketing and advertising employees experience.

There is a lot of value in this research — creative industries managers have the knowledge and resources to understand what is going to best motivate their employees to perform well and be creative. This paper also suggests several management implications and best practices that managers in any creative enterprise can use to manage creativity in their company, regardless of its size. These include breaking down the hierarchy to increase the flow of communication and organically improve collaboration and creativity between employees and managers. Additionally, such structures — or lack thereof — allow employees to learn and feel comfortable asking questions and suggesting ideas which benefit the organization as a whole. Studying the inner workings of SMEs in both fashion and marketing have revealed several key themes and best practices about creativity management that can be applied to other small businesses and the creative enterprises affected by the rise of digital technologies and the growing demand for creative or artisanal products and services.

Summary of Findings

Managing Creativity in Fashion

The organizational structure of a small fashion business helps foster an environment where creativity and collaboration are welcome. The flat organizational structure of a small business allows Mary to practice a management style of full transparency. Open communication with employees helps them be more willing to openly pitch and discuss new ideas.

"[This] is how I see the business growing. Everyone being respected and valued in a more relatable and comfortable space." — Mary, Lingerie Designer and Brand Owner

Creating a more informal workspace benefits employees’ creativity by expanding their mental model. Small businesses have the advantage over big corporations because her employees have the opportunity to explore new areas or at least be exposed to the different roles within a fashion brand. 

"It’s great to go back and forth with them on an idea, but if you can’t let them run wild with an idea then maybe you need to rethink the collaboration." — Kyle, Menswear Designer and Brand Owner

Kyle agrees that transparency is key to managing creativity. Not only does it help everyone’s creative visions stay on-brand, but it also creates a sense of trust between managers and employees.

Overall, SMEs in the fashion industry utilize flat organizational structures and transparency to manage creativity. This creates a sense of trust in the workplace culture and it also gives employees the opportunity to constantly learn and work towards professional development — a very powerful intrinsic motivator. 

Managing Creativity in Marketing

In contrast, marketing and advertising SMEs utilize extrinsic motivators like financial rewards and bonuses to incentivize employees’ work and creativity. 

It’s almost too much. I think the incentives are very extravagant but for the new people, it does help motivate them [...] This is the norm for any marketing place because there’s such a high generated revenue. — Camille, Content Production Manager

For Camille and Bianca, a former marketing intern, these incentives aren’t enough to inspire and maintain creativity. All it does is incentivize the work of a high-stress and competitive work environment. And although flat structure and open workspaces exist in marketing like they do in fashion, these factors do not facilitate creativity as much in this industry. 

Major Themes

How are fashion vs. marketing SMEs managing creativity?

  • Fashion brands are utilizing... 
    • opportunities for career growth and development
    • short experiments
    • learning opportunities
    • flat organizational structure
    • transparent management style
  • Marketing agencies are utilizing...
    • flat organizational structure
    • transparent management style
    • extrinsic and monetary rewards

Implications and Best Practices

Based on the previous section, opportunities for learning and growth and providing constant feedback to recognize employees’ value to the company is much more rewarding and improves work morale and creativity. These practices are especially evident in SMEs of the fashion industry where their organizational structure and open and informal workspaces allow collaboration and creative exploration and learning to take place.

In order to best manage creativity in any small to medium-sized enterprise, not exclusive to fashion or marketing, creative industry managers should consider the following:

  1. Break down the hierarchy: As exemplified by fashion SMEs, organizational structure and culture is a key factor in whether or not employees are comfortable voicing their opinions, ideas, and even creative differences. Flat organizations naturally allow for these types of communication practices to take place.
  2. Practice open communication: Managers in the creative industries need to ensure constant and open communication which can be reinforced through open-door policies, daily meetings, and frequent check-ins with employees. Managing internal communications will see an immediate and positive change while they work towards a more comfortable and creative work culture.
  3. Let employees make decisions: In the same way that SMEs in the fashion industry create an environment where everyone can pitch their ideas and facilitate collaboration, managers in the creative industries can follow suit. Even if another organization is not made up of small teams, merely providing opportunities for employees to participate in valuable discussions will encourage them to be creative and create a sense of belonging and work engagement.

DISCLAIMER: The above research and content is the intellectual property of Marc Gamboa, who is the author and copyright holder of this work. To inquire about his research, please contact him directly at marc@marcgamboa.com. Thank you.