Mumbrellacast Interview: Squarespace’s David Lee on why in-housing creative isn’t for everyone

Squarespace’s David Lee has turned the tech start-up’s creative team into one of the world’s most renowned in-house units since he joined from TBWA Worldwide in 2013 as chief creative officer.

Yet when speaking on the Mumbrellacast, he says that he doesn’t believe in-housing creative is the path most brands should be taking.

“The first thing I want to say to most people, and whoever’s listening out there, is I actually don’t think most brands should start an in-house agency,” says Lee. “From its founder and its ethos, [Squarespace is] a creatively driven company, and its mission is a creatively driven mission. We’re also a DIY product platform. We behave like a DIY company in everything we do. It makes sense for us to DIY our own creative and our own marketing.”

Squarespace chief creative officer, David Lee

In the time since his arrival, Squarespace has won a long list of awards for its creative work, as well as having several of its bigger ticket campaigns go viral, with well known figures such as Keanu Reeves, John Malkovich, Jeff Bridges and Oscar the Grouch featuring.

At the time of joining, Lee says he knew it “wouldn’t be forever”, and that the consensus among colleagues and contemporaries was that he wouldn’t last long before returning to agency-land.

“When I told people that I was actually going to go in-house, to be completely fair everyone thought I would probably last year, and then come crawling back.

“The number one feedback I got from everyone was that after a certain point, it’s the same brand. It’s the same product and you’re just going to be chipping away at this, and you’re going to lose your creative momentum, because creative people have the attention span of a goldfish.”

Yet Lee speaks about how the constantly evolving audience and product has allowed him to stay creatively inspired, constantly finding new solutions, and having the ability to dig deeper into the product than you are able to at an agency.

“We’re problem solvers at the end of the day, it’s just different that we’re going very, very deep on one problem, and then it’s kind of going horizontal at a certain point. Whereas I think in agencies, you kind of dip your toes in, but don’t really go deep, but you go very, very horizontal, right? So it’s a little bit of a reverse, I would say.”

Lee also speaks about how the brand itself is a product for entrepreneurs and enthusiasts to be able to communicate their ideas, so its own marketing needs to be able to do that itself.

“Not to sound like a broken record, but our core ethos, is to connect a thread that has driven us throughout this evolution, is that it doesn’t matter how great your idea is, unless it’s presented out into the world in a beautiful way, and it actually stands out against the crowd.”

Later in the conversation, Lee also speaks about his observations from judging at this year’s Cannes Lions, the stress of creating a Super Bowl ad, a shifting focus to international marketing and how the product inspires the creative for Squarespace’s work.

Listen to the full chat below:

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Music credit: RetroFuture Clean Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Backbay Lounge Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

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