Last year the ANA reported that 80% of its members now have some form of in-house agency – over a 20% increase in the past five years.
The general consensus seems to be that this is good for brands and bad for agencies. Brands get to take back control of their marketing and save money, while agencies become obsolete.
The reality is far less extreme. In fact, the trend represents a huge opportunity for both brands and agencies to make marketing better, faster and cheaper than before. But only if they’re prepared to think differently about how they work together.
The brands and agencies that successfully navigate in-housing will be the ones who recognize their own shortcomings and lean into their relationships with each other to solve them together.
Here are 5 behaviours you can expect to see from the successful ones:
They know their own strengths
Marketers need to spend their time doing exactly that – marketing. That means spending less time being project managers across multiple agencies, and more time concentrating on their core function. In-housing represents a chance to streamline the agency / client dynamic, freeing up time to focus on the 90% of the marketing mix that isn’t comms.
And their weaknesses
Put simply, not everything can be in-housed. Many brands are already experiencing issues around access to talent and geographic reach, particularly when trying to scale their in-house operations.
The smart agencies will be those that help solve this for their clients by helping them to find outstanding creative talent and specific skill sets, without the layers of management (and costs!) that fuelled the shift to in-housing in the first place.
They solve the grey areas together
Moving away from the status quo is scary and requires a certain type of leadership on both the brand and agency side. One of the key challenges for brands and agencies looking to navigate in-housing together will be the delineation of responsibility.
A land-grabbing mentality is unlikely to serve agencies well in this new environment. Pride may need to be swallowed, egos set aside, and legacy behaviours banished. A great idea can come from anywhere, and that includes from within the organisation. Now is not a time for agencies to be precious about this; it’s a time to think about how they can better help brands turn great ideas into outstanding marketing campaigns.
They’re paranoid about myopia
John Hegarty certainly ruffled a few feathers when he labelled creatives choosing to work in-house as ‘boring’, but the need to keep creative talent fresh and inspired is important. In an age where local relevance is one of (if not the) biggest determinants of effectiveness, brands need to ensure that external perspectives and influences are still being brought to the table.
Again, it will be the agencies who can offer this without the layers and overhead that the traditional model is built on that are most likely to prosper from in-housing.
They strive to be better, not just cheaper
ANA members reported cost efficiency, speed and agility as some of the key reasons for moving to an in-house model. The notable absentee from that list of course is better work.
But creativity and efficiency aren’t mutually exclusive.
Being able to react to briefs within hours rather than days, having more honest and grown-up conversations with clients about the work, using a tech platform to identify and collaborate with creatives on the other side of the world…these are not impediments to creativity. Quite the opposite.
Agencies have plenty of people that can thrive in this environment. The ones able to embrace this rather than fight it are likely to be those that emerge as the new superstars.
The debate on whether in-housing is a good or a bad thing for our industry is almost a moot point now. It’s happening, and fast.
For brands, the challenge is to maintain access to external skill-sets, perspectives and creators. But with eye watering savings already being reported by the likes of Unilever and P&G, it’s clear that the traditional agency model as we know it isn’t going to cut it as a solution.
For agencies, creativity is still the single most powerful thing we can offer brands – and the thing they’re most willing to pay for. Those able to package up creative talent in a way that plugs-in seamlessly to the in-house model will be the ones who gain the most.
What’s clear is that both sides still need each other as much as ever. The time for navel-gazing has passed – it’s time we worked together.