An increasing number of marketers are transitioning portions of their advertising activities from their external agency partners to in-house teams. A survey conducted by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) in the summer of 2018 revealed the following:
- 78% of survey respondents indicated that they had an in-house operation of some sort
- This is up 58% from 2013 and 42% from 2008
- 90% of marketers with in-house operations have increased their in-house team workloads
- 70% of marketers have shifted work from external agencies to in-house teams in the last 3 years
Although the ANA survey indicates that some in-house agencies are increasingly handling brand strategy and creative ideation work, most marketers that we serve continue to rely on external creative agencies for this type of work and are initially focusing their in-house efforts on a range of specialty services. This approach can minimize risk and cost, while putting the essential building blocks in place for eventually launching deeper into in-house agency commitments, if desired.
Endeavoring to build out a full-service in-house creative agency is certainly achievable and there are a number of successes that one can point to. Consider Innocean Worldwide which originally began as the in-house agency for Hyundai-Kia and has gone on to acquire clients outside of the Hyundai Motor Company. Innocean’s work has won global recognition for its creative work that includes a Silver at Cannes and an ADFEST Grand Prix in 2019. As well, Innocean has committed to growing its brand and weight in the industry by acquiring noted independent creative agency David & Goliath in late 2017.
However, building out a full-service in-house agency takes time and requires an investment in evolving the culture of the operation, attracting top-notch talent, developing the appropriate processes, and positioning itself to be successful in winning internal client confidence and ultimately the creative development work.
The effort associated with attracting and retaining top-quality creative personnel to ply their wares at an in-house agency can be significant. Providing end-to-end creative services requires an increase in headcount and drives up operational fixed costs. Further, the timeline required to demonstrate in-house agency abilities and to consistently produce fresh ideas and deliver quality work is uncertain. This is particularly so if there isn’t a corporate mandate for brand marketers to utilize the in-house services. Thus, management must build-in enough time and budget to allow for relationships to take hold between the in-house team and the brand management teams, and for the in-house team to “learn” how to successfully compete for and win creative assignments.
Thus, many organizations focus initial in-house efforts on areas where the operations can clearly and immediately add value. Such services may include content curation and creation, digital, print and internal video production and the development of sales promotion and collateral material. Consolidating tasks such as these with an in-house team can improve a marketer’s agility by reducing project turn-around times and costs while improving the caliber of the output.
Many in-house operations begin as shared-services providers, subsidized by the organization and often with mandates for brand marketers to use their specialized services. Which is not a bad way to launch an in-house agency. Over time, some operations may adopt a charge-back model, where they must compete with external resources to win projects from their brand marketing peers.
Each model brings with it certain challenges. The charge-back model, with no corporate mandate for use, raises risk for the in-house team who must generate revenue to cover internal staffing, resource and real-estate costs. If the team cannot win work, their very existence may be jeopardized. And during competition for work, the team must address internal client perceptions that the services they provide will be less expensive than an external creative agency. On the other hand, if pricing is comparable to an external resource, brand marketers may question the risk / reward of transitioning work away from an established external specialist creative shop and bringing it in-house. Additionally, end-user’s want to feel that utilizing their in-house agency “makes their life easier.”
Regardless of the model employed or the scope of services offered, it is imperative to embrace a strong project-management orientation with a comprehensive workflow management toolkit. The need to evaluate potential projects, provide cost and time estimates, log projects, manage projects and secure sign-offs requires a disciplined in-house project management function.
An important part of generating and demonstrating efficiency gains for the organization is the ability to track time-on-task, project gestation and completion rates, rework levels and the like…all of which require a commitment to recording and tracking in-house activities and utilization rates. Such information will also inform management on how and when to expand or contract staff levels and when to tap external resources to augment in-house skill sets.
The need for internal advertising support is real and makes a great deal of sense regardless of the breadth of services an organization seeks to source from an in-house operation. However, the application of the model requires a disciplined pragmatic approach to both set the breadth of service to be offered the team and to efficiently and effectively handle the anticipated volume of work.