ICP Blog

In-house & agency - bringing these concepts together

David Howlett
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David Howlett


By David Howlett, Marketing Director

'Getting things done’ within the marketing and creative world has forever been a complex mix of skills supplied by the brand owner team (many strategic), infused with a variety of bought-in supplementary skills (many tactical) to drive financial success.  Those bought-in services are invariably procured from companies that call themselves agencies.  Creative, digital, CRM, research, customer experience, web design, advertising, branding, social media, shopper, public relations. The word agency is the common denominator for all these ‘specialists’ who individually, and sometimes collectively, make the case that it’s better to have a retained or project-based expert in each area that does this every day of the week for different clients, rather than have ‘Jack of all trade’ employees being asked to spread themselves too thinly across a range of specialist areas.

Madmen and women continue to perpetuate this thinking, but then again, they have a vested interest in doing so! Their livelihoods depend on it. Are they losing this battle?

Every trend in this world has a counter-trend. So in these days, months and years, we hear about the rise of the inhouse agency. This is born out of all those ‘flipsides’ that became so evident as the agency world became dominant in driving their client's agenda. Non-transparent fee structures.  Layers of account managers apparently adding little value. Global agency networks with a polished sales pitch for every question a client might ask.  Clients are motivated to correct the imbalances and bring inhouse more of the ‘work’, so they feel (and are) more in control. They obtain efficiencies, they have dedicated creatives who know their market without the need for the planner or the strategist.  As marketing technologies have grown, these internal teams can be bolted together within the framework, to deliver the real-time marketplace data to these specialist areas (whether creative, customer experience, digital marketing, etc.) to drive virtuous circles of feedback and learning.  It could be that some of these functions are now in-house and some parts left to the external agencies, for now. A new balance is being struck, and the imperative for looking at this through a new lens has never been stronger than in this Covid-dominated future planning environment of 2020.

Life has come full circle, and an inhouse agency can be the name given to any creative and marketing operations function, whatever this may be.  It might be a tight-knit group of creatives focused on above the line advertising for TV and out of home, all on the fourth floor with the beanbags identifying their microculture to their neighbours in accounts. It might be a small team of digital marketing specialists managing CRM driven communications with some social media, sitting in a corner of the marketing department on the third floor. So integrated that you cannot tell at first sight who is the brand manager and who is the Facebook whizz. It might be a small team of designers and studio people in the dimly-lit basement who take the master creative and produce, adapt and localize at scale for their global colleagues. The agency suffix gives the team an identity, a specialism which helps them recruit and retain their staff, confers on them that degree of objectivity and helpful separation from their ‘customers’.  It frees them up to produce energised work which builds on their points of difference, as championed so articulately by the CMO and every brand director.

The point is that the word agency should mean everything, and yet it means nothing until you define it, nurture it, empower it within your own environment. 

David Wethey and ICP are running a six part online course, with our friends at Henry Stewart Events, to help you define exactly what you need from for your marketing and creative operations.  We help you to be more purposeful, make choices about what is ‘in’, what is better ‘out’.  What operating model should your inhouse team adopt. Should it mimic an external agency with table football, or should it be a fully integrated cog in your marketing operations machine, no seams visible. We help you audit, plan, implement, manage and optimise all this, to manage your own destiny. Be purposeful. It’s the right way.

David Howlett, Marketing Director

Link to further details and to book a place on the course. 

You can use the code DAVID20 when you register to get 20% discount. Please contact me if there is a group of you who'd like to join together.