Agency or In-House Creative: Which Approach Is Right for You?


A version of this article was originally published in EContent.

As marketing strategies evolve, so do marketing operations. One of the latest evolutions is in how brands execute their creative. While brands used to rely on external agencies and partners, many leading brands are now building their own creative teams in house. A 2018 Digiday survey reported that 69% of brands surveyed already conduct over half of their creative marketing and advertising internally.

Along with shifts in marketing technology driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning, this shift in the creative model is forcing agencies and brands to re-evaluate their working relationships and future strategies. Here are four considerations for brands evaluating how and if they should break the agency model mold and bring creative and advertising services in house.

1. Assessing the Overhead

One of the luxuries of outsourcing creative work is that the agencies already have the headcount and overhead. When brands evaluate moving these services in house, they first have to consider how they will build an internal agency from the ground up. This includes finding the budget to hire creative talent, being able to find the right talent in a competitive labor market, and acquiring the physical overhead (i.e. office space) to support a new internal team.

As all of these moving parts take time to come to full fruition, brands may continue to outsource creative work. For example, Bank of America’s Enterprise Creative Solutions keeps 50% of contracted workers on for 12-18 months. As brands get their in-house teams up and running, it’s important to keep specialized creative and advertising talent on board (or at least on contracts) to maintain their brand, efficiency and value. Turning creative projects over to less-experienced teams right away can lead to longer project turnaround time and lower-quality work.

2. Location and Staffing

One of the biggest considerations, and therein challenges, for brands bringing creative services in house is staffing. Brands are struggling to find the talent they need as they headhunt for culture fit, try to maneuver archaic hiring processes and try to to find quality candidates outside of a few coastal cities.

Part of this staffing trouble may be attributed to a company’s location. For brands without offices in major cities, finding the amount of talent needed to start an in-house creative team may prove too difficult a task. This forces some companies to rely on agencies because of the talent gap. For example, Kimberly Clark is a large CPG company with headquarters in Wisconsin. However, as they continue to bring more of their work in house, they use their office in Chicago to tap into a bigger pool of creative talent.

3. Balancing Corporate and Creative

As is with Church and State, a separation between a company’s corporate and creative goals is important because it increases creative freedom and doesn’t favor any one sort of method as does freedom of religion.

To not lose objectivity and maintain a level of independence from a brand’s business-oriented departments, working autonomously in a completely different space or culture is sometimes encouraged. For example, the work done at companies like IBM and Bank of America doesn’t exactly promote creativity or spontaneity. In Bank of America’s case, its creativity is already limited as their in-house team is forced to work under agencies that control the company’s media planning, spending and buying. This leaves their in-house team “free to be creative” within a template, as they must stay consistent with other materials produced by the contracted agencies.

4. Channeling Creativity vs. Controlling It

One of the biggest perks of having creative resources in house is the increased governance over your brand across multiple channels. Total transparency and control of the creative, as well as the ability to see exactly where budget is going, is extremely attractive to any company for obvious reasons. It is sometimes seen as the safer alternative, but this can also lead to a loss of objectivity or an outside point of view.

Take Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner campaign as an example. The commercial was seen as extremely insensitive, sparking outrage from people, social organizations, and even other companies. According to Libby Brockhoff of Odysseus Arms, this tone-deafness and inability to truly push creative boundaries comes from no one being able to ask the tough, objective questions in house. Because the brand’s executives are directly above the creative department, creatives sometimes feel the need to conform to what the executives may want, instead of thinking freely and creatively as they should.

Another perspective is that in-house bureaucracy and the “group think” that comes with it naturally stifles creativity. Working on the same brand doesn’t encourage the same creativity that working for multiple brands does, as creatives are able to draw inspiration and ideas from different industries and companies. In some cases, companies who have only partially come in house still have outside agencies contracted to do their media planning, buying and spending, and to provide an objective POV on creative concepts and execution. According to an ANA study, 90% of respondents worked with an external agency as well as their in house team, with an average of 58% of work being done by the in-house department.

There are some creative upsides to in-house teams as well, but these depend on organizational structure and the company culture itself, as different environments can encourage creativity more than others.

Agency or In House: Which Approach Is Right for You?

While the “agency vs. in house” debate is a tough one, there are hybrid approaches to consider as well. Finding the right balance between leveraging both in-house creatives and agencies has proven very effective for many companies, using their in-house team to promote their brand and message while outside agencies help provide objectivity and the strategy to reach their goals.

With the correct resources, a good understanding of a company’s position on all of these issues, a solid vision or plan, and a willingness to invest in the future, companies or agencies can do their best to position themselves for success in such a quickly changing environment. Whether it’s an in-house team seeking outside consultation or an agency that takes on more project-based work, adapting to the role that fits best or even creating the best possible role for the company or agency is crucial.

Read the full article over on EContent. For guidance on building a successful content strategy that leverages agency or in-house teams, contact us about OneSpot Strategic Services.


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