A recent study suggests marketers are dissatisfied with common in-housing set-ups, but Boathouse’s Eve Asbury argues that the strategy will become more relevant in straitened economic circumstances.
Over the last year plus, marketing budgets have dropped and left CMOs scrambling to make the numbers work. Several factors caused the reduction: the pandemic, supply chain issues, inflation and the great resignation, to name a few. So, as CMOs navigate the new post-pandemic world of stretched marketing budgets, how will in-housing fare? Will we see shuttered in-house agencies or will in-housing benefit from the belt-tightening and deliver solutions that can’t be found externally?
Overall data points to in-housing continuing to increase and for good reason. In 2021, a Gartner survey found that 29% of external agency work shifted to internal marketing teams. Some might see this as purely a cost-saving strategy, but the in-house agency, when staffed and managed appropriately, has a deeper knowledge of the brand and has the potential to deliver better results. After all, the in-house agency is part of the brand and by default the brand custodian.
However, to ensure longevity every in-house needs to continually evolve. Spending more time on higher-value content and automating the development of lower value content will future-proof the in-house. There are several ways to optimize content development and creating self-service options for lower-value content is one example that solves the problem without draining in-house resources. The goal is to get the lower-value content automated and templatized so that the in-house delivers value by spending time on the higher-value work.
For many brands, or other complex categories such as pharma or financial services, getting an external agency up to speed can take time. This is where an in-house agency can outshine an external agency. Having a deep understanding of the business and alignment with senior leadership cannot be underestimated. The one critical partnership for the in-house is with the CMO. As CMOs are under extreme pressure to perform and exceed company objectives, it’s essential that the in-house is closely aligned with the CMO and the marketing strategy.
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One marketing trend that fits well with the in-housing model is the centralization of marketing functions. Centralization has been a popular shift in organizational models as it delivers better results. A connected team is more effective, can scale and, in the new hybrid environment, is more easily managed. The majority of in-house agencies are already centralized and therefore primed to connect with a centralized marketing team.
In the past, one stumbling block for in-housing was securing good talent. In the 2000s, in-house agencies were at a disadvantage as mid to experienced agency talent did not want to go client-side. Shifting from an external agency to an in-house was seen as somewhere you’d go to retire and not have to work too hard. But this has changed and there has been a steady flow of senior talent going client-side.
Today, there’s an additional catalyst that’s causing an increase in the migration of talent to the in-house agencies. Many external agencies are not listening to their employees or embracing the hybrid working models and are laying down the law when it comes to office attendance. I have heard of external agencies telling their employees that they have to come into the office on specific days every week or that they have to be back in the office full-time by the fall, while another agency requires a proven local residential address within commuting distance from the office. If you have moved and can’t prove that you’re living locally, your services are no longer required.
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The companies that are listening to their employees and coming up with a win/win hybrid working solution know that if employees are given the flexibility they need to balance their lives they will be rewarded with better work and longevity. It’s these savvy corporations that will be the clear winners as landing great talent and being able to keep people happy equals better work.
Today, everything points to in-housing continuing to increase and, as with everything, some in-house agencies will be more successful than others. The ones that keep on pushing the envelope, evolving, course correcting and carefully managing the in-house team’s brand fatigue will sprint ahead and have better work to show for it. This doesn’t mean that all is lost for external agencies if an in-house team exists, but it does mean that they will need to consciously fill a needed gap and partner well with the in-house team.
Eve Asbury is co-lead of Boathouse’s creative team.