It’s an age-old debate with many points of view on the merits of each side. Before contributing our two cents, it’s essential to consider why this has become a frequent topic.
Simply said: the ways agencies and in-house teams work have changed significantly in the 21st century.
As an example of these changes, let’s look at a typically integrated advertising campaign of the not-so-distant past. For all intents and purposes, we’ll keep this fairly straight forward.
A client-hired agency was responsible for conceiving and producing a campaign that, more or less, would include the following:
- Digital: Website landing page, paid search, display units of various shapes and sizes, maybe some video
- Social: Upload spots to YouTube and create some posts for Facebook and/or Twitter.
- TV: Spot or Cable, :60, :30, or :15
- Radio: :30s, maybe :60
- Traditional: Print, OOH
Fast-forward to today. What has radically changed is the proliferation of content creation for digital and social platforms. Nowadays, there are many more moving parts. Today’s agencies hired for a campaign may be responsible for producing some, if not all, of the below. Including but not limited to:
- Brand Content: Photos, videos, articles, blogs
- Social: Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok. Assets re-purposed from above and/or additional.
- Digital: Website landing page responsive to desktop and mobile, paid search, even more display units of all shapes and sizes, and definitely video (:06, :15, :30, long-form)
- TV: Spot, Cable, or OTT/streaming, :60, :30, :15
- Radio: :30s, maybe :60s for terrestrial and/or streaming
- Traditional: Lest we forget — more OOH options and print still has a place
This radical change has had an impact on the workforce. The demand for people that capture, create, and publish content is increasing every day. They must be able to write, design, edit, and be digitally savvy. Plus, the technology required is much more widely available. In turn, both agencies and brands have sought this talent. Net result? To produce today’s integrated advertising campaign, both agency and in-house creative teams have some similar skillsets and some equal footing to get the job done.
So if that’s the context, let’s try to answer the question. Agency? Or in-house?
Why hire an agency partner? New Perspective.
The value of an agency is to provide an objective, third-party perspective on a client’s business. The bigger and messier business problems to solve? Hiring an agency partner is the way to go. Sure, agencies can provide expertise in industries. At Drake Cooper, ours are Tourism, CPG, and Retail. In short: agencies offer different angles to look at your industry, customer, and competitive landscape. They’re not so close to the problem that they can’t see the forest for the trees.
Why keep things in-house? Efficiency and Scale.
An in-house team lives and breathes its brand every day. They’re attuned to its customers and the competition and can move quickly to respond. This level of efficiency cannot be overlooked. Agencies need time to be onboarded, and responsiveness can be a challenge given their responsibilities to more than one client. Secondly, if the scale of the work that needs to be done is clearly defined with an in-house team, it simply may not be as necessary to augment with an agency.
When to consider using both? Collaboration toward a shared goal.
For some organizations, sometimes a little bit of both is the best answer. My own past experiences working with in-house client teams have been mainly positive and productive. But also not without some bumps. Here are a few suggestions:
Define the overall goal(s): With the complete creative resources a brand has to work with, both in-house and agency, what are the goals to be accomplished? A planning session, led by the client’s leadership, needs to articulate the business challenges and how this blended team can help find the answers.
Get the lead creatives from the agency and the in-house team together: Preferably offsite, at a neutral location. No, this is not advocating for a jolly day of corporate team-building trust falls. What it does mean is face time to talk about how the blended team works together. Finding common ground, understanding strengths, and yes: a few beverages and food along the way always helps to break the ice.
Clearly define who owns what: Don’t forget to collaborate. The default state often is “agency owns conceptual, in-house owns production.” Where I’ve seen success on the agency side is having a Creative Director involve critical creative leads from the client’s in-house team as part of the concept process. Both parties then become more vested at the outset and become committed to collaboratively working together.
To summarize: Identify the underlying need. If it’s a new perspective you need to solve messy problems, an agency may be your best bet. If you feel you already have your marketing needs dialed in with the talent you have or reasonably close to it, then stick with your team.
If you want to do both? The last thing anyone wants is the duplication of effort, inefficiency, or any tension surrounding whose doing what. Plan it out, talk it through, and make sure ownership of work is defined.
Said another way from the great David Ogilvy:
“Don’t keep a dog and bark yourself.”