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How In-House Agencies Are Well Positioned to Provide Value During and After COVID-19.

September 16, 2020

Shannon Denton

The article below appeared in AdvertisingWeek 360 in November 2020.

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Way before Covid 19 came on the scene, in-house agencies had gone from a notable trend to more of a necessity, for all the obvious reasons – cost management and overall greater control.  Case in point, back in February2020 a report from the In-House Agency Forum (IHAF) found that more than 72 %of corporations had an in-house agency. Fast forward a couple of months to April 2020 (or what felt like years)and according to a study by the ANA, the impact of Covid had only heightened the importance of in-house teams.  When asked what are the most critical resources for producing ads post Covid 19, 55%of ANA members said in-house teams, as compared to 42% for other internal teams and 26% for external agencies.

 In many respects, Covid just accelerated what was already impressive growth of in-housing.  Moving forward, these teams’ proximity to the business and growing strategic importance mean they are in a good position to deliver greater value to their organizations in three critical ways:    

1.    Blaze the trail to greater operational speed, efficiency and effectiveness.
In recent research we conducted, in-house leaders universally said that for the foreseeable future they will have to get more done with less.  With their knowledge of the business and urgency to rise to the COVID occasion, in-house teams should take this time to reinvent old ways of working to establish new practices that lead to better work under tougher constraints.  Tailoring agile practices to best suit their organizations and the use of modern workflow technology to work smarter, not harder, can lead to material benefit.  On the capacity management front, the strategic use of on-demand talent software solutions will better match demand in real-time to reduce waste and keep business moving at a faster pace.  In short, In-house teams have an opening to experiment with new approaches, processes and technology that take cost out of the operational equation, while delivering better outcomes with improved speed to market.

2.    Drive team transformation for greater creativity and collaboration.
The traditional team structure with fixed roles and inherent waste won’t cut it anymore.  In-house teams, which operate at the intersection of the marketing organization, outside agencies, and freelance professionals, are well positioned to lead in the use of hybrid teams that pull from different pools to field fit-for-purpose talent.  In-house teams also have an opportunity to enhance team effectiveness by making cross-discipline collaboration core to how their organizations work.  Seamless collaboration across domains, a historical strength of agencies, strengthens the creative process and breaks down silos that inhibit better problem solving.  By not limiting the definition of successful teams to four corporate walls, in-house leaders can curate teams to achieve better results with less friction.  

3.    Play bigger and broader roles to raise the brand’s game
In our discussions with in-house leadership (across industries and all team sizes), we noted a dedication to building broader capabilities.  As an indication, over 50% of the brands we spoke with had built digital capabilities that span strategy and execution across digital marketing, media and experience.  And in the IHAF study referenced earlier, 79% of  in-house respondents said that hiring more specialty talent related to video, digital, social media and analytics is necessary. With brands relying more heavily on in-house teams the time is now to further expand beyond traditional creative services into areas such as big idea development, customer experience, marketing technology, and data.  In many ways in-house teams are best positioned to bring purposeful innovation with their brand and customer knowledge, expanded capabilities, and direct access to sensitive data and technology that is not easily shared with outside partners.    

 
These three opportunities for in-house teams to create substantial value for their organizations won’t come easy. There are a few hurdles to clear:

1. Up the team’s operations acumen.  With greater responsibilities and capabilities that expand beyond creative services, it’s critical to have the operational discipline and focus required to deliver quality work consistently and gain the organization’s confidence.

2. Chart a course to strengthen the strategic game. Execution has been at the core of most in-house teams.  Moving forward, to secure a seat at the table strategic leadership is an absolute prerequisite.  

3. Focus on creating talent satisfaction and opportunities.  From recruiting new expertise, to retaining creative talent and engaging teams with meaningful work, leadership must make a career on an in-house team compelling.  This will somewhat be addressed with the increased importance of in-house teams and the capability building that’s going on, but more competitive comp plans and inventive work environments need to be a part of the equation too.

By tackling these challenges, in-house teams can realize their full potential and firmly establish themselves as a linchpin in creating greater value for their brands.  That should be adequate motivation to fight the good fight.  Lofty future aside, at least in the here and now we’ve heard consistently that in-house teams, and we quote, “… feel more relevant and appreciated than ever”.  And we’re glad to hear it.

 Reference sources:

 https://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/349542

 https://www.marketingdive.com/news/in-house-agencies-struggle-to-reach-full-potential-report-says/572056/