For as long as I can remember, television has been luring us into the glamour of working at a big advertising agency. People my age can’t forget Bewitched and all those elaborate pitches Darin used to make to his often disagreeable clients. And there was Tom Hanks’ break out role in Bosom Buddies where he played an advertising designer working long hours, trying to build his career. And today, of course, there’s Mad Men.
What the media doesn’t show, however, are all of those hard-working copywriters, strategists, producers, and art directors employed with major corporations in their in-house agencies. I guess it’s not as TV-glamorous because, for the most part, the hours are better, the clients are nicer, and you have more access to the pulse of the brand. Glamorous or not, in-house agencies are on the rise with major brands like Apple, Facebook, Pepsi, Target, and State Farm, to name a few, using in-house creative teams for a large portion of their advertising.
A recent survey conducted by Ad Age found that the number of companies with in-house agencies has jumped from 42% in 2008 to over 58% today. Additionally, the survey showed that 40% of these in-house teams are involved in developing creative strategy, which was previously owned by the outside experts on Madison Avenue. Not only are there more in-house agencies today, but the size of the in-house teams has increased nearly 57% over the past five years, according to ANA.
So what has changed in our marketing world to propel in-house agencies?
Faster time to market, lower costs
The obvious answer is, no surprise, time and money. In-house teams tend to turn around work more quickly, and with today’s growth of digital channels that need is even more pressing. With more channels to serve it is absolutely key for creative teams to be able to quickly turn around high-quality content to maximize the marketing budget. With in-house teams, the back and forth of review and feedback around creative work is immediate, shortening time to market and reducing costs.
Marketers and CMOs are also under increasing pressure to show return on investment (ROI). The often complex billing systems of external agencies can make ROI difficult to measure. It’s easier to track ROI with your in-house team because the costs are controlled. You know exactly what the costs are for each project, versus the blurred line of retainer fees with outside agencies that aren’t itemized by task.
Immersion in the brand, the culture and the organization
It used to be that the speed and costs savings of in-house teams came at the cost of innovation and creativity. In-house creative teams have long been criticized for not thinking out-of-the-box and for being too tied to corporate speak and demands of the executive team who may or may not appreciate or understand quality creative. But that is changing. What marketers are now finding is they can leverage data they collect about their target audience from such channels as social media to make better creative. Many in-house teams now include data analysts and strategists, so the creative team has immediate access to customer and prospect data that helps them build meaningful and targeted content. Also, in-house teams are able to focus on one brand, so they really dig deep and get the persona and tone of the brand. That makes it easier for them to be more efficient and more effective at producing brand-appropriate content than their external agency partners.
Millennial Talent Pool
The historical stereotypes of in-house teams lacking creativity and offering lower salaries than agencies has kept the best creative talent at bay. This inability to recruit the best talent has forced businesses to turn to outside agencies. However, this is changing with a new generation of the workforce. The core of the workforce today is increasingly interested in other aspects of their career besides a paycheck. For example, they want work/life balance, and the opportunity to hone their skills and advance their career, not just in their field, but also cross-functionally. In-house agencies are the perfect solution for this new workforce. By working inside a larger company, they have more opportunity for cross-functional exposure and career advancement. Moreover, the hours are generally conducive to achieving a healthy work/life balance.
What businesses are finding is that they can actually afford to hire some top-notch creative talent and keep their interest with the many content channels they need to address. The increase in velocity, volume, and variety of content required by the marketing team is conducive to developing an engaged and talented in-house creative team. As a result of this increased demand for creative talent, there are many new recruiting firms that specialize in finding creative talent emerging on the scene. Building and/or growing your in-house team is easier than ever before.
Whether you are a business shopping for a creative solution, or you are a creative or marketing talent seeking employment, don’t be “Bewitched” by the lure of the external agency alone. It may be time to consider the in-house agency as your best option.
About the author: Debbie Kennedy is former Head of Advertising Operations with CarMax, and is currently Creative Director for Capstone Production Group, and CEO of Write for You, a Digital Content and Creative Workflow Consulting Firm based in Durham, North Carolina. She’s been a power user and advocate of inMotionNow since 2014.