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The in-house agency comes of age

July 31, 2017 | By Lisa Dare, TEKsystems Digital Content Strategist

relaxed, modern male and female sit at a table covered in papers

Advantages and disadvantages of bringing your agency in-house

So you’re in charge of marketing for a large enterprise. You’re probably working with several vendors—an SEO agency, branding, advertising. Or maybe you have multiple product lines all working with their own agencies. Either way, you’re pretty sure they’re not using your money the most efficient way. Worse, you’re just not sure the agencies get you.

Many enterprises—particularly Fortune 1000s that sell a product—are enhancing digital marketing by creating an in-house agency. As they increasingly recognize that the digital experience is a major competitive differentiator, they want more control in house. They’re also looking to get more out of their digital marketing spend.

Just as importantly, marketing leaders want their brand to reflect an authentic internal identity. “An agency may come up with an idea or concept for an ad—it might be entertaining, but it could just as easily apply to any firm who sells that type of product. It’s not deeply connected to the product, the company, the culture. Companies are looking for deep, genuine messaging, and that comes from within,” says Scott Beach, solution director for TEKsystems Digital.

Avoiding pitfalls

While large agencies have great reasons to move to a shared services model for in-house agencies, they’re realizing running a full service in-house agency is harder than it seems. They run into a variety of problems, like being able to find enough high-quality talent, handling work capacity variations, driving quality performance and managing projects effectively.

Can you get the best talent?

Attracting the best creative talent has always been a challenge for enterprises, which lack the perceived coolness factor of an agency. Even more compelling to highly creative people, agencies offer the chance to work on a variety of projects.

Brands can overcome those perception factors if you market the jobs effectively. “The best organizations are creating a brand for their talent, calling their in-house team an ‘innovation lab’ and highlighting how people move around on different projects,” says Steve Aleckson, director of TEKsystems Digital.

Staff for what’s next

“One of a company’s biggest fears is having too much headcount with skills that are outdated,” says Aleckson. “I have a client that keeps 600 or 700 people in-house and contracts 200-300 more people with different skill sets as needed for seasonal needs, new projects and major product launches. We provide whole teams, sometimes with mixed skills, as they need and manage them on site. It works well because we’re embedded with the company and our recruiters have become very, very good at spotting the talent who’ll thrive in that culture.

Companies are looking for deep, genuine messaging, and that comes from within.

Most companies staff for their current needs but can fail to plan for the future. You’ll need to keep looking around the edges and get serious about workforce planning, whether that means budgeting and proactively recruiting for talent or training staff. You don’t want to find out that augmented reality projects are the next place you need to compete and realize your competitors already snapped up all the best UX and interactive designers. You can lean on your agencies to predict what’s next and your staffing partner to see what the digital labor market looks like.

Don’t shut out agencies

Agencies have an important role to play in challenging your organization—they can push back where your internal team might not feel comfortable doing so.

“An agency has the power to say to your CMO, ‘Your idea is off the mark, and it didn’t resonate with users when we tested it,’” says Aleckson. If you’re doing away with agencies altogether, make sure to set up your internal lab as a self-sustaining organization to help free it from internal politics.

Agencies also invest in research and development into new technologies and ideas like augmented reality, and can be great partners when you’re considering trying new trends. They can play an important role in new creative campaigns and product launches.

Establishing the optimal in-house agency model

To get the best balance of control, innovation and cost-efficiency, it helps to structure your in-house agency with three parts.

  1. External help

    Agencies work best in the strategy level—bring them in as needed for branding, messaging and architecture help. But have them stop at the roadmap phase because you can execute better and more cost-effectively in-house.

  2. Internal execution

    Internal execution is where you’ll find a lot of cost savings, the ability to speed up project timelines, and better partnership with your business stakeholders.

    The areas where you should consider bringing work back in-house:

    • Maintaining digital ad buying and SEO programs—it’s cheaper.
    • Social media execution, because there’s too much potential for damaging public missteps, and you’ll probably want to integrate your customer service and relationship platforms.
    • You’ll get better, faster content creation with permanent writers.
    • With the growing strategic importance of UX, you’ll want that in-house, too, although sometimes it makes sense to bring in whole teams as needed on a project basis.
    • If managed carefully, in-house design teams can churn out a lot of work and keep day-to-day initiatives moving quickly.
  3. A blended model: insourcing

    Peak activity times—like product launches or website redesigns—can challenge the ability of in-house teams to scale up effectively. Adding contract staff can help manage work spikes, especially if they’re dispersed among teams who can provide oversight. But taking on large staff without a good way to manage them can do more harm than good.

    TEKsystems clients have sometimes used us in an “insourcing” capacity, or a middle ground between simple staffing and outsourcing to an agency. We provide staff, project and staff management, onboarding, reporting and creative leadership for our team, while the business keeps control of the prioritization of work.

    For example, we run a graphics production studio at a major tech retailer to support various marketing initiatives. “The studio works because while it doesn’t take an especially high level of creative direction since the brand guidelines are in place, it does take relentless execution to manage the workflow, deliver within brand standards and evolve with changes over time.” says Beach.

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