Big Questions for CMOs: how will the in-housing trend evolve?

APAC marketers discuss the big questions facing brands in 2018

The topic of in-housing is omnipresent in the marketing industry in 2018 and it’s the first topic on the table for Big Questions for CMOs.

The trend for in-housing, led by an erosion of trust in digital specifically, and a need for more control over data. Leading this has been the likes of P&G and Unilever, which most recently said it wouldn't be looking to agencies in its target of creating 'direct' relationships with its consumers.

However, the trend is not so linear and just in the past week, we may have seen Estée Lauder move its business after teasing that some of its work would also move in-house. Yet digital beauty business Treatwell this week revealed it is doing directly the opposite, seeking outside expertise as it breaks into new ground.

The Drum recently gathered six top marketers round a table in Singapore to eat breakfast and debate the biggest trends in marketing. The following series will reveal insights from the conversation, helping to lift the lid on what APAC’s brightest minds, with the most sought-after budgets, are pondering during this fast-paced era of the industry.

The answers from the marketers were far from homogenous, and as more brands align marketing to outcomes and business goals, the discussion of how much brands ‘in-house’ will likely dissipate further from something that’s black or white to a lot more grey.

Adam Gerard, head of branding and digital marketing at NTUC Fairprice: “We, as you may imagine, have a large machine of regular retail advertising and there is a conversation about bringing some of that creative resource in-house. In the medium term we may start to see that happening but currently we work with a family of agencies and we have a good network there.

Jamshed Wadia, director of digital marketing and media, Asia Pacific and Japan at Intel: “For us, we have three things that we have been bringing in-house and we have a solid team around. That’s analytics, content and then programmatic media buying.

The programmatic media buying is a bit of a hybrid model, in the US it’s completely in-house buying and we are moving towards that in Asia Pacific. The capability, the licensing and the data is completely owned by us, the analytics is definitely owned by us. Those three pieces - analytics, content and programmatic - are the big ones we’ve brought in.”

Pratik Thakar, director/head of integrated marketing communications at Coca Cola ASEAN: “In line with the way needs are evolving, we are creating internal capabilities like data analytics and we have created big listening and publishing centres across all the markets. So we have about 40 people in Southeast Asia listening and publishing on a daily basis, but we have sourced that from the agency. We are building internal capabilities but we are relying quite heavily on agencies.

The other thing we are doing is we going after talent. When we do a project, who works on it depends on the talent that we want, irrespective of the geography. So the last campaign we did, we created from Singapore, a global campaign that was created by an agency in South Africa. Or we could go to Sydney, or Tokyo, we are geography agnostic in terms of working with agencies. Otherwise, we work with independents. We have created an ecosystem of creative equals.

One thing we handle in-house in the integrated marketing communications team is marketing assets, so for Fifa World Cup or Olympics. We’ve worked with different artists, freelance artists, so we’ve gone far beyond agency resource too - we work with musicians and have Coke Studio in the Philippines, which is creating pure content. That kind of stuff, agencies don’t do it, we develop our own or with partners. The other side is that for agencies we work with lots; Weiden, MCcann, Ogilvy, Droga, etc.”

Germaine Ng Ferguson, AVP, smart targeting and strategic partnerships at Starhub: “So there’s two parts: on the media side we actually rely on our own data. We work with an agency that plans across but we said actually it’s wrong when it comes to our own data, so it sits with us instead of the agency. We learnt the hard way that when it sit with an agency, when you change agency, you lose everything. It is important for us to keep that.

On the creative side, we now work with less traditional agencies. We moved our business from DDB, which was a long-term partnership, they gave us great content and were amazing but we’ve just moved that out into a start-up. Some of the people there had worked with us before but we are shifting our mindset in that it’s not about just giving the big agencies the business but going where the talent is. That’s where we should be working.”

Sheenum Kumar, marketing manager, luxury division at L’Oreal Singapore: “One of the unifying themes is the question of talent. At L’Oreal as well I consider myself a novice at understanding everything in the digital world but the new, younger generation of graduates that we recruit, some of them have a knack for understanding the space and quickly understand the concepts. We are building an internal talent hub, or pool, in the APAC zone with individuals that can crack this space and eventually spearhead the strategy for the division.

So for us it’s about talent and I applaud Coke for being able to work with such a vast range of talent, I wish we had the luxury to do that, but one of our key challenges is relationship building. Cosmetics and luxury is so fast-paced that is key to have learnings and know the sentiment of the market really quickly. A big learning for us recently was SKII and their campaign ‘change destiny’ because it was the first big, strong and emotive campaign in the cosmetics space and we had to learn from that.

It all comes down to the right talent pool and one challenge for us is an incredibly high turnover in the Singapore market. You find an agency and get an account lead that is fantastic to learn, only six months later, that they’re moving elsewhere.”

Sindhuja Rai, director of media, data and digital, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa at Mondelez: “I think it’s a question of making the choice about what needs to stay in-house or what needs to come from outside. As mentioned already, analytics and data are all things that can sit in-house and you can build in-house capabilities and expertise. But creativity and new platforms, people are experts in this space but it develops so quickly that you can’t really think of developing creative hubs, particularly for brands with a very broad base, like ours. We need to be experimenting and testing with new things all the time.

It’s a hybrid model at the end of the day. Most clients will take some things in-house and they’ll keep a lot of stuff out and talent becomes the key aspect in this. Today’s age of the open source model, where you source talent from anywhere, it makes it all the more important to keep yourself open too as you don’t know where your next idea is going to come from or who is the best talent to execute this.

Agility as a client today is important. Most clients have become more agile in their thinking in terms of letting go really long-standing partners to work with new start-ups. It’s a signal about how clients are becoming more agile in finding what they need to access their consumers. The interesting question is then - is that a gap that we are missing with our traditional creative agencies? That’s something you sense a bit, that traditional partners can be hesitant and lethargic, they are moving but not fast enough.”

As Infectious Media's Attila Jakab has penned, perhaps the best solution is a hybrid, to allow for agility as more change accelerates? Perhaps for others, agility comes with simplification.

The next in the Big Questions for CMOs series will look at the topic of e-commerce and how different brands are looking at this important trend.

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