In-house shops can make agencies better at being agencies

The rise of the in-house creative shop has led to some backlash, which says brands shouldn’t rely on their in-house creative groups alone because they need an outside agency’s perspective.

That can be true, but so is the flip side: agencies need the perspective that typically you only get from working in-house. They need to learn to act like owners.

Like Intel, more and more brands have started to create internal creative shops, which has led to a notable uneasiness in the ranks of traditional agencies. This practice is not just to save money. Brands are building internal creative shops because they are recognizing the value of ownership in the creative process. By virtue of being inside, a company’s internal creative group can live and breathe the brand every day, and this allows them to cultivate a kind of unfair advantage.

I come from a traditional agency background. Agencies can be insular by nature, which could be what makes them great at what they do. Agencies want to win awards, more clients, bigger retainers and budgets, more awards. There’s no doubt that traditional agencies do amazing work for clients day-in and day-out, but anyone with agency experience knows that the work is often done for the sake of the work, and not for the sake of the client.

I got my first peek over at the fence at brands when I worked on Sprint. Working on just one brand for years, I had the chance to really dig into Sprint’s business, what made them tick, and what my agency's role was in that. The closer I got to the brand, the more I enjoyed my work, and that’s what made me curious about working at Intel. When I started, I approached my job as if I were still agency-side. I wanted to build a creative content group that functioned like elite special forces and could bring outside change. I sought to keep us separate from the rest of Intel in an effort to keep us focused.

Then, over time, I realized I was all wrong. During my daily commute in the Intel elevators, I tuned into the chatter around me. I started listening to technical conversations engineers were having, and the more I did, the more I learned about what our technology was actually capable of, and on what scale globally. I had a moment of clarity then. I realized that our group’s value to Intel could only be as great as our understanding of our technology, and the only way to fully understand that technology is to be integrated daily with the people who create it, not isolated from them.

That’s how we started working on projects like the drones we flew during the Super Bowl, or Lady Gaga’s performance at the Grammy’s. Dreaming about what our technology was capable of in unexpected ways became the creative starting point. And that’s not an experience I would have had if I’d stayed in an agency.

That’s also when I realized: I’m an owner. I have a say in how we market the brand. The results we’re trying to achieve? Those are my results. The budget for the content series? That’s my budget. We’re not playing with the client’s money. It’s real money now. The stories we’re telling? Those are my stories now. I’m not implying that every brand now needs to start an in-house shop, or that every agency person needs to work for a brand. But the value from being “in-house” isn’t limited to in-house agencies. We collaborate with external agencies every day. They push and challenge with us with oblique thinking - sometimes they tie us into a whip-smart understanding of culture, and sometimes they just give us a kick in the bum. But I think that they’ve done some of their best work when they’ve taken the time and energy to deeply understand our DNA.

Each brand is authentic in its own way, and it needs someone able to decode that. That’s all that any marketer is looking for. The last few years have set up a quietly burgeoning battle between agencies and in-house creative groups, but the real battle is to find the soul of a brand. And how do you find it, whether you’re inside or out? You become an owner.

Yogiraj Graham is director of production at Intel Global Production Labs

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Yogiraj Graham

Yogiraj Graham is director of production at Intel Global Production Labs

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