Lexus, Arla, Renault and PMG are among the many brands taking creative and media capabilities in-house. Ahead of Agency Acceleration Day, a one-day event focused on how to grow your agency, The Drum speaks to Spotify, News UK, TUI and Oliver Group UK on the in-house issue.
Over the past few years, many brands have been opting to go in-house with creative and media capabilities and among those who are reaping the benefits are Unilever who saved more than €500m (£430m) on marketing last year, as they take more content in-house.
Sharon Whale, chief executive officer, Oliver Group UK says that the burgeoning trend comes from it being better, faster and cheaper. “Brands and chief marketing officers have to navigate increasingly complex landscapes. Employing an in-house agency allows a brand to make head and tail of this complex marketing landscape. The last thing they need is a complex and siloed agency landscape. It’s slow and requires client time to corral and integrate. In-house agencies, built bespoke for brands’ needs, are 100% part of the answer.”
With internet giants Facebook and Google offering self-service platforms, allowing marketers to plan and buy a major proportion of their digital marketing spend directly, the need for intermediary agencies is decreasing, says Paul Hood, digital marketing director, News UK.
The problem with that, however, is that their inventory often lacks context and they lack consistently trustworthy content, Hood adds. “This is something that a brands in-house media buying should be aware of; they will still need to factor in buying inventory from established media brands if they want to guarantee quality.”
Attracting and retaining talent
Finding talent to bolster in-house media capabilities was cited as one of the top concerns among marketers last year, according to research from ID Comms. Retaining this talent is also a big concern. Agency marketers have more room to grow and progress in their careers when they're working for different clients and the pace of life is much different to in-house where things can be slow.
According to Marco Bertozzi, vice president, ad sales, Europe, Spotify this has been one of their biggest challenges. Having run a trading desk, he’s well aware of how much demand there is for experts in areas like that with people being offered a lot of money to move.
“Flat teams and structures are always hard to manage and keep people motivated even if you succeed in getting them in the door. I would say having moved from agency to brand it is refreshing to work in a consumer facing brand and that can be motivating to people, its one of the pros. Keeping a high performing team needs career progression, training, succession and so as an advertiser you need to work out if you have all the ingredients.
News UK is beginning to see a positive shift in retaining their digital marketing talent. “Increasingly, we see talented candidates valuing the variety and impact they can experience working directly for media owners rather than agencies or platforms,” Hood explains. “We've also built a strong relationship with Loughborough University, who run a digital marketing MSc course; we're working with them to create internships with News UK.”
TUI, meanwhile, has naturally evolved into an in-house brand. With the amount of content TUI produces, it needed to take more control of that production. “It allows us to turn projects around really quickly and manage our stakeholders directly,” says Claire Dormer, head of content at TUI.
“It is hard to attract talent in house, but it’s also due to where you are located as much as being in house. However, I don’t agree that agencies offer more progression, and that definitely isn’t the case at TUI. We have a huge focus on retaining staff and offer more opportunities than a lot of agencies can. Sure, that means people might move to other departments, but we always support that.”
The in-house model allows people to be multi-skilled and wear many hats, adds Whale. Being a creative doesn’t mean you can’t lead the account.
“We like our creatives to be totally hands on, challenging and working directly with the client. Working in-house doesn’t mean you never move or work on other brands. Talent at Oliver still receive training, variety, community and career progression – they’re not bound to one thing.”
Should you stay or should you go?
Trends change. Something that can be popular one moment can then old hat the next. As brands increasingly go in-house, should others be quick to follow?
Dormer insists it’s not that simple. “It really depends on each brand’s needs,” she says. “The success for us is having a clear understanding of what we produce in house and what we still work on with our creative agency.”
"I think this is a leading question," adds Bertozzi. "Where one assumes that budgets are all going in house. I currently hear a lot of feedback that clients are starting to do it, while others are either slowing or moving back to a more nuanced agency relationship." He suggests to advertisers to be careful of what they wish for and make sure they are very clear on what they want and why and are they ready.
Whale concludes that in-housing provides a plethora of benefits but being ‘quick to follow’ might not be the best advice. “At Oliver, we’ve spent fifteen years developing an acute understanding of clients’ needs, and how best to service them on any brief. That knowledge doesn’t come overnight – other agencies are quick to implement a bespoke in-house offering, but they simply don’t have the knowledge or structural advantage to truly excel.
“Yes, brands should take their advertising in-house, but they need to be prepared to let an agency in 100%.”
Whale, Hood, Dormer and Bertozzi are all panelists on the In-house Agency Issue panel at The Drum's Agency Accelleration Day on Thursday 28 March. Tickets are available to purchase now.