The execs behind Lastminute.com’s new in-housing media consulting arm, Playbook, have said they want to help brands in-house “better” instead of strong-arming them into cutting agencies out the picture entirely.
Having learned how to bulk up its own internal capabilities “the hard way” the travel search brand launched advisory Playbook last month to help other advertisers “de-risk” the process of internalising their core media and marketing functions.
However, with agencies subject to constant chatter about how and why brands are increasingly looking inward when it comes to these capabilities, the marketer leading Lastminute.com’s efforts – Alessandra Di Lorenzo – is insistent that Playbook isn't “pro-in-housing”.
“It’s not for everyone,” she told The Drum. “We’re pro-efficiency and believe if it’s core to your business it should be inside your business. And if that’s the case we want to help those businesses in-house better.”
Playbook's team of 60 is being led out of a newly-created media business unit called Forward, which also houses Lastminute.com’s trading business Travel People and newly acquired video production agency Madfish.
This end-to-end offering is overseen by Lorenzo (who was previously Lastminute's chief commercial officer) at the helm as chief executive.
Ex-Thinking Juice co-founder Gellan Watt has also been brought on board as chief commercial officer for Forward, along with ex-Vodafone and eBay marketers to sit on its leadership team.
Watt is similarly firm in his belief that Playbook's mission is not to get advertisers to pivot in-house, but instead help clients that naturally want bulk up their internal arsenal while continuing to work with agencies who have a "perfectly sizeable and considerable role to play".
Playbook has the capability help clients in a variety of areas, including the creation of roadmaps for in-housing, how to handle a shift in culture and skills and implementing the right internal media, adtech and martech solutions.
However, rival independent consultancies have levelled questions about whether the company has sufficient breadth and depth of knowledge – and, as a platform itself, an agnostic enough attitude towards tech – to advise other advertisers on in-housing.
"We are not taking the position of being anything apart from completely pro-efficiency and [supporting] what is right for a business and a brand in terms of the type of work they want to do in-house," stressed Watt.
And though management consultancies are increasingly encroaching on agencies' turf when it comes to consulting on these decisions he doesn't see Playbook as competing with them.
"Management consultancies are out there doing transformative work within brands but they're buying agencies because they have some challenges actually speaking the right language within creative and media," he said.
"Then you've got the agencies who are putting people in-house [for clients] and hybrid models [like the one used by] Oliver Group, where agencies are embedded in-house. We're not trying to do any of those things, we sit right in the middle of all of that."
'It's in our blood'
For Lorenzo, it was Lastminute.com's own in-housing journey that made her realise it would “make sense” to launch its own consulting business.
“We’re in a world where everybody is talking about in-housing and lots of brands are looking to do similar things to what we’ve learned doing the hard way,” she noted.
Having internalised its own buying and planning in 2016 after ending its relationship with Manning Gottlieb OMD, Lastminute.com has upped its annual media revenues by 40% over three years.
In the same timeframe, Lastminute.com has bulked up the services it offers to brands via Travel People, including letting advertisers build their own microsites propped up by Lastminute.com technology.
The company has identified travel, which is, of course, part of its own DNA, as one of the most cost-driven and competitive marketing sectors, however Lorenzo is confident that Lastminute.com’s learnings can be “applied easily” to other similar or less competitive environments through Playbook.
“Interestingly, all of the conversations we have initiated thus far are not in the travel sector,” she said, noting that it’s already consulting a big FMCG brand on its in-housing strategy. Watt also noted it's working with an agency and a client on a separate brief.
As for the efficiencies Lorenzo hopes Playbook will help drive for her clients, she said budget and revenue will be key considerations. Though, based on her own experiences, she’d say those aren’t the most significant.
“Those are a by-product of a much bigger and more important point, which is that we’ve already created a sustainable advantage within our company and a capability that will stay with the business forever.”
Explaining how she’d measured the success of her own efforts, she continued: “[Lastminute.com] knows how to do this now: we own it, it's in our blood. We know how to run media planning and buying in a way that makes us more competitive, that uses all of our stories and assets and everything we’ve got and essentially enables us to activate it in real time.
"[We can be] really fast without having to necessarily rely on external [agencies] that may have different agendas or different timings to us.”