M&S media boss: brands ‘arrogant' to think they can do it all in-house

For O’Flynn, building those specialist relationships has, and will remain, key in the brand’s own road to in-housing

While it continues to invest in data and organic search talent, don't expect M&S to in-house more traditional elements of the planning and buying process any time soon.

"When you look at the distribution of your core data, where that lives and the value that could unlock for us as a brand, that’s at the core of what we’ve been doing," the brand’s head of media channels Maria O’Flynn said during a conference hosted by the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (Isba) on Thursday (28 February).

"There’s obviously planning and buying functions, all of which are moving at pace in terms of the specialism and expertise. It’s difficult and possibly a bit arrogant to think you can own expertise there in-house," she added.

“But [with] data, [brands] have to own that arrogance, and acquire that arrogance, and deal with your data better than anyone else can. Bringing that in-house is absolutely imperative."

M&S joins brands like Vodafone in building out a media model that blends agency and in-house expertise in an industry where finding top media talent is now a growing concern for brand marketers.

An in-house-agency blend

Plagued by supply chain issues that have seen clothing shortages and customers disappointed across its clothing and home range, M&S has been looking to better connect the dots between its digital marketing efforts and its merchandising over the past 18 months.

As part of a shakeup designed to alleviate the issue, the British retailer has not only appointed specialists to its media roster to work with longstanding agency Mindshare, it is also deep into the process of building its own SEO team to handle organic search.

In the UK market, NMPi now handles paid search for its clothing and home arm along with paid social and display advertising in 34 international markets.

Though M&S has been bringing its marketing and supply chain closer together there is still some way to go, with its post-festive figures showing year-for-year sales to have fallen by 1.7% over the crucial trading period owing to stock-buying errors and rivals’ Christmas discounts.

For O’Flynn, building those specialist relationships and maintaining its existing agency ones with more traditional agencies, will remain, key in the brand’s own road to in-housing.

“We chose to enhance SEO because the job required a hands-on, core company asset. It’s repeatable and we need those skills – they’re specific to us and our tech stack is like no other.

“On the other hand, for paid search we needed a high degree of automation which has been built by our agency. I’m not going to have people in-house building that technology and keeping it up to date,” she adds.

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