When it comes to in-housing, brands need impartial advice

Outsourcing to in-housing digital media is highly complex and covers a broad spectrum

Lastminute.com is the enduring poster child of direct-to-consumer, no-middle-man, online businesses. As a digital-first, digital-only brand, born in the dot.com bubble at the end of the 1990s, the business today is thriving as it strides confidently into its early twenties.

Having been around for so long – throughout the birth pangs, toddlerhood, infancy, and troubled teenage of the digital revolution – Lastminute.com helped write the rule book (or perhaps the 'Playbook', as we’ll see shortly) for all things digital over the past two decades.

By being among the first dotcom businesses (and as old as Google itself) the brand experimented, made mistakes, and came away with learnings before most of the rest of the pack of digital and DTC businesses were but a twinkle in a VC’s eye.

In another first, Lastminute is now moving into the consultancy business, specialising in in-housing digital media. Having brought its own media planning and media buying in-house progressively since 2016, the company has just launched a standalone consultancy offer which it’s calling Playbook. It's using its own experiences (in in-housing media and content, data and tech) to advise other businesses how to do the same. And the stars of the show are the core team that led Lastminute’s own in-housing drive across Europe. By all accounts, they’ve already signed up a number of clients.

What interesting, ever-more disintermediated times we live in. Advertisers selling consultancy to other advertisers is not something I had anticipated. In the recent past, exchange of learnings between brands took place at an industry level. It happened through peer-to-peer action groups and committees of industry trade bodies. This was common practice throughout my time at Isba, and The Marketing Society today boasts an active digital media in-housing group. That’s why I find it so interesting to observe brands now starting to monetise experience.

Lastminute.com clearly knows a very great deal about the pros and cons of moving from a largely outsourced to a largely in-housed advertising model, having been on its own journey in this direction in recent years.

I have no doubt that Lastminute.com’s own journey has worked out well for it. Questions remain for me, however, as to whether the company has sufficient breadth and depth of knowledge – and an agnostic attitude to tech – to turn itself from a company that’s taken a particular path into a business that can advise a wide diversity of other businesses on how and why they should do the same.

There are three areas I believe advertisers should look for when they’re working with advisors on in-housing. These areas are: skills, market dynamics, and impartiality.

Skills: Because you’ve done something yourself – in your own particular circumstances – doesn’t mean you necessarily have the skills to help others do the same, particularly others who are structurally different from you. Building new relationships with vendors and different parts of the online advertising ecosystem to fit you is one thing. Generalising from the particular – creating a set of golden rules, or a playbook – isn’t necessarily a linear journey. And at Ebiquity, having reviewed multiple approaches to in-housing across many different kinds of business – bricks and mortar, online only, and everywhere in between – we know that no two models are the same.

Market dynamics: What works for an online DTC brand may very well not translate to a largely offline FMCG brand with different routes to market, different structures and historical ways of working, different teams and silos. There may very well be a lot of common ground between all businesses and how they should structure the supply chain of partners required to in-house many aspects of media buying. But technical details may be the simplest part of the mix. Brands need to focus on what’s different about their culture, their organisational structure, and the legacy value of long-established partnerships when they look to shake up the status quo

Impartiality: When someone – and I include corporations as people or collectives of people here – has changed the way they do something, they often become evangelical that others should do the same. Those giving advice to advertisers on how far and how fast they transform from outsourced to in-housed should ideally have observed the pros and cons on taking different approaches across different sectors and circumstances.

Outsourcing to in-housing digital media is highly complex and covers a broad spectrum. Where a particular business sits on this spectrum today – and more importantly where it should sit tomorrow – is about more than philosophy and ideology. It’s about choosing the right mix of partners from a broad marketplace and selecting the degree and locus of control that’s right for the individual business.

It certainly doesn’t start from the premise that in-housing is always good or the right thing to do, and requires a dedicated approach to review and design a unique model fit for the individual brand’s needs.

Giving such fundamental advice requires independence and impartiality, an ability to look at the whole of a market to find the appropriate model for specific circumstances.

Peer-to-peer learning can be invaluable, but I’d also encourage all those currently wrestling with the in-housing digital media debate to get broad and impartial, advice. It’s a big decision with major consequences, and you want to give it the best chance to get it right.

Debbie Morrison is managing director, global partnerships and events, at Ebiquity

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