Agency vs In-housing is not an ‘either/or’ question

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The nature of the traditional agency/client model ihas changed. / Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash.

What does the future for agencies and in-house teams look like? How do we see the agency and client relationship evolving, as in-housing becomes more prevalent? How should in-house teams approach discussions around the whole topic with their agency, and what should their expectations be? On the flip side of the coin, is in-housing a bit of a fad that will pass?

During 2017, the trend of in-housing marketing gained significant momentum, however it feels like it has exploded in 2019. The whole topic has occupied a fair amount of my thoughts this year. As someone who has spent two thirds of my career working in agencies and a third client side, I hope to offer a more balanced perspective on the situation.

In-housing marketing is undeniably a continuing trend, but this should not come to the detriment of your relationship with an agency. Agencies should not see in-housing as a threat, but rather embrace change and be part of the solution. Some agencies are already placing staff in-house for their clients. There are also hybrid models, like Oliver Group or Dare, where agency teams are seen as extensions of an in-house team.

Client-side teams need agencies now, more than ever, and these relationships need to evolve even more. The agency and client relationship evolving significantly and even extending into one that resembles a management consultancy relationship, in certain instances. Management consultancies are already increasingly encroaching on agencies' turf, however in our experience they are bringing in agencies because they are struggling with the delivery of creative and being able to speak the right language to their clients.

This evolving relationship presents us with a challenge; we need to define where responsibilities lie and who owns specific areas. Certain areas should be shared, others outsourced, and others owned in-house.

Shared ownership

Recruitment

Recruitment within the digital marketing industry is tough at the moment, as there is an overall lack of skilled folk out there. The recruitment industry is also in desperate need of innovation. Building a great marketing team is a skill in itself. Bringing your agency into the whole recruitment process is perhaps an unusual choice, but we believe it is the right one. We see our clients leading this process, with agencies being heavily involved with all aspects from helping with budgeting, the team structure, creating job descriptions, benchmarking salaries to sitting in on interviews. The majority of senior agency staff will come with a huge wealth of knowledge and experience in these areas and add significant value.

Strategy

Strategy should to be a shared responsibility, with the client taking the lead on it. In our experience, the breadth of experience and cutting-edge knowledge an agency team brings to the table will always bring a significant amount of value to the table. This experience and knowledge will almost certainly bring a new dimension to your strategic thinking, thus challenging an in-house team to re-consider their approach and therefore turning out a better strategic approach.

Planning

Like strategy, planning your digital marketing, whether it be at a top level or at channel level will value greatly from the broad experience and perspective, that an agency will bring.

Execution

Client-side teams often suffer from a scarcity of time to actually get things done. Often, they are involved with multiple meetings on a daily basis, which leaves them less time to actually execute any of the planned marketing activity. In addition, there is the obvious churn of staff, moving jobs and leaving the ownership of certain channels behind. This is where an agency should step in to help out with such scenarios, in executing the work that needs to get done.

Commercials

It may seem an unusual concept to ‘share your commercials’ with your agency, but it can lead to a much stronger and more accountable agency/client relationship. Take, for example, the area of forecasting specific marketing channels. Without a very transparent approach to sharing current and historical commercial information, it is very unlikely that the forecasting done will be of any significant value. Agreeing some form of shared ownership between agency and client also leads to greater accountability for meeting internal sales targets, set by management.

Outsourced

Learning & Development

There are many advantages of being agency-side, working in a breadth of industries, a variety of advertising accounts and a range of budgets. These advantages mean exposure to a large variety of different markets that require different marketing strategies, constant upskilling on the job, learning to problem solve and overcome new and different challenges. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with an in-house team, the benefits detailed above do not transfer well into an in-house team. The main reasons for this are limited time resource, varying budgets and often company culture. It is therefore imperative that you are working with your agency to upskill and develop your team. This should come in the form of traditional training, but also attending industry events with your agency.

Provocation and perspective

This may sound like a strange point to outsource, but external agencies will offer a more thorough and considered perspective on ideas that may not land well with your customers. External agencies can take data and research you have been staring at for months and offer you new insights that will help you grow. To create really great work that is brave and bold, the provocation you received from a really creative agency may be a bitter pill to swallow, but it will be a wise investment. Having a fresh perspective on channel optimisation and activity, through regular (maybe monthly or quarterly) audits is a no brainer. Having an external viewpoint to not only improve your execution, but also your processes, will go a long way to improving your results.

Software and third party platforms

In a past client-side role, I spent a significant amount of time and budget building a software to help analyse user and sales data. In hindsight, it was an unwise decision. It took our focus away from our core business objectives and we ended up working with third party platform after a few years. In most cases, there is no point in re-inventing the wheel and there are many tried and tested platforms out there to solve your specific needs.

Owned in-house

Data

This really is common sense, all data held or captured through any marketing work should be legally owned by the in-house team and client.

Relationships with suppliers

All marketing, data and creatives managed or executed through suppliers, for example via; advertising platforms like Google Ads or Facebook, email marketing platforms like Mailchimp, SEO management through SEO Monitor or the analysis of data through platforms like Google Analytics and Adobe Marketing Cloud should be owned by the in-house team responsible for it. It therefore makes sense for all contractual relationships to sit between the in-house team and supplier. This type of relationship also promotes transparency both financially and gives full control to the client.

Budget

This should not be decided by an agency, nor should an agency have a deciding say in it. The in-house team should own this and have the deciding say on all aspects of this.

There is no doubt about it, the agency/client relationship is changing significantly and will continue to do so over the forthcoming years. It’s time for clients and agencies to come to a new understanding.

Chris Laas is head of digital marketing at Etch

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