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Why the agency versus in-house argument is over

Time to work together, not apart.

While the debate rages over what functions clients can successfully take on themselves, it’s time to retire the old dichotomy of agency vs. in-house. The stark “either/or” proposition is not suited to the needs of today’s companies when customer experience and innovation are core drivers of business success and growth, writes Ben Wiener, chief executive of WONGDOODY.

There are more predictions of doom for the agency business as we know it. This time compliments of the recently released Gartner report “The State of Marketing Budgets 2021, Insights from Gartner’s Annual CMO Spend Survey.”

As CMOs “reimagine capabilities that can be supported by their internal teams,” in-house resources are shifting from delivering high volume, low value activities, to providing strategy and innovation that used to be the privileged domain of big-name agencies, it states.

Marketers recognize that in a digitally led, tech-enabled world, there is no longer a need for complex and rigid agency models. Innovation, technology, and strategy are the three capabilities moving in-house, a meaningful shift that agencies can either choose to fight or figure out how to support.

And while there’s no right blueprint, clients recognize the challenges trying to innovate, disrupt, and build an experience-centric culture from within. Siloed organizational structures, legacy processes, cultural challenges, or internal politics, often doom these efforts. But for myriad reasons from cost savings to agility to data privacy, however, clients are giving it a try.

So where do agencies fit in? Brands will benefit when agencies leverage their strengths – external perspective and focused subject matter expertise – to help brands build the internal capabilities they need to fuel their business. That’s real partnership and a path forward for the industry as a whole. Brands want partners who can enable and empower their own internal capabilities and then leave.

Renting versus owning talent

Clients don’t need our help the way they used to. But despite all the other changes we’ve seen, our core proposition as an industry remains renting our talent at the highest possible price for as long as possible, to clients who don’t have it. Now, however, clients are as good (or better) at attracting agency talent than agencies.

The future opportunity for agencies is to stop renting talent by the hours, and to start selling the parts of our human capital value chain that clients actually need and can’t replicate nearly as quickly or easily. That creates value for clients, purpose for agencies, and a future for our industry.

As an industry, we like to believe that agency-level talent is our differentiator that clients can never replicate. It’s increasingly clear that’s not true, especially since agency talent is moving to the client world as companies from all industries put innovative customer experience at the core of what they do.

We can’t define our value to clients based on talent, or at least talent alone. However, most of us have an ecosystem to find, grow and support talent that can serve us in this new partnership model. The things we take for granted, are in fact the things clients most need from us.

Our recruiting pipeline is full of talent with diverse, digital skills and we have the infrastructure to keep filling it. We have internal processes and programs to continuously reskill and upskill talent that keep them on the leading edge of experience transformation. We know how to tackle problems and get to solutions quickly, with minimal guidance and often incomplete information.

The value of a culture of creativity

Cultures of creativity and innovation are what we have always nurtured. It’s not just part of our business, it’s pretty much our whole business. The breadth of agency engagements allows us to cross-pollinate the best ideas from different industries. We know how to rally disparate teams from different disciplines around a common mission. Our offices are generally pretty cool, and pervaded with a sense of fun, experimentation, and discovery.

At this moment in time, with so much change upon us, we need to combine the best of both worlds to create something new, that clients really need. Because clients don’t really need our talent. They can hire that on their own. They need our whole value chain to make that talent work, and that’s where the future of our business lies.

Ben Wiener, chief executive of WONGDOODY, an award-winning experience, strategy, and design unit powered by Infosys.

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