Food for Thought

In-house v Agency – Which is the right path for me?

  • Jordan Lonsdale
  • Sep 28, 2020

In-house v Agency, and why it matters

 

For most of my career, I have been client-side, working for in-house creative teams at various big brands. From Virgin Atlantic to JD Sports to Candy Crush, I’ve worked across global campaigns and gained great insight into how in-house resources actually work.

 

At the same time, I also learned about their shortcomings. And now that I’ve made the big switch to agency, I want to share what I have learned with regards to the pros and cons of in-house v agency, and why it matters.

 

Knowing the brand

 

So, let’s start with the most obvious point, the brand.

 

With an in-house model, it almost becomes part of the employee’s DNA. Lengthy induction courses and immersions all help to embed the team into the brand. Employees live and breathe the brand, developing a real in-depth understanding.

 

This is great if you have an in-house model that won’t stagnate. However, the creative teams can often become overly close to the brand, easily falling into bad or lazy habits. They become restricted by their own brand knowledge, simply too immersed to find any creative freedom. They become stale.

 

With the agency model, there is a general assumption that agencies simply won’t know your brand as well as an in-house team. Yet a good agency will always take the time to get to know your vision, core values, purpose and your customers before they start working on any creative. The level of brand knowledge needed for an amazing campaign does not need to run as deep as it does with in-house creatives.

 

Challenging the brand

 

A good agency should always know just enough to be able to push you creatively and challenge you to be more inventive and innovative. Whilst they are aware of the specific boundaries of your brand, they will not be bound by the molecular detail by which your in-house teams will naturally be governed. This can be a huge positive if you want to push the brand’s awareness with an atypical campaign.

 

Brands that have in-house resources will often feel that they just don’t need any agency help. Having an in-house resource is, of course, great for fast turnaround on jobs that require collaboration with internal stakeholders. But, as my experiences have taught me, your resources can quickly be exhausted. You can only do so much. And you can often become too narrow in your thinking as a result.

 

Adaptability matters

 

In-house teams can lack the ability to expand and contract with demand. For this reason alone, I have seen the need for agency support in every in-house team where I have worked. Brands with in-house resources should still seek agency partners who can seamlessly become an extension of their existing teams, as and when required. Agencies are not there to take over but to support and collaborate, working with the brand towards a common goal – creating amazing content that works.

 

Collaborating with an agency that can flex ensures no job is too big or too small. There is no risk of over-commitment. Good agencies will also bring a network of highly skilled freelancers that can be called on for further support as and when needed. Working with a specialist agency magnifies that agility even further.

 

Being agile

 

The need to be agile is why I believe every brand with in-house resource needs to consider retaining a supporting agency. They are nimble, the overheads are relatively small, helping them to deliver real value, and the hierarchy is less complicated. They are easy to manage and easy to work with.

 

This brings major advantages to the brand. Apart from delivering real value, agencies can respond and react swiftly. Their simple structure allows you to develop a good personal relationship with all of the key people assigned to your project.

 

Another point to consider is the specific skill sets that a specialist agency can bring. If you were to hire a team internally to create and produce film and photography content, you would need a highly skilled, specialist and expensive crew. Yet a brand usually only has a few major campaigns a year. The cost of recruitment, HR, training, equipment etc can quickly become a solution that is far from cost effective. And particularly so in the current climate.

 

Managing risk

 

A common misconception is one of brand protection and security. Or looking at it another way, mitigating risk. But there is no safety blanket that comes as standard with having an in-house team. Someone may become sick or hand in their notice suddenly, mid-campaign. And then what? Finding the right replacement or freelance support can take time and cost money, jeopardising your project. With an agency solution, you always have that added peace of mind that no matter what, the project will be delivered to budget and on time.

 

For bigger campaigns and large scope projects it is almost always advantageous to call on a specialist agency to support. The peace of mind a good agency partner brings to the table is tangible. They’ll take care of everything. All you need to do is guide them with a brief and budget before waiting for the final assets to sign off.

 

Getting value

 

Finally, agencies don’t need to cost the earth. And small can be beautiful!

 

You just need the right agency with a strong code of ethics that can help and support you and your in-house teams through your content and business challenges. Look to an agency as something to compliment you, to help you drive more value out of the team you already have, and to help take the pressure off when challenges arise. This is especially true when you want to push the boundaries of your brand and navigate your way through tough market conditions.