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Why in-housing doesn’t need to be a death mark for agencies



As budgets continue to be cut and every penny of marketing spend is scrutinised, in-housing is becoming a serious issue for agencies. Indeed, there have been numerous reports released recently about the proliferation of in-housing marketing functions. Dentsu Aegis’ annual CMO Study revealed that 58% of CMOs intend to bring more digital capabilities in-house within the next three years, while new research from the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) told us that 86% of marketing teams are currently - or are planning on - in-housing in the next three years.

The proliferation of in-housing is also something we discussed at length during a roundtable with a number of North West agencies just a few months back. The event saw us discussing Manchester Digital’s 2019 Agency Insights Survey, which revealed that 69% of agencies have lost budget through in-housing over the past year.

And while some agency folks may squirm in their seats reading this, I believe there will always be a place for agencies - it isn’t an ‘either/or’ conversation. However, as in-housing continues to become more commonplace, one thing is certain: agencies will have to work harder and harder to prove value. To help in doing that, here are some of the main points of difference I believe agencies can provide to marketing teams:

1.       Creativity

This will always be top of my list. Indeed, when I speak to clients, a large proportion of them value creativity above anything else when working with an agency.  

Yes, there are a lot of very creative people in in-house roles, but those people are often pulled in every direction, dragged into a lot of meetings and landed with unexpected jobs that, a lot of the time, don’t actually fall into their remit. As a result, creative ideas sessions are often the last thing on an in-house marketer’s mind. So, they rely on us agency folk - who have time allocated in our days and weeks for ideation - to provide creative ideas and execute them well.

And as the threat of automation continues, the ability to inject creativity and a point of difference into campaigns - which can’t be done by a robot - will become an increasingly important way for agencies to stay ahead of the game.

2.        A new perspective

Ever feel like you’re stuck in an echo chamber? It seems like a lot of marketers do. A stat from the DMA survey stuck with me – 37% of respondents cited concerns about creating an ‘echo-chamber’ of ideas by in-housing – as really hitting the nail on the head.

Marketing teams that open themselves up to agencies coming in to their business and providing a new perspective (and challenging the norm if required) will benefit hugely. Those that don’t have their heads in the business day in and day out will be able to take a step back, take an overarching view of the problem, challenge or opportunity, and usually offer a new take on things that might have never crossed the mind of an in-house marketer.  Good partner agencies will also be able to provide support to internal teams and act as a sounding board.

In order for this relationship to work at its best, agencies and marketing teams must work hard on cultivating a transparent and honest relationship from the outset.

3.       Cross-industry thinking

Unless you are an extremely niche agency, it’s highly likely that you and the team around you has a great deal of experience across a range of different sectors. Marketing teams that feel in a rut from operating in the same sector day in and day out can make use of agencies’ cross sector experience and use it to their advantage.

Taking learnings from different sectors is another crucial element to adding new perspective and scoping out new ways of doing things. At Refresh, we operate across three pretty different core sectors – tech, construction and food, drink and retail - and we regularly make use of cross-sector knowledge when developing strategies and campaigns.

4.       Specialist knowledge

As a result of often being pulled in multiple directions, it’s common for in-house marketers to become generalists rather than specialists – something that I think is right, but not without its difficulties. Generalists simply don’t have the time to master every discipline of marketing - whether that’s comms, PR, PPC, SEO, advertising, POS, influencer marketing - well.

This is where agencies come in; there’s an agency out there for everything. While some agencies specialise in multiple marketing functions, I believe the opportunity for agencies here comes from offering a specialism and being great at it. At Refresh, we pride ourselves on doing PR and doing it well. We’re not an SEO agency, we’re not an influencer agency, we’re a PR agency. We’ve made a conscious decision not to jump on trends and instead be the absolute best in our core field.

The agency / in-house relationship can still thrive

As the instances of in-housing become increasingly common, agencies must continue to seek out their clients’ pain points and evolving needs and adapt their service offerings in line with these. At the same time, agencies and client teams must work hard to foster a true partnership approach. It’s the marketing teams that view agencies as partners rather than suppliers that will derive the most value from a relationship.

 

Tagged with: PR, PR agencies Manchester, PR Agency Manchester, PR campaign essential, Public Relations, Public Relations North West