In the past few months, agency leaders across the country have noticed something critical. A wave of boomerang clients that left in pursuit of in-housing trends are returning in search of hybrid relationships between in-house and agency teams. What happened?
In-housing trends reflected the changing needs of clients for more localized and on-demand work. But the independence and top-tier talent of agencies was missed by many brands. Now that the trend of in-housing has had some time to settle, a surprising opportunity to rekindle time-tested relationships and demonstrate the value of agencies has emerged.
Here are three ways to keep your agency competitive and win more clients back.
Reverse engineer in-housing
Let’s think like an intelligence agency for a moment and break down in-housing into its key elements. Take a close look at the marketing functions most commonly brought in-house: digital execution, day-to-day social media management, investor relations PR. Notice how in-housing excels in three key areas: consistently executing and streamlining work at scale, carrying out communications tasks under immediate deadlines and marketing with the know-how and confidentiality of an insider.
In these situations, in-house teams have the focus to execute quickly and consistently to brand standards. When companies need this kind of work, it’s attractive to just be able to walk down the hall and get it done.
In-housing teams might not have the history or breadth of work as agencies but they’ve brought a much-needed set of tools to the table. It’s time to make our own shops as adaptable and embedded as in-house teams, ready to deliver quick and dependable work with the full confidence of our clients.
Treat talent like family
Many brands have found that an over-reliance on in-house teams and their limited exposure to other companies and industries has led to moderate brand growth. Recent reports point to a recurring theme: in-house teams struggle with recruiting the talent that gravitates to the agency environment. In turn, brands are returning to agencies for that final “push” to innovate, accelerate growth, and keep ahead of industry trends.
Agencies cannot afford to lose what sets them apart: the inventive, diverse, passionate individuals that make this possible. They are the lifeblood of our work.
This concept underpins the philosophy of many family-owned and independent firms, but the industry as a whole needs to disavow revolving door stereotypes and listen closer to employee demands. When you show your employees that you care, the work is always better.
Support employees with attractive work environments and competitive compensation packages that keep up with external hiring competition. Continue pushing for diversity across the board in hiring, services and client selection to encourage the kind of experimentation that would be difficult to contain in an in-house operation.
Serve as a leader
An exploration of new kinds of collaborations between agencies and clients is starting, and we are the ones that need to lead the way in defining these new relationships by remembering the following:
It’s all about the work, and it’s always about the client.
Many companies that once turned down larger agencies for in-housing have now found a personal, service-focused approach in smaller shops. Their nimbleness has adapted well to new partnership models, including hybrid in-house/agency collaborations.
This dedication to the craft of advertising as a service is essential for all agencies, big and small. Agencies need to step up and look at in-house teams not as competition but as inspiration for providing better service and producing better work.
Double-down on the big idea
All investment in leadership and talent serves one purpose: creating big ideas. Without great thinking, and without the ability to recognize and support the makers, there is not much purpose to agency work.
Unfortunately, big ideas are under threat. In a world that is so connected where brands and agencies cross borders seamlessly, it’s easy to take the well-trodden path and churn out sterile, generalist work. It has never been more acceptable to do average work. Work that doesn’t shock, surprise or push people from their comfort zones. But it’s well-known that campaigns that aim for fame and recognition work four times harder than the average.
This is why, across all media and awards shows in the world, it is only the work of a few key and independent players that stands out. It demonstrates the expanded role agencies will play in the future of affecting real change in brands, society and technology. These big ideas serve as a justification of marketing as craft, a craft that is uniquely perfected in the agency environment.
Over the past few years, in-house teams have succeeded in meeting the day-to-day needs of many clients across industries. But these teams have faced the constant challenges of recruiting and keeping top talent as well as pushing breakthrough innovation from within.
Now that clients are returning to the agency doorstep, it’s more crucial than ever to demonstrate a genuine concern for their business and success. It’s time to demonstrate the kind of expertise and external energy that is not available anywhere else.