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In-house versus agency: Debating the pros and cons4 min read

4 min read

Last week, we hosted our inaugural event with Microsoft, exploring what the future holds for digital marketing. Part of this was a panel discussion on in-house versus agency, looking at the pros and cons of each approach, and offering advice for brands looking to make the move.

What’s driving the in-housing trend?

In-housing is undoubtedly one of the buzzwords of 2019, with barely a day going by without a headline on the latest brand shifting to an in-house model – from Hilton to PepsiCo. But why are so many companies seemingly ditching agencies to manage their digital media in-house?

As part of our recent event – Croud x Microsoft: The Future of Marketing – we brought together four heavyweights from the digital space to debate just that. Chaired by Croud’s Director of Strategy & Planning Duncan Nichols, the panel was made up of Ryan Kangisser, MediaSense; John O’Connor, Microsoft Advertising; Luke Boudour, Not On The High Street; and independent consultant Jason Hard, who was most recently interim CMO at Sophia Webster.

So, what’s driving the in-housing trend? Whilst the panelists were in agreement that cost benefits are too significant for brands to ignore, they also agreed that there are several other factors at play. Driving efficiency was quoted several times as being a key motivator for brands in-housing their media buying, with Ryan Kangisser from MediaSense arguing that the traditional agency model simply isn’t agile enough. Similarly, Not On The High Street’s Luke Boudour said that cutting out the middleman and getting things done yourself could be hugely appealing to brand-side marketers. Another key driver behind the trend was thought to be brands wanting to take back control – notably of their data and their marketing spend.

No one-size-fits-all approach

At the same time, the panelists also agreed that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach, and that in-housing won’t necessarily be the right option for every company. John from Microsoft Advertising pointed out that it very much depends on the maturity and evolution of the business in question. Jason Hard agreed, stating that, from his experience, agencies can prove particularly important for start-ups, when they don’t yet have the required resources and simply want to tap into the expertise that agencies offer and be empowered to scale quickly.

Similarly, the panelists were in agreement that the in-house/agency debate is not a binary one – and that we should not be speaking in terms of ‘versus’ but instead considering how agencies can enhance the work being done in-house. MediaSense’s Ryan said, for instance, “It remains a non-binary choice for clients and the agencies – the most likely to succeed will be those who offer a more fluid and modular approach which complements (rather than competes with) existing capabilities.”

Attracting and retaining talent

Getting – and keeping – the right talent was put forward as one of the biggest challenges facing agencies and brands alike. Jason argued that digital marketers can often stand to gain more experience and have a steeper learning curve at agencies, due to the leading edge practice to be found in that environment. John agreed, stating that agency employees often pick up added benefits beyond their day-to-day responsibilities, such as direct access to media owners and tech providers.

Not On The High Street’s Luke therefore advocates giving talent the room to grow in the business, in order to retain talent. So what were the other key takeaways from the panel debate? Luke’s second key piece of advice was that it is vital, from the very outset, to get senior buy-in and wider support from the business if you are looking to go in-house.

Ryan’s advice was to start by aligning internally, rather than simply following the zeitgeist. He also urged the wider industry to talk about the realities of in-housing – “we have a responsibility as an industry”.

Jason reiterated that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to in-housing, and that brands should think carefully about what they want, or need, to take hold of now before taking action. He also advised that chemistry is key – “relationships are so important in finding the right partner for your business”.

Finally, John said that keeping that relationship fresh and ensuring transparency are key to a successful partnership – after all, any agency should be an agency of choice, not obligation.

If you’d like to find out more about Croud, or to find out about our upcoming events, contact us. Or if you’d like to find out more about our offering for in-house teams, Serpico, visit the Serpico site.