The mere thought of having to rely on an internal agency for all marketing gives me a real sense of anxiety. Yet, a significant trend, according to a report conducted by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and reported on by Ad Age, says that 78% of ANA members have developed some level of in-house agency. This new stat is an increase from a reported 58% in 2013.
If you’re not familiar with the internal agency concept, it’s basically when a corporation builds its own internal marketing agency team with the goal of leveraging external agency talent less frequently.
According to the ANA, corporations are chasing cost savings. After all, why pay the markup on talent when you can bring it in-house and do the same thing for cheaper?
Sure, there will be some dollars saved, but at what cost?
This brings me to why I get anxiety at the thought of having to rely on an internal agency only. It’s not because I don’t like the idea of having lower costs or having more immediate control. There are process benefits for sure. However, truthfully, I think it comes down to a softer side of the equation.
The creative prowess of the agency world.
External agency employees act and think differently. They are exposed to more than one brand. They work different hours. They like the dog running around their office, which strangely becomes part of who they are. What I’m saying is that they don’t fit in the corporate mold, and that’s why they are good at what they do.
Having worked for one of the largest B2B software companies in the world, I can say that corporate employees drink the Kool-Aid. This approach works wonderfully for your corporate marketer. They all rally around a message and need to be able to have that mindset. However, that mindset also limits thinking to that agreed upon message. Creative can become stale, and boundaries are not pushed. The sad truth is that many corporate marketers are often trained to stay in the middle of the road. That’s what corporations want, which again, is the right thing at the corporate level.
On the other hand, external agency talent will attack a problem with outside thinking. They don’t feel constrained, and driving off the road, creatively, is often celebrated with great new ideas. Also, if they’re worth their salt, the external agency is going to introduce new approaches and strategies to reach more engaging channels.
All that said, I can see a portion of the mundane, repetitive graphic design and layout going to an internal agency. For companies that are pumping out massive volumes of this type of work, it makes perfect sense. These internal agency employees are re-purposing the strategy, copy blocks and messages that an external agency has already created.
Ultimately, there is a balance to be found here. I liked the statistic from the ANA when it was more of a 50/50 split. That feels more natural. Like anything that is a “trend,” the pendulum will have to swing all the way to the one side before it levels back out. My money says it will come back to a more even split over time, but some outstanding agency talent may be collateral damage.