Bridging the gap between in-house and external agencies

Bridging the gap between in-house and external agencies


Ian Kaplan

While at the Texas Marketing Summit last month in Dallas, I couldn’t help but notice a common line of thinking among some of the attendees.

You’ve probably heard it once and you will hear it again: “Why do we need an agency for this? Shouldn’t we be doing this in-house?”

These may be the right questions to ask, but as marketing becomes increasingly complex, these questions are out of sequence. It makes more sense to start by asking, “What is the desired outcome to the problem I need to solve?” before you ask, “Is in-house the answer?”

As background, we have to remember that agencies come in all shapes, sizes, and specialties. It certainly appears the days of the “one-stop shop” have been sunset in favor of niche, agile and nimble agencies. Companies need resources who bring unique creative prowess, experiential ideas, and strong data and analytics. They seek partners with the ability to transcend and transform a category by bringing a fresh set of eyes, specific category expertise, technical prowess, and perhaps a cross-industry perspective. Today’s table stakes include the ability to execute quickly on a massive scale and the ability to work in lockstep with in-house teams.

The following example illustrates the power of a complementary, best-in-class approach in which a company, an agency, and a specialty consulting firm work together to achieve a defined outcome.

You may have noticed that many companies are rebranding as a result of repositioning or corporate transactions such as mergers, spin-offs, and split-offs. Rebranding is not an everyday occurrence. So, most companies turn to brand strategy and design agencies to help them create the new identity. My firm, BrandActive, a rebrand implementation consultant, also plays a key role. We work with the company to help its internal teams sort out all of the complexities of implementing the rebranding. That includes cost estimating; mapping the logistics of changing all their branded assets to the new brand; and identifying synergies and cost saving opportunities along the way. Over the course of the project, all three entities contribute their strengths to the collaboration. Ultimately, the internal team ends up with everything it needs to deliver timely, successful brand change—and for good brand governance going forward.

This rebrand example is a model for an effective use of an agency and a consulting firm to complement the in-house marketing team. And it’s hardly a solitary example. Think about your company’s initiatives. While you may not be rebranding, you may be tackling large global sponsorship programs, employer branding, and/or new digital and content campaigns. You’ll need to decide between doing work internally and hiring outside experts. Keep in mind that at best, this is not a zero-sum game. It makes sense to handle certain aspects of the work in-house. But it also may pay to use agencies and consultants. They can help you achieve maximum brand impact and ROI while adding value in terms of speed to market. By combining the expertise of specialist agencies and consultants with the deep knowledge of internal teams, you’ll often devise optimal solutions for achieving your overall objectives on time and on budget.

Word to the wise: Adopt an approach that reduces friction and fosters collaboration and you’ll create ideal outcomes. Is using a partner always the least expensive approach? That’s not likely. And certainly, you need to balance the investment with the expected outcome. But if your focus is on finding the least expensive approach versus the one that is ideal to achieve your goal, you’re likely to miss opportunities to achieve breakthrough results.

In the end, it’s up to agencies and consultants to educate companies on the value they bring. And the words of the company executives they serve may be their best educational tools. We’ve been honored to find that to be true. As a brand director at Verizon said after working with BrandActive, “The team at BrandActive has been invaluable as we’ve rolled out our new brand identity. Their ability to jump in quickly and provide guidance and expertise in multiple areas of our business has played a significant role in the success of our ongoing rebrand implementation.”

To sum up, it seems that internal agencies and external agencies work best together when they look to complement one another—rather than operating in silos, with the in-house agency deployed to solve one problem while outsourcing to an external agency to handle another issue. It’s also true that the in-house model has been around for a long time and is here to stay. What needs to be top of mind today is making sure brands are able to tap into the optimal solution to achieve the desired result and deliver maximum brand impact.

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