How can account handlers support in-housing without risking their job

Welcome to the Client Service Couch

I work for a client with a substantial in-house capability that seems to be growing by the day... I’m concerned they’re going to take more and more of our agency business, as the client prioritises cost over excellence. How can I support that work and be collaborative without risking being the proverbial turkey voting for Christmas?

Like all good therapists, the first thing I should tell you is that you’re not alone. According to the IPA’s recent report Shift Happens, in-housing is most definitely here to stay. 72% of corporations now have some form of in-house agency, and 58% of CMOs think that trend will increase. And where before they tended to be focused on production and distribution, increasingly this is about building creative and media capabilities as well. 

It is a common misconception that in-house departments are about cost over excellence, however the degree of sophistication and scale in many in-house agencies is growing by the day. What ten years ago would have been a function based around low-end production and distribution is now often a full-service, highly professionalised and strategic capability. 

From Oatly, Channel Four to Specsavers and Apple, there is a well-established and growing list of creatively standout full-service in-house offerings. 

Ultimately, it comes back to trusted relationships. The better the relationship the better the outcome for all. In-housing is changing the client-agency landscape for good, but when you build strong relationships with all parties, you’ll be best placed to grab the opportunities from this evolving landscape.

But let’s tackle this turkey/Christmas point first.  

Clearly the main variable will be the quality of the people. There will be good and bad in-house teams and agency teams of course. But there are things that the in-house team can do that the agency never can, and vice versa. In-house teams will have deep knowledge of the internal workings of the organisation and will be able to be agile in a way that an agency team will struggle to match.  

Agency teams on the other hand can provide that ‘talented outsider’ perspective that in-house teams can’t. Being able to apply a lateral perspective from experience on other clients is something that in-house teams just can’t do as well. And for creative agencies, the ability to bring different creative talent onto briefs makes you much better placed to keep the creative output fresh, disruptive, and surprising. And finally (and more prosaically), fundamentally you are offering an outsourced marketing services solution, which gives your client the flexibility to scale up and down quickly and bring in the right expert talent as and when it’s needed. 

So how specifically should you work with your in-house partners? Here are a few pointers: 

Be collaborative

Brands are built from the inside out. Welcome the in-house team into all aspects of development. When they are part of generating the ideas, they will feel ownership, and be much more likely to drive them forward internally. 

Be useful

Try and get to understand the barriers/pain points the internal teams have. Where can you help improve the process that will benefit everyone? Do they need help improving their internal briefing process, that aligns better with the overall strategy? Do they need more clear and unambiguous toolkits to manage a high turnover of freelance talent? Can you access automation capabilities for them that will help streamline repetitive tasks? 

Help build bridges

Sometimes the in-house agency team and the marketing department are separate and will have divergent agendas. Be the people who can help join up the departments and unite the teams behind a common goal. Be the people who can help break down silos and simplify the internal complexity.  

Be respectful 

Listen hard, be open to ideas, respect the talent that exists internally. You might think you’re hiding your dismissiveness well. You are not.  

Ultimately the success of marketing within the organisation influences the success of the client-agency relationship, it’s your job to make marketing succeed. 

The Client Service Couch is a new column from the IPA Client Relationship Group. This question was answered by Ed Palmer, MD, St Luke's and Group co-ChairIf there is a topic you would like us to address anonymously, please email Gabriella Young.

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The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 07 December 2023