Before you set-up an in-house agency…

With in-house agencies rising in popularity, we’re frequently approached to help structure the best agency model for a client’s particular needs.  Marketers may have any number of reasons for wanting to in-source agency functions – from a desire to manage costs, increase speed to market or perhaps to help improve communication among stakeholders.

And whether you’re a marketer seeking to in-source components of strategy and creative, studio production work, media planning and / or buying, or specializations such as SEO or analytics, the formula for success requires as much introspection as it does hard work, commitment and skillful management.

So if you’re contemplating an in-house agency or looking to broaden your team to include agency services, here are my golden rules to help guide you and work out whether this is the right approach for you:

Be clear about your definition of an in-house agency

It may seem simple to label in-house experts as an ‘in-house agency’ but to be honest, that’s where the trouble begins:  Marketers aren’t clear about what they’re really looking for and the role they want their resources to play within the organization. 

For example, does your definition mean: Real thought leaders who are going to be pushing strategic or creative boundaries, or are you talking about something more specific like a production studio or digital development resources? The answers will be crucial in helping you define specific roles, hiring requirements and how they’ll work with your other agency groups. 

Understand your own organization (thoroughly)

To set an in-house agency or in-house resources up for success, marketers need to fundamentally understand their own organizations first by asking questions like:

  • Do we fundamentally have the appetite and support within and across our own organization to do this?
  • Is our organization ready for an in-house agency?
  • What’s the motivation for bringing the agency in-house now?
  • Do we have proper processes in place to initiate, provide feedback and manage in-house agencies

Be clear about why your external model isn’t working the way you want now

Whether it’s about price, speed to market, internal communication or some challenges with strategic, creative or media output, you need to be clear about why you think an internal agency is going to improve the status-quo. If you’re not clear, chances are you’ll duplicate the same problems – only this time they’ll be in-house.

So, consider what’s working well and be clear what’s not working and how bringing resources in-house is going to help. Will you still need an external agency? Are you clear about how you’ll be delineating responsibilities between internal and external agencies?

Carefully consider the roles you’re trying to fill

What functions are you really trying to bridge between external agencies and internal resources?  Having pre-defined the role of your in-house agency the resources you need should now be clear. 

In addition to defining the roles you think you need, consider how those resources will be mentored and managed, how you want projects to flow through your organization and those resources will need to interface with their internal ‘clients’.

Hire teams who can build bridges

While it’s necessary to hire individuals who are specialists in their own fields, it’s also important to find people who understand your business.  Too often agency resources and teams aren’t trained in business or who don’t understand their role in the broader business ecosystem and how to manage to specific budgets or ROI targets 

Resources who fundamentally understand how to build client relationships, believe in a strong customer service ethic and can forge strong relationships with other departments are critical factors for success.  Most important, ensure your hires are a great cultural fit with your organization and your brands – otherwise their longevity within your company will limited.

Find a great space for your team to work

Agency teams (particularly  those in creative) need inspiring spaces to collaborate and deliver great ideas.  Ensuring there’s external inspiration and stimulation which,  (unfortunately) generally doesn’t come from the suburbs or industrial parks, will also help keep teams motivated and inspired.

Agency resources also require ‘elbow room’ to learn, foster and challenge new ideas.  Working on the same thing day in day out isn’t going to allow for that – so you have to help provide an environment that will help foster inspiration and energy.

Define clear processes

Having an internal agency can’t be a signal to your internal clients that it’s now a free-for-all to drop by and make haphazard requests as their requirements might dictate.  Processes and communication for those processes need to be carefully considered and developed including:

  • Defined entry points for other departments to meet with specific agency resources
  • Defined briefing formats and processes
  • Clear check-in, collaboration and feedback points
  • Clearly defined production processes and timelines
  • Clearly understood cost frameworks so costs can be tracked and billed internally

Ensure there’s proper mentorship

With your agency teams hired, individuals need to understand their career paths and potential growth opportunities.  Depending on the myriad of agency disciplines you might need, proper mentorship may be harder than you might expect.

A lack of mentorship invariably creates problems and limits individual potential and broader team success.

Taking time to consider the fundamentals of why you’re looking to in-source, what roles those resources will play internally, the environment that will help them thrive, together with the processes necessary to get the work done, all play a part in setting up a successful in-house agency solution.  And avoiding a potential three-ring circus.

Skip them at your peril.

How can we help set your in-house resourcing and agency collaboration plans up for success?


Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed / follow me @StephanArgent

Photo: Olga Berrios
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