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Yes, We Can Be Great

In the past year in-house agencies (creative teams, creative departments, etc.) have been getting more attention than we’re used to:

  • Forbes.com author Michael Lee posed the question “Can In-House Agencies Ever Be Great” in a condescending title, but wrote about the trend of corporations building robust in-house marketing capabilities. In the article he states “Working right at the heart of a brand gives you the whole picture, the real 360 view, the ability to influence a brand early with your ideas, and more important, the ability to protect them,” clearly outlining a few of the benefits of an in-house team.
  • Another Forbes.com contributor, Will Burns, wrote that “In-House Agencies Have An In.” He also wrote of the major benefit of an in-house team: “In fact, to overcome this inside-knowledge deficiency, outside agencies often include some form of “company immersion” as part of their strategic process so they can better understand the company, its culture, and its ways. The in-house agency doesn’t need any help. They can just look around and breathe it in.”
  • Adam Kleinberg was more direct in his article on AdAge.com: “How Agencies Can Fend Off the Threat of Marketing Services Moving In-House.”


That’s right…we’re considered a threat. That’s certainly not our goal. At each of our bests, we are partnering with external agencies so that each of our teams (the in-house team and external agency teams) is being utilized for their best values. But let’s just take one minute to say “yay.” To be considered a threat means we’re on the right path…that we are doing well. One might even say “great.”

In addition to these articles and the ANA report the first two articles reference, Cella has another benchmark to compare in-house and external agencies—our PartnerPulse survey results. And the news is really good:

In-house teams received higher marks than external agencies in 13 of 14 categories. Financial Management is the one category in which external agencies outperformed in-house teams. Potentially in-house teams are overpromising in timelines and costs, or perhaps our hourly estimates only cover three rounds of revisions versus the actual number of rounds a client ends up needing.

Across four categories in-house teams are beating out external agencies by almost a quarter-point or more:

  • People and Skills
  • Business and Product Knowledge
  • Innovation
  • Overall Rating


Not surprisingly, “Business and Product Knowledge“ was the #1 advantage of in-house teams in both our 2013 and 2014 benchmark periods. In-house teams have the inside track to participate in more meetings, to live the culture and to embed with their clients in order to serve them best. It continues to be surprising that in-house teams are scoring higher than external agencies in the category of “Innovation,” as anecdotally we hear this is a challenge for in-house teams as general consensus is that agencies are closer to the pulse of innovation—what great news that our clients counter that point of view!

Keep up the good work in-house teams, and keep in mind, agencies are fantastic partners. We each have our strengths, and we should work together to bring our mutual clients the best creative possible.

Want to learn how your team scores against other in-house creative teams and external agencies? Contact Cella to learn how PartnerPulse can help your organization.


Jackie Schaffer

In her role as Cella VP & General Manager, Jackie Schaffer has consulted for Fortune 500 clients with more than 400 in-house team members and for teams at mid-sized businesses, government entities and educational institutions with teams as small as four designers. Her management competencies lie in operations assessments, financial management and talent management. Prior to joining Cella, she led an international "mega-sized" creative team through an evolution of production studio to strategic partner.

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