As the ad world adjusts to a new era of project-based work, as many as two-thirds of marketers that normally work with agencies report that they would like to bring that work in house, according to research by Gartner. This puts agencies at a crossroads, and brand marketers, whether or not they realize it yet, in a very challenging position.
Brands aren't moving in this direction just because they want to save money (although they certainly do), but because they want to streamline complex processes and work with invested professionals who are closer to the data and know their brand inside and out -- something that's been lost since the death of the AOR.
The in-house strategy makes a lot of sense, but it comes with a host of challenges, starting with the loss of a well-rounded bench of agency specialists who have the unique skills to get a message out across the many platforms and mediums. Companies are realizing that finding the right talent isn't easy, and that managing the huge number of functions that a robust marketing arm requires -- from data analytics to content production -- is a very tall order.
Today's CMOs need two things: the deep internal knowledge an in-house team can provide and the outside perspective and cultural currency an agency can bring. They want to save money, but may find that doesn't always happen when a workflow fluctuates and salaried in-house specialists are left sitting on their hands when things are slow (or scrambling to hire costly freelancers when things pick up).
From a staffing perspective, we are now at the stage where a hybrid agency staffing model -- one that bridges the gap between outsources and in-house capabilities -- makes the most sense.
A hybrid model that embeds experts alongside a company's core brand team can provide the right people with the right knowledge at the right time. This approach literally places agency talent inside the brand, as they physically sit side-by-side with the company's core marketing staff. Being embedded means the agency team is better positioned to find the most authentic brand stories to fuel better creative, rather than having to translate it through layers of project management and account direction as in a traditional agency approach.
From there, the agency team doesn't just carry out a single project from start to finish but can help the brand react and strategize around fluctuating needs. In times of increased workflow, the agency can provide a "burst" of talent, extending the team's capabilities and skills. That adaptability is crucial in today's ever-shifting media marketplace. For instance, video projects are sporadic, but they are a crucial communications tool that requires a specialized skillset. When needed, the agency can bulk up the hybrid team with directors, camera people and well-versed creatives, and then send that talent elsewhere until they are needed again, thus saving the brand money. A hybrid model allows for the consistency and deep brand knowledge necessary to make great content without the costs of keeping an in-house production unit.
Speed is another benefit of the arrangement. Since agency staffers are already in house, there is no time wasted on acclimating people to a new project or brand direction. They've already been in the meetings and are ready to start producing at a moment's notice. In an environment where news and culture are moving faster than ever, the ability to react in real time is essential.
Right now, this model is being tried and tested in marketing departments of big companies like Airbnb (a client of ours). But as staffing needs keep evolving, there's reason to believe hybrid models will be applied to other departments, from sales to customer service. With the right partners, businesses are reaslizing they can, in fact, have the best of both worlds.