In-house and Outsourced Aren't the Only Options for Your Clients

A Hybrid Model Can Be a Win-Win Solution for Clients and Agencies

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Sharon Napier
Sharon Napier
Losing business because a client takes its work in-house can be a very frustrating challenge for a shop that's put its heart and soul into coming up with innovative ideas. But what agency folks sometimes forget is that a client's decision to go in-house usually isn't driven by creativity or quality of work, but instead by the need for a new operating model, lower costs or faster turnaround.

At my agency, many clients have extensive retail-based execution needs, things such as point-of-sale materials, coupons, sales-team sell sheets and highly localized ads. Such work is the kind that many brand-oriented advertising agencies have a hard time supporting cost-effectively and time-efficiently.

We didn't want to stand by and watch our clients take that work in-house, nor was it in their best interest for us to try to force-fit it into our standard agency model. So, a few years ago, we created a second model, one we call the "in-house outsource," or studio model.

How does it work? Like a traditional model, the clients have a dedicated team to serve their business, one that's steeped in the client's brand guidelines, process and work flow. However, for the studio model, the process is streamlined.

There are no account executives or trafficking positions; clients work directly with a designer who is responsible for every aspect of the project, from the first request to the work getting out the door, much like having an on-staff designer. The studio team works as an agency within an agency -- it has its own leader, its own process, its own job description and career path.

At the same time, the guys on these teams are still exposed to everything we do at the agency to inspire creativity (agency meetings, shared learnings, outside speakers, etc.), so they can keep their creative juices charged by exposure and involvement in the broader agency.

We've found this model works well, especially for retail-oriented clients and in situations where we're executing against creative concepts and brand standards that have already been agreed to.

One example is Vine Design, a custom, in-house outsource group for Constellation Wines U.S. that we created in 2001. This group has a staff of only 17, yet last year they completed more than 1,800 projects with more than 3,800 individual components across 94 brands. As a result of this success, we've also established studios for Sorrento Cheese, Bausch & Lomb and Kodak.

We think this setup can be a win-win for marketers and their agencies. Some benefits to the client include:

  • Eliminating the costs and infrastructure of maintaining an internal creative team.
  • Accessing agency personnel who are fully dedicated to them and live their business every day, yet who benefit from the training, culture and resources of a full-service agency.
  • More efficient pricing and an average hourly rate befitting the nature of the work -- which adds up to significant cost savings vs. a traditional agency model.

For the agency, benefits include:

  • Strengthening the client relationship by helping clients avoid the cost and complexity of creating an in-house agency.
  • Helping clients ensure campaigns are flawlessly executed down to the most minute details.

Finding new ways of working isn't easy, but at the end of the day clients are always looking for innovation and better and more cost-effective solutions. It might take a leap of faith at first, but being flexible and offering new models to solve clients' needs can help deepen an agency's relationship its clients.

Sharon Napier is president-CEO of Partners & Napier. The Rochester, N.Y.-based agency works with Kodak, Constellation Wines, Philips and Bausch & Lomb, among others.
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