I've had lots of conversations with people who are starting internal agencies—I had two in one day last week alone. That's how seriously marketers are taking the internal agency trend.
None of the people I've spoken with have ever started by saying, "It's going well."
That's because most internal agencies don't work. The reason they don't is that too many people build them to their own vision, not based on what the company needs.
Internal agencies are supposed to make the work better and cheaper—more aligned to our businesses. Instead, almost everyone I speak to, agencies and marketers alike, is miserable and scrapping for work. I spoke to VPs of marketing at a large company who said they now have to pitch for every project they do. Even a $50,000 project is a jump ball. All I could think of during that call was, "Save yourselves!"
How is it efficient for brands to have their creatives pitch the business every time instead of actually doing the work? How does that provide consistency or vision for the marketing? How do you keep good creatives in that situation?
I didn't quite know what was needed when I came to Intel to start Agency Inside—I wasn't even sure if we needed an Agency Inside at all. But the leadership team took the time to figure it out. I didn't hire a creative for the first year I was at Intel. Instead, I focused on infrastructure, culture, process and strategy.
There are three questions you should ask yourself.
What does the company need?
Be honest with yourselves. If what you bring to the table doesn't align with what the company truly needs, you're setting yourself up for failure. Another company I spoke to has been making a bunch of short digital social films, using their own people and shooting it themselves. They saved a bunch of money on talent. The problem is, the company doesn't need the videos.
What they do need, I found out, are point-of-sale materials and packaging. Lots of it. This team is the best in the industry at this type of creative, so they should be the packaging and POS experts. Don't hire talent to make video when that's not what is actually needed. Focus.
What can you make?
The quickest way to lose credibility with your internal client is to not be able to do what they need. If they need high-end TV work, can you do that...or do you just wish you could? Doing something inexpensively is not the same thing as doing it well. I talked to an internal agency that made a lot of video—but their creatives didn't have the perspective to tell good from bad.
If you're fighting that hard to create great work, you either have the wrong talent or you're doing the wrong thing. If you're not good at something, don't do it. There are tons of agencies who can do it better and less painfully.
Do you want to do the thing your company needs?
If your company really needs emails and banners, do you want to do that? Can you put your head and heart into it? The chief creative of a major e-commerce company told me that they brought in a bunch of creatives to make TV work. The only problem is, the company only runs two or three ads a year. Why create a whole agency for a couple of TV spots? What they really needed was digital. Now they have a bunch of disgruntled TV creatives building banners.
Internal agencies can work, but not because they're internal agencies. It's because they're designed to serve the business the best way possible, and because they attract people who believe in that vision. Don't start an internal agency if it's not right for you. Create a marketing organization where you can succeed.
Teresa Herd is VP and global creative director at Intel and leads Intel's internal creative agency, Agency Inside