Why creating in-house agencies will be good for the whole industry

—The world of communications doesn’t have to be a life-and-death battle of in-house versus external agency creatives, says Jay Chaney—

The pandemic is accelerating a significant trend that was underway well before we all got sent home to work—the development of in-house creative agencies. That’s not only a good thing, it’s essential.

It’s a trend that will benefit the brands and businesses that operate them. But—and this may sound crazy coming from someone who just started an independent creative agency—in-housing will also strengthen our industry as a whole, providing much-needed jobs for a sector that has lost too many of late.

The prevailing narrative would have you believe otherwise, but the world of communications doesn’t have to be a life-and-death battle of in-house versus external agency creatives.

The fact is, in-house agencies are exceptional at grounding their brands and driving consistency, while external agencies should be the engine that propels it forward, with close collaboration between the two ultimately defining business success

Advertising at its best is a two-way system of activation and brand communications—first connecting with the heart of the consumer and then giving them the prompt to buy.

There is constant tension between brand adherence and application, and brand evolution and exploration. The former is best served by in-house teams, the latter by outside agencies.

Anyone working in the industry the past few years has seen how brands have to supplement their core product offering with a steady stream of “always on” content that is intended to be both dynamic and iterative.

That content can be both costly and difficult to control outside the organization. Last minute changes to offers, legal copy and other internal shifts in messaging can create issues that are difficult to manage at a distance, both in terms of the product and the relationship.

Producing such a volume of content requires a focused effort, institutional knowledge, adherence to standards, and proximity. It also takes a specialized advertising talent, someone who enjoys going deep on one brand, who lives for the consistency of experience, and who takes great pride in the steady application of brand rules, which evolve only with great deliberation.

What they are not well-equipped for, however, is breaking the rules, finding new connection points for the brand and pushing the boundaries. That’s not because they are incapable of doing so, but because they exist within a system designed to protect those boundaries.

Being outside of a problem and outside of a system allows for the freedom of adventure, of making mistakes and, at times, ignoring the “rules.” This is where external creative agencies can be of immense service to the brand and to in-house agencies.

Those people attracted to the chaos of an environment filled with multiple stimuli and the pressure of multiple clients across verticals, who thrive at the prospect of being wrong to finally be right for a moment in time, are wholly different beasts.

They draw inspiration from broad exposure to different challenges and solutions; they live to break the rules, but they are also dogged in their pursuit of new opportunities for the brands they work on.

There is a reason that tenure in most creative agencies is so comically low—”new” is the fuel that drives creativity for people who thrive in external creative agencies. The top talent seeks new brands, new challenges and even new environments to inspire new ides. And, similar to in-house agencies, the issue of organizational motivation and expectations come into direct play.

“New” for external agencies wins awards, gets press coverage and attracts top talent, and, most importantly, breaks through with consumers, especially in a cluttered world. It’s an environment designed for revolution and not iterative evolution.

As a marketing industry, we need to start asking better questions. Questions like: How do we help talent find the right fit for them? How do we work together between in-house agencies and external shops to share insights and understanding? How do we align to create the right deployment strategies that are connected and accretive to the brand performance? How do we speak of one another with confidence and admiration? As an agency how do we support in-house agencies? And, as an in-house agency, how do we assist and elevate the external agency?

When we formed as Broken Heart Love Affair, we built our vision and our economic model around a landscape that has and will continue to evolve.

Out of the gate, we defined ways to collaborate with in-house agencies and to support them in their growth. Even before the pandemic, we knew that It was time to not just accept our new reality, but to optimize it. We were fortunate to find clients who were not only looking for what we were offering in this regard, but who also sought to support our success.

It’s time to recognize that each of us are a necessary component of the solution to creating and maintaining new and lasting connections with consumers.

A trend towards increased in-housing is a positive trend towards increased employment for some incredibly talented and passionate people.

Instead of manufacturing an adversarial narrative pitting one versus the other, we should be seeking ways to optimize the ecosystem to deliver brand and consumer value, to find ways for talent to find the right environment for them, and for teams to understand their strengths, and weaknesses, and to work together to deliver the greatest potential value for brands and experiences for consumers.

It’s time to accept our new reality and celebrate it for the benefit of all of us.

Jay Chaney is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Broken Heart Love Affair.

David Brown