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Blending in and standing out: embracing the blended agency model

by | Jun 23, 2020 | Expertise

Over the past few years there has been a rise in the number of companies creating in-house agencies. The latest report from the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), found that 78% of marketers have some type of in-house agency, an increase from 58% in 2013 and 42% in 2008.

This growth reflects the pros of having an in-house agency. These include cost control, efficiency, knowledge of brand, and rapid turnaround—essential in the today’s fast-moving, content-driven marketing landscape. In addition to creative services, many companies now see the value of having data analytics, content creation, media strategy, and digital marketing under one umbrella, all focused on supporting the brand.

There are some cons to the in-house agency approach, centered around talent and creativity. The same ANA study identified some challenges, including managing workflow, delivering great creative, and talent retention. Keeping internal talent energized and motivated to deliver innovative creative and content can be tough when the team is working on the same brand every day. By contrast, external agencies thrive on serving multiple brands that expose them to new ideas, innovative creative, and a variety of business cultures.

If 78% of marketers report having some type of in-house agency, where does that leave us? No matter the size of your agency, the collective “we” of independent agencies can find these statistics daunting. We learn of an inside connection, or potential pitch, and do our research and then find out there is an internal agency and our entire mindset changes. Are they looking for support work on mundane projects? Or are they looking for expertise? Will the internal team control us or will we be given an opportunity to demonstrate our talents? At Cleveland Design, we have answered yes to all of these questions in the past. 

The good news is the same ANA report showed that traditional agencies remain important, as 90% of marketers surveyed say they still work with external shops. About two-thirds of our clients have a large internal agency. We are often brought in on campaigns for various reasons, but the client seeking a different mindset, expertise, or new creative viewpoint seems to be a few of the top reasons. Contrary to what some studies suggest, clients often find us more budget-friendly and quicker than the internal agency. I don’t think this reflects on the talent of the internal agency, but rather on the workload they have been given, which can often be overwhelming. In our experience, the “blended model,” combining the capabilities of both in-house and external agencies, delivers results that are more solid and ensures the marketing strategy is more fulfilled. It benefits everyone involved—especially the brand.

“Today’s success is built on the flexibility to leverage both in-house and agency expertise to build and sustain the needed creativity. Great results come when the brand remains dedicated to that right mindset of innovation and broad capabilities.”

– Patty Stone, former EVP at Weber Shandwick

For small, medium, and even large external agencies, the blending must go both ways. The “Full-Service Agency” or everything “Under One Roof” is sort of the little white lie of every agency. No one does everything and if they do, then they become the jack of all trades and master of none. Just as an in-house agency needs to bring in top talent for help, so do we. At Cleveland Design we have found that bringing in talent with specialized expertise is a huge plus. They can round out our team and provide the ability to deliver the services needed for a project, without having to pay for a full-time staff member whose expertise we may not need every month of the year. The pool of excellent consultants and freelancers out there is a great resource to strengthen a team when specialty services are needed. Being confident in what you can deliver for your client is always the end goal and having a team of senior talent brings that confidence.

 What we have learned in the past from being part of a blended agency is to be super nimble and able to deliver great work. Becoming knowledgeable in the brand is a must. And yes, sometimes the project or campaign the client has brought you in on is a bit mundane and doesn’t reflect the potential of your talent. But it’s your opportunity to do a great job and demonstrate your talents, which often leads to being invited for a great project to work on in the future. Big ideas, expertise, and specialty services will always be needed and it’s our job to bring it and blend it in.