In-house vs Agency – SAScon 2015

PushON | June 12th 2015


Paul Morris – Head of Digital and Social Media, Co-op
Matt Carey – Head of Marketing, Anglian Home Improvements
Ben Bisco – Head of Digital, JD Williams
Chair: Rob Weatherhead, Mediacom

The Debate

The in-house v. agency debate has already been raised at SAScon in Martin McDonald’s keynote. He saw a future where the agency would no longer be a viable model, and that businesses will all need their own in-house departments – maybe very small.

Opening stat: 27 per cent of businesses never work with agencies of any sort.

As far as costs are concerned, is the agency v. in-house model just shifting stats from one line on the balance sheet to

Paul says no – there have been real savings.

Ben – We are a complex company with lots of streams of income – it would be hard for a single in-house department to keep up. If you’re small, you can have a jack-of-all trades marketer. If you’re big, money is no object to having a great in-house agency. But in the middle, you have neither the resources nor the expertise, so the outsourcing model is best.

Matt – Don’t forget about location. Some places have great marketing infrastructures with plenty of potential staff. We’re based in Norwich, where that doesn’t exist.

Ben – You need someone in-house who understands what agencies can do, and clients need an in-house liaison to act as an advocate for the agency.

Matt – isn’t that an account manager’s job?

*laughter* In theory [I don’t get it though – there are bad account managers?]

Ben – Smaller agencies can be desperate to become strategic partners with companies, but most of the time the companies
aren’t interested – they just want the work done and don’t care too much how it’s done.

Paul – It’s too easy to blame the agency for everything. Are they being briefed properly? Do they truly understand what the agencies are capable of? Often the answer is no.

Rob – I think Google is trying to bypass agencies when it comes to PPC and go straight to the client.

Paul – The agency is a great filter. Google’s instinct is to make more profit, but agency expertise can put a lid on PPC spend.

Ben – I hate being treated like a client! You have a meeting, talk about stuff, then a few weeks later it’s all forgotten. Let’s meet and work out things in the meeting, with the client and agency in collaboration.

Paul – sometimes, especially with things like SEO, you need to get an agency involved. No in-house team will ever be able to do everything, and there will always be emerging skills that only agencies will understand.

Chair – what’s the ideal structure? How is it best to interact?

Ben – It changes from day to day.

Paul – We like to have personal relationships with our suppliers. It’s all about trust. Agencies that promise the moon on a stick on the phone and then panic to get the job done are no use. Agencies that can say no or recommend another agency are valuable.

Ben – We’ll be talking to different individuals in-house and in agencies for any project we’re working on.

Chair – I’ve heard of companies that need proof that their agencies are making decent profit to ensure they remain viable and loyal.

Paul – It’s true. We want our suppliers to be doing well so they service us properly and not treat us as a loss leader. We don’t want them to be making 1% profit, but we also don’t want them to be making 50%. There’s a balance.

Matt – We want to get rich together, but it’s complicated.

Ben – My problem with bonuses and performance-related pay is – who is pocketing the bonuses? If it’s the managers and owners, where’s the incentive for the creatives to work well?

Matt – We don’t think you can outsource and get the same level of care and attention as you would in-house.

Chair – If you were to quit tomorrow and set up an agency, what would your agency offer?

Ben – Really, no idea! Although I have a friend who wants to set up an agency called NBM – No Bullshit Media.

Paul – I’d focus on systems to manage the interrelations between agencies and the client. There’s probably a techy route.

Matt – At the end of the day you have to add value. We use specialist agencies, so I’d want to specialise.

Audience question – What’s the best way to kick-start a relationship? Should every single stakeholder be involved from the get-go?

Ben – It’s best to have a strategy that flows through all channels, so half the briefing doesn’t need to be done for every project.

Point from audience – You can’t assume that agencies don’t have any passion for the clients or the projects. All too often the clients are set in their ways and have no clue about the digital marketing process, which can be difficult.

*visible nodding*