Moving In-House -- Advertisers Are Finally Challenging Domineering Agencies

It wasn't that long ago that I was involved in a project where a household brand had an array of representatives from its own marketing team as well as some members of its top-ranking, very famous London agency. The project had come about only after numerous high-level meetings which involved, again, lots of agency people around a table as well as the brand's people.

My takeaway from the process? Not only far too many people, but far too many Millennials telling awestruck in-house Millennials what they should do with the brand that someone had mysteriously entrusted to the hands of people who weren't the market for the product. It kept occurring to me that just about everyone at the table had likely been an intern just a year or two ago, and here they were making decisions over a household brand and a huge budget. Or rather, here the in-house team was nodding along as they were told what to do with the brand they were looking after by the people who like to receive big, fat cheques.

Yes, I may sound like a grumpy old dinosaur, but I didn't have a dog in the fight. There was no skin coming off my nose, so I can tell it as I saw it. I was just surprised why so many bright people inside a brand needed to be told the flipping obvious by a bunch of people who didn't know the brand as well as they did. I asked a friendly brand person whether this was typical. They rolled their eyes and said "yes."

The big, swanky London agency had been given a pile of money by someone so high up they chain they would never deal with them again -- and ironically, that gave them the upper hand in any meeting. The inference was they spoke for the guys at the very top who signed the cheques so any young, impressionable executive from the brand would have to be pretty foolhardy to have an alternative point of view or even consider counting how many people were round the table and asking whether everyone was necessary.

I have heard of this scenario time and time again. A huge London agency gets put on a massive retainer and then starts to own the relationship with the brand to the point where the client seems to just send Millennials to meetings to nod along -- and the circle keeps spinning. The cleverest thing of all? The Millennials at the brand think the people around the table with them are good friends rather than business people working on moving up their billable hours.

If you think it's just me, take a look at the latest ISBA research. It showed that advertisers are trying to move away from this feeling that they are owned by the trendy London agency with initials on the door and beanbags in the foyer. Two in three, ISBA found, are moving toward fewer relationships with fewer suppliers.

This isn't just to simplify projects, but also to speed them up -- two in three cited concerns with the time it takes agencies to turn around work. Again, nearly two in three are now seeing moving functions in-house as a way to keep brand expertise in-house, and just over half feel this will make working with other teams easier. A third of those surveyed already have an on-site agency because of the better cost and improved collaboration it offers.

So the direction of travel is toward the brand. The stop-off point right now may well be embedded execs, but whether that will transform into more being done in-house remains to be seen.

I get the feeling that more advertisers would like the help of agencies without the feeling that they can't breathe without them. They simply don't want massive, retained teams in plush offices telling them what they should be doing any more. They want smaller teams that are more cost-effective and easier to manage and remember the most important thing in any client relationship -- who is paying the bills.

2 comments about "Moving In-House -- Advertisers Are Finally Challenging Domineering Agencies".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, March 22, 2017 at 12:43 p.m.

    Sean, I doubt that what you are describing is a typical client agency "relationship".If advertisers are taking everything "in house"---which I seriously doubt is the case----then I wish them luck---lots of it----as they are not the kind of place where good creatives and media people will want to work. Worse, when things go badly---which is a likely outcome----there will be no agency to blame and fire ---as a buffer for the real guilty party---the client. That will leave it for the client to fire him/herself.LOL.

  2. Sean Hargrave from Sean Hargrave, March 23, 2017 at 11:08 a.m.

    Surely there's the still the rain to blame? lol. No not everything but about a third of relationships, ISBA reports, are involving staff from an agency moving in with the brand. Oliver does this over here and hence it wasn't a surprise to see they were involved in the research. So, you're right, not the whole thing in every relationship but the direction of travel appears to be towards the brand.

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