How To Work With The 'Inexternal' Agency

What’s an inexternal agency — and how can it help every CMO’s go-to-market strategy?

The inexternal agency is the logical response to a major shift in the industry: a shift to internalize resources. This shift requires a completely unique way of thinking and working, and is one that may make some agencies feel a little bit uncomfortable. Prompting this shift is some major developments in brand experience.

The brand experience of today is increasingly… wait for it: digital! Digital platforms for communication, ecommerce, and service delivery have changed the game for B2B and B2C alike. Digital platforms have made it possible for customer commentary to influence brand loyalty to such a huge degree that every company has to be proactive in feeding social channels, winning the praise of social media influencers, and agile enough to influence conversations when comments get ugly.

What are CMOs doing to address this new market reality — other than panicking and feeling overwhelmed?



First, most companies have moved away from a dominant AOR relationship with one firm, as a mix of specialty agencies makes more sense.

Secondly, and as a consequence, CMO are increasingly the conductor of a grand orchestra, hoping that she or he can pull together a multiplicity of specialist vendors to create a finely tuned brand experience.

Finally, to limit the challenges of too many vendors and cut costs, we are seeing a third trend: the growth and increasing import of the internal design production agency. A recent report from Winterberry Group shows marketers continue their in-housing shift, with 78% of marketers reporting some form of an in-house team today, up from 58% five years ago. 

But will the shift to internalizing resources undermine the value of working with external agencies?

I don’t think so. Whatever the trends are, there’s plenty of room for effective yet different marketing models. What will happen is that clients will continue to make a distinction between whom they turn to for strategic and conceptual advice, and whom they turn to for design and production. I call the provision of these expert external arms and legs the inexternal agency.

The inexternal agency forms a long-term relationship with the client -- so it “gets” the brand and always draws between the lines of what has been established.

The inexternal agency adapts to the client’s process and collaboration tool suite to promote seamless conversation.

The inexternal agency knows to follow, not lead. This is a biggie. When engaging with the inexternal agency, CMOs will expect production, not pushback.

The inexternal agency plays well with others. That comment about CMOs relying on multiple specialist agencies? Yeah, that isn’t going to change. The inexternal agency will need to work closely with other partners, either with specific specialties or due to bandwidth and tight timelines.

In short, the focus for inexternal agencies needs to be on becoming the seamless extension of their clients’ growing internal teams. Following, not leading. Complementing, not competing. And that takes a different mindset and a different way of working.

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