ADT Security Goes All-In On In-house Media Operation

It’s no secret that lots of companies are taking some advertising services, previously handled by agencies, in house.

What’s not so common is to take the entire media operation—from planning, buying and analytics to processing the associated paperwork and setting up the infrastructure to accomplish all that—in house.

But that’s what ADT Security Services did with its media budget of more than $50 million a few years back and Christopher Lawrence, who runs the operation and helped set it up, discussed the benefits and challenges of doing so at a session of the ANA Media Conference this week. (The conference was in Orlando, FL where 300-plus attendees gathered while another 700-plus registered to participate virtually.)

The main takeaway, he told attendees, is “you certainly can do it,” and that it was “going great” with the ADT setup so far.



At ADT, he said, “it started with a desire to bring ownership and control over as many marketing channels as possible.” And the setup is very customized to ADT’s specific needs, he added. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach,” given the unique media and marketing objectives of just about every brand.

Setting up such an operation requires a lot of know-how and Lawrence brought about 12 years of experience at major holding company media agencies including OMD, MediaVest and Integer Group where he worked on national brands like Mars, Acura and Visa.

ADT decided about four years ago that it wanted to bring its entire media operation in house and Lawrence joined ADT in early 2020 to activate and lead the operation.

He has a team of four (including himself) that handles all mass media planning, negotiating, buying, processing and measurement for channels including national, local and connected TV, audio and OOH. (Other company units handle social, digital, branding and direct mail efforts).

Each team member is responsible for different areas, but they all have cross-over skills to fill in when needed, Lawrence said. It’s not a job for everyone, he noted. “There is a need to wear many hats and be versatile.” It helps to be genuinely enthusiastic about problem solving on the fly, he added, as lots of issues come up that need to be figured out quickly.

Lawrence said the company’s annual mass media spend is between $50 million and $75 million. “It’s not just overnight cable,” he noted. His team participates in the upfront and gets involved in numerous branded content projects and sponsorships.

Asked if the company loses leverage in negotiations by not having agency representation, Lawrence said it wasn't the case. Media owners “are more than happy to work with us. Most vendors want to have a relationship with the client and the agency. In our case we’re both.”

One challenge is getting the rest of the company on board. The marketing department was behind the project from day one. “The trickier part,” Lawrence said, was getting other parts of the company to buy in.

For example, as a buying operation, Lawrence’s four-person team quickly began generating more invoices than any other part of the company which employs 24,000 people. That came as a bit of a shock to the finance department and at first some bills were delinquent. Educating other departments about what the in-house media unit does is critical, he said.

There are lots of challenges, said Lawrence, ramping up, learning curves, doing more with less and staffing appropriately being among the major ones. But for companies looking for cost savings and greater control over their media strategy and outlay, going all-in on in-house is a viable alternative.


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