‘A lot of in-housing has been born out of necessity’

Liz Baines, head of planning at Specsavers on the value of planning, the future of in house agencies and why creativity is still a team sport.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


Just 35% of in-house agencies have a planning capability. While the rise of in-housing has topped the industry agenda for some time, according to the In-House Agency Benchmarking Survey 2023, conducted in partnership with Adobe, just 22% of brands with an in-house agency have a strategy director or equivalent. 

The In House Agency Leaders Club research was based on responses from over 50 brands including Channel 4, The Body Shop, BP, Specsavers and Reckitt.

The report reveals that four-fifths of In-House Agency are seeking support from external partners, underlining the continued importance of a fresh perspective. However, there is no question that brands with in house agencies are seeking different relationships with agencies. The growing number of agencies augmenting their existing thought leadership strategies with dedicated learning and development offerings underline the relationship between agency networks and in-house agencies is in a state of flux.

As part of the research Liz Baines, head of planning at Specsavers, revealed why and how in-house agencies need to ‘lift their sights’ (see the full interview below). Last year, when Baines joined Specsavers she shared her reflections of the creative potential of in-house agencies, noting: “There is no other agenda apart from the work.”   

As clients continue to evolve their In-House Agency offerings competition for top creative talent, in an increasingly diverse range of skill sets is only set to intensify. 

I think as In-House Agencies lift their sights slightly more, and start to really think about effectiveness, and the consequences of the work that they’re creating, that’s when you get a shift.

Liz Baines, head of planning at Specsavers

Specsavers Liz Baines lift the lid on the future of the in-house planner.

Q: Why do you think there is a lack of planning as a discipline at in-house agencies?

A: A lot of in-housing has been born out of necessity, at Specsavers it started with the need for some pamphlets and has grown to where we are today. In this context you don’t technically need planning in the same way that you need a designer or artworker and so often it wasn’t in the original line-up. But I think as In-House Agencies lift their sights slightly more, and start to really think about effectiveness, and the consequences of the work that they’re creating, that’s when you get a shift. They start to think; ‘actually, yes, I can make anything, but if I’m really going to be focused not only on what I’m making, but how it’s working’, then that’s where planning comes in.

Q: How do you build awareness of the value of planning in the business?

A: Actions speak louder than words. I think education only goes so far really; you’ve got to show impact. Make better, more effective work. When this is socialized and shared people think ‘I want some of that on my projects, actually’, and then it starts to spiral. People ask you questions, you solve them, and then they might ask you more. You grow awareness by doing a good job.

Q: How does planning help alleviate some of the issues around briefing highlighted in the survey?

A: We all know that briefing’s an issue across the entire industry. In an in-house agency, I would argue it’s more of an issue because you can lack some of the formality and structure. You’ve got such familiarity, and you’ve got such collegiate relationships, that some of the worst aspects of briefing can really bubble up. The first real advantage of having planning in the mix at that point is there is someone in that conversation who has that desire to dig into the real problem and desire to keep digging into that problem until it’s clearly defined. You’ve then got someone who has that theoretical background to understand how communications should and will work, and therefore the ability at that stage to define the shape of the solution.

Q: How does having planning impact creative teams?

A: I hope it’s making their job more interesting, because there is always going to be a limited number of marketing briefs. Say we have a brief where we need to increase awareness of our audiology offering. Put a planner Into that mix, that marketing brief suddenly becomes something that could turn into a hundred different creative briefs. So even if you are a creative person who has been here a while, it gives you more interest and excitement. It's a new way of looking at old problems. And we’re also here to support the work.

Q: For in-house agency  leaders who want to make the case for bringing in planning, what would you suggest they do?

A: The effectiveness argument would be your strongest case. CMOs want to make ads that work and that is 100% the job of a planner – to turn what is a business issue into something that is going to change people’s behaviour. That’s by far the main reason why you would bring in planning. But I also think that planners have a real role to play in agency culture. Part of our role is to protect the integrity of the idea and give myopic focus on the reason the idea exists. We shepherd the idea from a strategic perspective, making sure the people who come in and out of contact with that idea along the way understand it and get behind it, and collaborate with it. One of the things I love about this industry is that it’s a team sport and if everyone understands the goal and feels that they’re able to add value in the process they’re a much happier team. 

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