In-housing is not a threat to agencies says IPA report

New research reveals that agencies must align their agency ambition with the growth of in-house agencies

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


There are few trends in creativity that have driven such a polarising response as in-housing. From advertising sage Sir John Hegarty declaring it was a destination for ‘boring creatives’, to brands such as Specsavers and Lego smashing that outdated stereotype in their sleep, the in-house model is no longer up for debate. Even a cursory glance at Channel 4’s latest idents serves as a reminder that creativity can thrive in-house.

The future of in-house creative is far less binary than this black or white argument. A trend reflected by a new IPA report which urges agencies to relinquish the idea that in-housing is a threat and ‘shift’ accordingly.

According to the research agencies that wish to grow existing client business or unlock new business opportunities should relinquish the idea that in-housing is a threat. Instead, they must understand the four shifts that are affecting the evolution of in-housing and adapt accordingly to ensure they continue to deliver brand growth.

The report, which is being launched at the flagship IPA Business Growth Conference later today (5 July 2023), entitled ‘Shift Happens’ was written by Rhona Glazebrook and Janet Markwick.

Drawing on in-housing research and informed by in-depth interviews with agencies, intermediaries, new entrants, in-house organisations, procurement specialists and clients, the research outlines the variety of in-housing models and approaches that are in place today. It also investigates why in-housing has matured to become so prevalent.

The report identifies four key shifts influencing the evolution of in-housing and the future of agencies.

Janet Markwick Founder and CEO atMarkwick Consulting and the report’s co-author, explains: “With evolution comes opportunities for growth. The old, linear processes are now dynamic, providing additional opportunities to deliver creative work. Agencies who embrace the power of technology to transform their businesses will be the ones who survive and thrive.”

The first is a shift in media spend from campaigns to always-on experiences. A trend which means agencies must focus on where the growth is and align their agency ambition. Crucially, agencies need to transform digitally. They need to be able to work with, or plug-in, customer data using automated processes to ensure that their models keep pace with advances in technology and with the growing number of in-house agencies who already have many of these capabilities at their core. As such, they must build deep expertise in these fields.

The second shift focuses on the maturity of the in-house models. As the industry moves from in-housing as a newcomer to now being an established part of the marketing mainframe.

As part of this shift, the report suggests that agencies must respect in-housing as an intrinsic part of the ecosystem that will help them succeed and should embrace and understand its value to clients. On this basis, agencies can replace trepidation with optimism.

The third shift identified is one of value. One in which in-housing has moved from being focused purely on functional efficiency to incorporating more business-building capabilities. In essence, this shift is about brands adopting in-house models to drive effectiveness, rather than just quicker processes and cost savings. In line with this, the report advises that agencies must clearly identify their role within the marketing ecosystem and define and measure the value they will deliver.

The fourth shift in value from 'exclusive expertise’ to becoming ‘integrated partners’. Agencies must shift from being suppliers of marketing services to becoming truly integrated partners, ones with an inside-out understanding of their clients’ businesses and look for ways to integrate and transform using the power of creativity and strategic thinking within the marketing ecosystem.

Christian Byron, Chair, Commercial Leadership Group at the IPA and Chief Operating Officer at OMD UK, commented: “In-housing has been with us for many years and has become an integral part of the marketing ecosystem. As this new report advises, for agencies to ensure they remain critical players in the marketing ecosystem of the future, they must continually assess the changing requirements and indeed capabilities of their clients - so as to better deliver complementary services, expertise and essentially incremental value.’’

Liz Baines, Head of Planning at Specsavers, recently revealed her thoughts on the future of in-house creative teams. 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.

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