5 Takeaways From the ANA’s In-House Agency Conference

Marketers from AB InBev, Adobe, Experian, Gorilla Glue and Target share how they’re shaping their internal offerings

Collage of images from the ANA's In-House Agency Conference
AB InBev's Tracy Stallard spoke at the ANA's In-House Agency Conference. ANA

Judging from research conducted by the Association of National Advertisers, brands continue to bring more of their marketing capabilities in-house. 

In 2018, an ANA survey of more than 400 marketers found that 78% have some form of in-house operations, compared to 58% in 2013. Bill Duggan, group evp at the ANA, said he thinks that number has probably increased since then.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if 85-90% of our members have something in-house,” he said.

Research that the trade body conducted in March found that marketers were relying on their in-house shops to pivot and change messaging when the pandemic first hit the U.S. According to a survey of nearly 200 marketers, 55% said in-house agencies were “very important for producing new creative assets,” while only 26% said the same about external shops.

“I continue to hear that our members have been leaning more on in-house resources during the pandemic,” Duggan said. 

Last week, the ANA virtually hosted its second annual In-House Agency Conference, which attracted more than 1,000 attendees. We’ve gathered the main insights and takeaways from some of the marketers who spoke.

Quickly testing informs future campaigns

Lauren Connley, vice president of global creative services at the Gorilla Glue Company, has spent the better part of a decade building its in-house agency. Throughout her experience, she’s found that testing various ad concepts helps the brand determine what is resonating with its audience.

It’s not uncommon for the brand to create “quick and rough” versions of ads to test on YouTube, according to Connley. Seeing how they perform helps the brand decide which ideas to move forward with.

“If we have ideas and we’re not sure what we want to do, we just throw them into a test,” she said. “We’ll put them on YouTube and put real media dollars behind them, measure them and let that inform our next wave of commercials.”

Keeping external agencies close while working internally

All in-house agencies operate differently. Some choose to work in tandem with other shops: Target’s, for instance, collaborates with partners including Mother, Mythology and David Stark.

Todd Waterbury, Target’s chief creative officer, said the retailer’s 340-person internal offering leverages different agencies depending on their areas of expertise. In most cases, its internal team is involved in some capacity. 

“There really isn’t a lot that shows up that has the Target logo on it that doesn’t, in one way or another, either emanate from the team or include the team as partners or collaborators,” he said. “We really sit at the center of the brand as it relates to the marketing work that we do, and that includes the development of the naming and product design for all of our own brands.”

Unifying all marketing using in-house teams

Tracy Stallard is global vp of draftLine, AB InBev’s in-house agency. The agency started as a pilot in Colombia three years ago, but now spans 12 countries and employs roughly 550 people. During Stallard’s presentation, she shed some light on why AB InBev decided to start an in-house agency in the first place. 

“We’re ultimately here to sell more beer,” she said. “At an agency, most of the compensation scheme is based on the volume of work rather than the volume of beer that the work sells. This can push us in the wrong direction sometimes and make us produce maybe too much of the wrong work.”

@Minda_Smiley minda.smiley@adweek.com Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.
@zanger doug.zanger@adweek.com Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.