Everything Brands Need to Know About Bringing Their Marketing In-house

Industry execs and experts offer advice on how to get it right

78% of ANA members had an in-house agency last year. Animations: Aanya Gupta; Source: Getty Images
Headshot of Diana Pearl

Barely five years ago, Verizon had more than 46 agency partners, and it outsourced nearly all aspects of its communications business. Cut to the present, and the telecommunications giant has essentially reversed course, with Verizon bringing “core competencies” of its communications business in-house—including a substantial chunk of its creative and brand-narrative work.
As a result, says Andrew McKechnie, Verizon’s chief creative officer, the company has “greater control over the brand’s design, voice and identity,” and who doesn’t want greater control, right? In fact, the trend of brands taking elements of their marketing business in-house has practically become an industry-wide norm as advertisers are increasingly expected to be ready to react at a moment’s notice. The numbers tell a similar story: According to the Association of National Advertisers’ 2018 report “The Continued Rise of the In-House Agency,” 78% of ANA members had an in-house agency last year, and 90% have seen their in-house operation’s workload increase over the last year, too.
But in-housing does not play out the same for everyone. “No two in-house agencies are the same,” notes McKechnie. “They are built to address a specific business or brand challenge, pursue an opportunity to do better work, reduce time to market or create structural and process efficiencies.”
So how does a business successfully implement in-housing? Adweek spoke with industry experts as well as brands including Clorox and AB InBev for their tips as we put together this guide.

Creating an in-house agency requires staffing said agency, of course. “The first thing you think is, ‘What are we missing?’” says Spencer Gordon, senior director of digital at AB InBev, who managed its internal agency draftLine. “Then we started saying, ‘We don’t have design, we don’t have editing, we don’t have copywriters, we don’t have art direction.’ We started slowly looking at all the capabilities that we needed to add.”
Sometimes, says Gabriel Miller, president, Americas at brand consulting firm Landor, the right fit might come from an unexpected place—such as people without a traditional marketing or advertising background. “There’s a lot to be said for finding those folks who specialize outside of your industry, but know your industry very well,” he notes. For example, says Miller, a designer with a deep interest in cars might be perfect for an automotive brand.
Once you have a team in place, make sure they’re engaged and challenged. According to a report released in mid July by the ANA (in conjunction with Boston Consulting Group and ANA law firm, Reed Smith), which surveyed ANA members and industry experts, keeping in-house agency talent energized was the No. 1 concern of 63% of the respondents. Bringing in guest speakers, holding workshops and having the team work with a variety of in-house stakeholders were among the strategies the survey participants turn to. This dynamic management approach can also help you attract and retain top talent, according to “Managing In-House Agency Creative Content and Legal Concerns.”

Businesses like AB InBev and the Clorox Co. named their in-house operations draftLine and Electro Creative Workshop, respectively, so that they would stand apart from their parent companies. “To us, it was important that it really became an internal agency,” says Joao Chueiri, vp, consumer connections at AB InBev and lead for draftLine. “We didn’t want to sacrifice the quality of the creative work, and to do that, you need to have to hold yourself responsible to the same standards of the creative agencies that work in the market.”
But because it’s an internal agency, the name should also have a connection to the brand. Target’s media-buying arm is called Roundel, another name for the bull’s-eye design that inspired the retailer’s well-known logo, and AB InBev’s draftLine is a nod to the company’s primary product, beer.

This story first appeared in the July 22, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@dianapearl_ diana.pearl@adweek.com Diana is the deputy brands editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.