For EA, In-Housing Was a ‘Fluid, Cyclical Journey’ Driven by Data Security

Being 'player-first' was also a motivating factor

EA’s Head of Global Marketing Intelligence, Belinda J. Smith speaking at Adweek Nextech 2019 conference
Electronic Arts' Belinda Smith said she prefers to call it 'marketing transformation.'
Sean T. Smith for Adweek

“In-housing” has become a regular buzzword in the ad-tech industry recently. But as Belinda Smith, head of global marketing intelligence at EA, told ad-tech reporter Ronan Shields at Adweek’s NexTech Conference, the term “marketing transformation” is a better fit. It also rolls off the tongue a lot better.

Bringing media buying efforts in-house isn’t a quick procedure. In fact, EA gradually made more of its marketing—including analytics, consumer insights, focus groups and research—internal over the course of seven years. In 2017, the company went all-in, hiring teams in London, New York and San Francisco to handle all digital buying.

“Over the past three years, we’ve gone through so many iterations of trying to fine-tune that model and trying to understand what it’s important to own and to do specifically versus not,” Smith said.

EA also hired a new agency of record, m/SIX, to assist with media buying and other pieces to ensure a “fluid, cyclical journey,” she said.

According to Smith, EA’s decision to bring its marketing in-house was driven by two things: “data security and being player-first.” Since players have a “digital relationship” with the brand, EA wanted users to feel secure using the platform and not worry that their data could be compromised or sold.

“Part of bringing things in-house was really actually a mandate to say, ‘Your data is secure with us, and it doesn’t leave us,'” Smith said. “We need to be experts in this space, and this is a competency that we need to have in the brand.”

It was also an awareness that the “data wars” were heating up in the media industry, Smith said, and EA wanted to be ahead of the curve. “Years and years ago, we [wanted] to make sure that we put ourselves in a position to have visibility and control over our player experience and our player insights,” she said.

For now, the most plausible thing for EA to do is develop partnerships that make sense and bring aspects of its marketing in-house as needed.

“It’s very hard to understand all of the pieces of your business that will be impacted [and] all of the partners across your business that you will need to work with to make it happen and some of the knock-on effects,” said Smith, who advised starting with contract negotiation as a first step in an in-housing journey.