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An Important Lens on In-Housing Today: Talent

In-housing requires a long-term vision, and also a long-term focus on talent.

An Important Lens on In-Housing Today: Talent

Assembly recently joined Campaign Asia Pacific’s Campaign360 event in Singapore, where our APAC Managing Director, Richard Brosgill, discussed the pros and cons of in-housing, and its evolution.

We dive deeper into the topic here.

In-housing has been a familiar and ever-present topic in the industry for decades. And if you’ve been around for some time, you’d probably agree that it comes in cycles, tied to the changing needs of marketing organizations and the overall marketing ecosystem.

The more recent wave began to take hold as digital marketing not only became a more prominent revenue driver, but also a more commoditized skillset that could be replicated by adding – yes, in-house – marketers to brands’ talent rosters, to take on remits historically held by agencies. Things undoubtedly sped up even more during the global pandemic, when businesses needed to accelerate their digital capabilities quickly and meaningfully, leveraging in-house digital marketing roles to influence wider digital transformation across their organizations.

In 2020, 53% of brands in Asia had some level of in-house digital capabilities, and this number has continued grow all around the world. In 2021, it was found that over 73% of brands in Europe had moved a part of their digital marketing in-house.

But fast forward to today, and brands are facing an increasingly complex challenge that has hampered many on their in-housing journey – the Great Resignation (or The Great Attraction, as optimists might say). As talent becomes scarce and the cost of recruiting and training continues to rise, brands are beginning to contemplate whether they should double down on their in-house efforts or rely more on agency partners to lessen the pressure on their existing in-house teams.

We agree, in-housing is not going anywhere. Yet, maybe it’s the lens through which brands see in-housing that must change, alongside the changing needs and opportunities within their own businesses, as well as the new types of partnerships that today’s most dynamic agencies can offer.

And it all starts with a different lens on talent.

Changing perceptions

Costs as the framework

“Building an in-housing framework based on cost is the wrong starting principle.” – Richard Brosgill

Costs savings – and dare we use the word, efficiencies – were quite often a common reason for bringing aspects of media buying and performance marketing in-house. And we don’t discount those efforts (not totally, at least) – marketing is meant to do a whole lot with, at times, not a lot of dollars. But the reality is that looking at developing in-house roles through the lens of short-term cost efficiency is missing the “developing” aspect of in-house talent all together – which is critical in today’s landscape. Recruitment, training, building a supportive infrastructure, and adding technology capabilities and tools are all costs that come with meaningfully building and scaling an in-house team. And so “in-housing = cost-cutting” is a perception that needs changing – in fact, it needs a proper toss out the window.

Execution only?

Another common approach to in-house talent is to focus the remits almost exclusively the tactical side of media buying and performance marketing. This scenario may see the beginnings of a functioning hybrid model between agencies and brand teams, but setting aside in-house roles for media activation, only, is perhaps short sighted, particularly from the standpoint of keeping in-house talent engaged and operating with a forward-thinking mindset. Strategic or creative roles aren’t exclusively meant to be filled by agency partners – in fact, developing a strategic, future-forward mindset within in-house teams is the best thing a brand can do for their business. It then becomes the agency’s remit to morph accordingly to fill gaps, like with advanced data capabilities or technology expertise, and to proactively identify the right types of competencies brand partners should be bring in to elevate the entire joint team’s capabilities. This allows brands to build longevity within their teams – ultimately a win for all parties.

And don’t just take it from us. Forrester’s recent “The State of Marketing Talent in APAC 2022” study reports that one of the top reasons talents leave their companies is because they want to be more future-fit. As automation technology advances even more, certain kinds of activation responsibilities will become more obsolete and therefore brands (and agencies!) should be considering ways to lean into what their talent can offer that technology can elevate and complement, not replace.  

Paving the way forward for a new in-house vision

You can look at investment in talent development the right way and rethink traditional in-house roles, but nothing is more important than the vision set for your team. For brands, the in-house vision can become the north star that consistently inspires top talent to join, keeps them engaged and close to your brands’ business goals, and challenges them in the right ways to reach beyond their immediate competencies. Taking it a step further, having the entire organization on the same page about the “why” behind the journey of in-housing and what it’s meant to lead to or change in a business is crucial, even before many of the above steps – yet it’s often an afterthought (see what we did here with the placement of this?).

Part of this vision is also how agency partners will play a role in bringing it to life. Hybrid models are quite common today, and yet many are missing the mark – which can quickly become a nightmare situation for talent on both sides. Both brands and agencies need to be willing to sit down at the table, challenge one another, and redefine what their working relationships and remits have looked like in the past. This takes seeing agencies as true business partners and extensions of brands’ in-house teams, which creates the space for more candid feedback and valuable discussion that can unearth more in-depth insights for future growth opportunities. It also creates breathing room for innovation – like channel experimentation, new technology adoption, expansion to new markets, and even new product development. When the relationship can become more dynamic and open, it gives the combined talent room to grow themselves and help grow their businesses.

Adjust your focus back to your talent

As you take a step back and evaluate your in-housing strategies, always remember the one key factor that will make or break your efforts – your talent. In-housing is a journey, and therefore requires a long-term strategy and vision that is purposeful, intentional, and well thought-out. The “why” becomes the bedrock of a sustainable team.

And as more brands invest in in-housing marketing teams, great talent will become increasingly scarce. Not only will retaining them will become the priority, but more importantly, it will be showing them a long-term future in the business, which may not always follow a linear path.

If you’re looking to build a fresh, long-term vision for in-housing, our dedicated Assembly Consultancy team can help with solutions designed for your unique business needs.