Inhousing puff piece?

Inhousing puff piece?

An industry topic du jour, inhousing threatens the status quo, if not ultimately agencies’ very raison d’être, writes Bob Wootton. Or does it?

A recent survey by the In-House Agency Forum with research partner Forrester threw up some surprising results.

They found 72% of the 360 corporations surveyed have an in-house agency (IHA), up 12.5% from the previous year.  28% had been formed in the last five years and 59% claimed their in-house teams had increased in the past two while 23% had remained the same size.

We knew IHA’s had been gaining ground, but to this extent?

Advertisers use agencies for many reasons, including :

– strategic expertise

– creativity

– brilliance

– independent thought

– communications planning expertise

– amortised access to syndicated data (eg audience research)

– media buying commissions

– outsourcing significant cost

– contractual reviewability

They can achieve some of these things themselves if they’re determined.  Some not.

The definitions here may not be rigorous.  Most IHAs aren’t agencies – they’re departments.  (Pace specialist companies like Oliver which create in-house agencies).

An agent operates both impartially and in its clients’ best interests.  Surely an IHA certainly does that, so it’s all over for agencies proper?

Perhaps at the functional level, but at the strategic and innovation level?  Steady on, an IHA has markedly different characteristics to any agency.  More frequent ‘client’ (aka colleague) access.  Control by management in more absolute ways than an (external) third-party.  But it’s unlikely to offer the location, variety and working environment.
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Without a diverse stream of new people, ideas and challenges, it is unlikely to be able to reinvent itself as an agency can.

Even somewhere as prosaic and mechanistic as real time bidding, experience shows IHA’s start well amidst a flurry of capex but can soon fail to keep pace.

And men might be from Mars and Women from Venus but most serious creatives don’t want to work in Milton Keynes.

There’s a distinguished exception – Guernsey-based Specsavers.  Disdained in the creative community because it usually makes better ads than they’d like, ranks close so it doesn’t get nominated for (nor pay to enter) many awards.

Unilever’s Lever International Advertising Services, aka LINTAS, was the original IHA at scale but soon divested equity to a US network, recognising partnership would improve its stuttering performance and (creative) output.

Maybe this survey is US-centric and reflects their very different market, which might favor (sic) inhousing.

But if inhousing was such a panacea, we’d have heard more of it at the recent ISBA Annual Conference, where the floor was held by purpose, transparency, better metrics, trust and diversity.

Net, I conclude the research is really a puff piece for an obscure grouping.  Somebody please tell me why I’m wrong.

Brian Jacobs

Fellow industry veteran Brian Jacobs is one of our true sages.

He has rightly reminded that if advertisers want better audience metrics and, critically, if they want any control over their veracity, they’re going to have to pay for them.  The very nature of the enterprise means hefty sums (cf BARB £25m pa).

A levy on media spends – how the industry funds its very effective content self-regulation system – would provide an almost imperceptible (and painless) means.

ISBA should drive this hard (perhaps it is?).  It’s advertisers’ money at stake and of everyone in media value chains, they’re the least partial.

IPA should get right behind them and quickly, lest (many) agencies appear to have their noses in different troughs.  Perish the thought.


Prompted by a rather concerning broadside from our new Government (why?) and the rehabilitation of John Whittingdale MP as Minister of State for Media & Data, many are weighing in on the vexed issue of the BBC, its purpose, leaning and funding.

Few want it to carry advertising.  The advertisers that greedily eye the incremental reach it might offer should consider the impacts on their struggling incumbent broadcast partners.

The BBC would probably fail if we put it out to work on the streets.  Netflix et al might like that, but the rest of us should be very careful what we wish for…

A Long Game

Big up to Radiocentre for its recent win in hounding out grotesquely excessive ts & cs required by layers of regulators in poor old radio commercials.

The ongoing requirement to buy extra airtime simply to air these ridiculous and meaningless disclaimers has deterred many advertisers, notably financial services and automotive.

We started working on this together over a decade ago.  Granted, they had a commercial motivation but all kudos to Radiocentre (special mention for Judith Spilsbury) for persisting and prevailing nevertheless.

Shout Out…

…to Paul Farrer, industry headhunting and resourcing doyen, for his recent LinkedIn post.

Amidst the woke energy (and noise) and purity spirals around BAME, LGBTQ+, gender obvs, disability and neurodiversity (have I missed any?), he rightly calls it on the last great taboo – age, making a strong point around how ‘team fit’ can become ‘bias fit’.

Most over 50 feel their increasing invisibility to youth as they age.  This can be partly explained by their not being sexually attractive (yuk) – or even active – to them.  Fair play, though it’s depressing when they routinely walk into you in the street as if you aren’t there.  And not just because they’re absorbed in their smartphones.

Older people can undoubtedly offer considerable (if variable) accumulated work and life experience.  But they’ve also developed their ways and are less amenable to modern “collaborative” ways of working, so they can be harder to manage.

Our industry has never been hospitable to people once they turn 40.  Nobody will say this out loud, but unless they’ve reached the ownership level and make the rules, those who survive in our industry feel even more scared nowadays.

Shenanigans within the Labour Party over antisemitism and at The Guardian around colleague no-platforming of long-time columnist Suzanne Moore highlight the distinctly Stalinist tendencies of the very communities that are supposed to be inclusive and tolerant when they’re taken over by activists with completely different agendas.

Paul is white, British and of a certain age.  Will anyone take any notice?

And finally…

A shocker from Vic Smith Beds (yeah, you know them, next to Tesco’s) earns an ASA ban.

Not often we see such redneck cack over here, thank goodness.


I hope you all manage to stay safe at this difficult time.


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