If You Build it, Will They Come?
No, they won’t. Not if they don’t know what “it” is. Communication is key for getting the word out to the broader organization about the existence of your in-house, but beyond that, it’s even more important for them to know WHAT it is you do, and HOW you can support them. It may sound simple, but building your in-house starts with a critical, first question:
Are you building an agency or a content studio?
So often, these two distinct streams are overlapping, undefined and muddied, with no North Star in place. Carefully analyzing the many sides to this question holistically before building the in-house leads to a more successful adoption of in-house services.
We surveyed an in-house that experienced the unfortunate consequence of building in a big way ($$$) without first examining the North Star goals and purpose of the in-house holistically. This company made significant investments from the singular vantage point and mindset of a traditional creative agency, investing all of their talent resourcing in creative agency roles and skill sets to drive the in-house. While this doesn’t seem like a bad maneuver at first glance (we can all get behind a creative-first approach!), this costly endeavor failed for several key reasons.
Without a North Star in place, there were no shared goals for the type of work staying in-house, leading to confusion among the marketing organization. With marketing teams uncertain about what kind of projects to bring to the in-house, they simply went about their work as business as usual, bringing bigger campaign work to external agencies, resulting in duplication of resources and excess spending on BOTH in-house creative resources AND external agency work. While in-housing is usually motivated by the need for cost savings and efficiency, in this case the opposite scenario was playing out.
Eventually, this creative first in-house team did gain some traction, but the general perception was that the creative thinking didn’t hit the mark in the same way as the work coming from the external agencies. Beyond that, and perhaps more importantly, the client services were a far cry from the 24/7 agency experience that the teams were accustomed to. Let’s face it, we all like a little, white-gloved treatment and the teams were yearning for some of that experience from their in-house agency. In the purest sense, the in-house exists to make life easier for the in-house clients (aka colleagues/co-workers), but in this case, the in-house didn’t get that memo because they weren’t built with a client-first success mindset. The accessible, client-first brand stewards and partners that the marketing teams sought from their in-house agency could not be found, which raised skepticism around the creative output, and confusion around how to engage with the in-house agency in general.
Surprisingly, our survey revealed that this creative-first in-house also invested very heavily in a state-of-the-art physical studio space. Unfortunately, the intended output of the studio was undefined, and the small productions that did get off the ground didn’t match the investment, nor was it staffed with the appropriate resources to drive the investment. Staffed with a creative-first agency mind-set, the in-house studio did not have the right kind of leadership to drive and expand the studio projects. The quick-turn, nimble advantages for having an in-house studio space were never fully leveraged or realized because no one quite knew the purpose or how to run it. There was no communication, leadership and process in place to give the broader organization a reason to utilize the studio.
Over time, it became harder to course correct without communication or an in-house identity in place. Ultimately, this in-house suffered the identity crisis that befalls so many who set out with the best intentions to “in-house”. By not identifying if they were building an agency or a content studio, they “kind of” built both. And by “kind of” building both, without defining the goals and purpose of the in-house, neither worked. Objectives, costs, resourcing, tech and output are vastly different for each. If building both, cohesive considerations must be made, with in-depth planning and understanding of what you need from the beginning to help avoid financial losses, internal confusion and employee frustration.
What was ultimately driving this company’s decision to in-house? Was it the need for more effective brand content, produced faster and more cost efficiently? We do not know for sure, but we can be certain that a nuanced, thoughtful approach to a hybrid model, with strategically targeted resourcing could have helped this company. Getting to the heart of who and what you really need, to match with your North Star, with a solid foundation at the outset, allows for room to grow, evolve and ultimately succeed. At the end of the day, the in-house “reason for being” must be communicated consistently to the broader organization or no one will know how to engage with the in-house.
As was the case with the in-house that we surveyed, they built it, some people came, they didn’t come back and the in-house sadly dissolved before realizing it’s true potential.