Can in-housing produce consistently strong creative work?

Clockwise from top left: Hitchcock, Lee, Wardell, Komanicky, De la Fosse, Oatly campaign
Clockwise from top left: Hitchcock, Lee, Wardell, Komanicky, De la Fosse, Oatly campaign

In-housing was recently praised by BBH co-founder John Hegarty.

Last week, Bartle Bogle Hegarty co-founder John Hegarty declared that Oatly’s in-house advertising was “the most distinctive work I've seen in the past 18 months” – a departure from his previous claims that in-house agencies were “boring”.

Hegarty hailed the Oatly Department of Mind Control (Oatly's in-house creative shop) as “everything that you want advertising to be” for the brand’s work on campaigns including “Help dad” and “Are you supid?”.

This week, Three announced ambitions to “re-energise” its brand by creating an in-house agency of its own, joining Lloyds Banking Group and M&S Food, which have made similar moves already this year.

Speaking to Campaign last month, however, LBG's director of marketing communications Richard Warren was clear that the business' existing creative agencies, Adam & Eve/DDB and New Commercial Arts, were the best placed to create broadcast campaigns, with his in-house outfit, Beehive, instead focusing on work the agencies "are not interested in".

M&S Food, meanwhile, plans to continue working with agencies, including incumbent Grey London, as part of a diverse approach that is led internally.

As more brands take their creative endeavours in-house, Campaign asks: can in-housing produce consistently strong creative work?

Nicola Wardell

Managing director, The Agency, Specsavers

The in-house Agency at Specsavers created one of the UK’s most famous and loved ad campaigns, so the answer is an inarguable yes. And, as more brands in-house, increasingly attracting the best creative, strategic and digital talent from adland, the consistency and strength of the work will only grow.

What works so well for us is our relationship with, and therefore ability to influence, our marketing teams. They’re not just clients, but colleagues. There’s also a real intimacy with the business and our customers. And I suppose a greater sense of ownership.

A real driver of the success of our creative work is how much it taps into the cultural context. And that takes true agility. Having such a depth of brand understanding and immediate access to data and insights, coupled with proximity to the decision-making, means we can be really fleet of foot with getting ideas approved and distributed.

Michael Lee

Creative director, Oatly

As long as you remove brand awareness studies, target group surveys, midway meetings, feedback rounds, tweaks, pre-tests, more tweaks, approvals, director level approvals and re-starting the entire process all over again – the work will be fine, in-house or not.

Ravi Amaratunga Hitchcock

Co-founder, Soursop

Absolutely. Arguably some brands already are (see Squarespace and Oatly).

For me, though, the in-house set-ups that have the best chance of lasting decades will be flexible and open, as opposed to closed.

Gucci and Lego, for example, enable hybrid thinking from outside to help challenge conventional thinking, allowing for the evolution needed to be consistently excellent.

The hybridity of this moment is what's most exciting for me. A tailored in-house model moulded to the culture of a specific brand, combined with unconventional external experts and minds who can keep things fresh, and leave audiences wanting more.

Vlad Komanicky

Founding partner, Alchemists

When an in-house marketing department approaches a brief with the same energy and commitment as an external agency, this can generate remarkable creative work: the challenge is maintaining momentum.

Any team, in-house or external, will stagnate in a rut. It’s down to management to keep things dynamic and fresh. Rousing the team with a healthy sense of competition from external roster agencies and challenging them with robust creative reviews can drive an in-house agency forward. Likewise, celebrating successes with incentives and recognition can ensure it stays on top form.

From bringing in new talent to remodelling the existing team, regular injections of energy and expertise can also spur creatively ambitious internal agencies to fulfil their potential.

Yes, in-housing can produce consistently strong creative, but not by accident. Management needs to shape this, and when the team delivers inspired creative, shout about it. Let’s see more in-housing stories making headlines.

Emma de la Fosse

Chief creative officer, Digitas

The quality of work produced by an in-house creative team depends on the quality of the people in the house, so to speak. Take Specsavers. With the amazing Graham Daldry at the helm, they created a stellar brand platform, “Should’ve gone to Specsavers” which became part of the vernacular, as well as some wonderfully written creative executions. The team grew from just a few bods to well over 80 strong. The challenge with retaining quality creative people in-house is that most good ‘uns thrive on a varied diet of work. However, if you look at examples such as 4 Creative though and the Google Labs, I’d say it’s proof the challenge can be met.

Richard Brim

Chief creative officer, Adam & Eve/DDB

Creating consistently great creative work is not necessarily about whether it is created in house or by an agency, as both models have proven successful for certain brands, Oatly being a great example of this. It is more about the strength and clarity of the individual brands soul and also getting the best talent possible around the briefs. Where this becomes sticky is creative talent, as I feel that truly good ones thrive on the diversity of challenges presented to them, and obviously this will only ever be so broad with the in-house model. One other thing to bear in mind is familiarity can be a good thing In terms of garnering a deep understanding but it can also dull things down pretty quickly, so a rotation of talent is the only way to truly solve this.

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