Never mind in-housing; tried out-housing?

A regime in which clients regularly work from their agencies' offices could have significant benefits.

For a creative industry, we’ve been woefully uncreative about the in-housing threat – this not only jeopardises the creative agency’s very existence, but also advertising’s creative essence. 

Although in-house agencies have the ability to operate with splendid efficiency, they struggle to replicate creative agency culture. Case in point: the UK’s biggest in-house agency prosaically calls itself "Sky Creative Agency". If advertising is still meant to have creativity at its core, should we really be so complicit in enabling the in-house model?

We need to figure out how we can fuel clients’ desires for in-housing while retaining a culture that has the ability to house and fuel creative energy. One solution could be "out-housing": creating dedicated spaces within agencies that work like satellite offices for clients. 

Most clients seem to rather enjoy fraternising with their agencies. Busy though they are, taking time out in a creative hub like Shoreditch can reignite their passion for work and help them refocus on ideas that unleash the firepower of their brand. 

Granted, many clients already hang out at their agencies. But, just as in-housing is very different from agencies hanging out in their clients’ offices, out-housing is about way more than clients loafing around on beanbags or playing foosball with the creative team. Instead, it’s about following the WeWork template.

In the same way that start-ups thrive by sharing ideas and energy in co-working spaces, if clients partly out-housed to agencies, they could soak up our spirit and find inspiration in our creative culture. Out-housing could furnish clients with a richer working environment and help them break out from their river of thought. It would also provide a better opportunity for them to capitalise on our deep knowledge of their business and our out-of-scope creative problem-solving. 

I’m not pretending that out-housing is the in-housing cure we’ve all been waiting for. As with everything in life, it’s not a binary choice of either/or. But we – and that means both clients and agencies – have to face up to the fact that in-housing simply won’t work for every brand. In-housing can, undeniably, be the holy grail for brands that need to generate a high volume of content at speed. But for those that aim to set the creative bar higher, we have to devise other options. 

If a brand operates from a location like Milton Keynes (not that I have anything against Milton Keynes per se), geography is going to be an issue. Like it or not, it’s the vibey metropolitan hubs that double up as creative heartlands. So in-house agencies based on grey industrial estates face an insurmountable problem: attracting brilliantly creative minds. 

It’s the elephant in the room that nobody seems to be talking about. But the out-housing approach overcomes this problem. It retains agency culture to ensure the environment remains attractive to A-list talent while simultaneously bringing clients back into the heart of the creative process. 

Whether you’re in or out, both models are about prioritising the brand’s needs by bringing the client and agency closer together, stopping the known pinch points and making churn more efficient. In both instances, clients and agencies feed off each other to understand each other’s processes and create the most inspiring work they can within the set parameters.

But where in-housing is designed to reduce overheads and increase efficiency, out-housing is more about bridging the gap between client and agency in a way that protects and builds an understanding of the power of creativity. Surely this is – and always should be – the guiding principle of any self-respecting creative agency?

Simon Labbett is co-founder of Truant London

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