2018 has been an interesting year so far, with standard agency models experiencing a variety of shakeups – ongoing changes at WPP are certain to impact how bigger network agencies work and the rise of consultancies and in-house teams are bringing many more options to the table.

There is a model which fits somewhere between in house and standalone – the type of agency who starts off as an in-house agency and then grows into a stand-alone agency in its own right.

Red Bee are a respected agency who grew out of creating content for the BBC, Drum service massive clients but were originally an in-house extension of PHD. As the agency landscape evolves this is becoming a more established model. Agencies like Spark 44 and Blue Hive exist at the moment to serve just one client (Land Rover and Ford respectively) but as they are held in high regard it’s reasonable to assume that over time they will attract the attention of other clients.

When these in-house agencies are first born there is an immediate benefit to both the agency and the brand they serve. From an agency point of view, it means extensive, varied experience under one roof, as well as a bigger successful parent brand to prop you up in the early years and allow you to grow.

Studio Black Tomato was born out of luxury travel brand Black Tomato, six years ago. Initially creating content for hotel brands and tourist boards to put on blacktomato.com and push out to the brand’s HNW audience, we went from the ‘Creative Services’ department to a ‘Studio’ in our own right. We now independently serve some of the biggest brands in the world from Diageo to Bulgari, building strategies and connecting content to consumers through culture.

We still benefit from that tie to Black Tomato, being half ‘in-house’, half ‘agency’ helps when you’re trying to get the balance for brands right. Being part of both helps you to advise, because coming from a brand helps you to recognise when you’re too close to something. That’s why stepping away from the parent brand is also important. It’s right for agencies emerging from a brand to move away like this, while remaining inextricably, intrinsically linked with the parent company. It’s important with this model that you can keep their culture and values.

It also plays on the fact that when you are too close to something (as CMOs often are to their brand), it’s hard to make completely objective decisions on what is best for the positioning, creative or competitor analysis, with no bias. It’s hard to identify gaps that have recently developed and cut through the noise. That process needs external minds in order to be truly effective.

Similar to when building a start-up’s positioning and launch strategy in a workshop, it helps having the sympathetic understanding of someone who has once built one and knows the operational mountain that entrepreneurs need to climb every day; it also helps when building a large brand campaign to have done one for your own brand, and understand stakeholder input, managing expectation and the importance of ROI.

We use this model to leverage global audiences and opportunities, while still pitching for work that at times, some may consider (partially) rivals our loving parent. It’s an interesting combination, and we foresee the evolution of agencies involving many more hybrid, cross discipline groups like us. A strategy and content agency, and a brand, with insight built in.

As the traditional agency landscape chops and changes, with more bringing both content and media under one roof, whilst at the same time brands broaden in-house capabilities; new agencies will emerge with industry speciality and thrive.

Nick Ford-Young

Nick Ford-Young


Nick Ford–Young, Head of Studio, at Studio Black Tomato.