It seems like you can’t escape the in-housing conversation at the moment. Unilever’s made headlines through millions of euros saved, while industry leaders like Jonny Hornby and David Golding argue about what a truly integrated offering should look like.
You’ve heard from the people on one side of the fence that in-housing is cheaper, faster, better; you’ve heard from the others that it’s creatively stifling, limited to grunt work.
But something that’s not discussed enough is its impact on the Feels Department. What is it actually like for agency employees who work alongside their clients, day after day, year after year?
The relationships you build on a personal level are just as important as the business aspects. As a project manager at Dare, I’ve experienced first-hand what it’s like to be stationed in the belly of the beast (or tummy of the teammate, depending on whether you’re for or against). I’ve worked in-house for almost two years and it’s… different.
The first big shift is, of course, the client immediacy. Sign-off times drop dramatically, and you’re no longer relying on the twelfth email sent within the space of a week which begins: ‘Hope you’re well! Not sure if you saw my last email, but just wanted to check in on…’
Sitting in the same room as your client doesn’t just allow you to move your own projects quicker – it also makes you aware of stuff that wouldn’t be on your radar otherwise. Through the sheer ingenuity of eavesdropping, you’re able to learn about new projects and company initiatives, right at the beginning.
You can get the information when you need it, and when you’re able to do more with it. It’s preferable to only finding out about a project twelve hours prior to launch, because nobody in the client team thought to email the agency beforehand.
The relationships you build with clients means you’re often relinquished from the brief-by-brief basis. You become so ingrained in the company you’re working with, you actually get involved in shaping the briefs you’ll be expected to deliver – it’s a much more empathetic approach than usual. As long as you remember you’re not the client, you’re golden (otherwise, you might end up like that celebrity therapist who basically thought he was an extra member of Metallica).
Keeping that distance allows you to do your job better. If you stick your head above the parapet every so often to see what the rest of the industry’s doing, you might find extra services, techniques and so on you should introduce to your client’s offering.
And it doesn’t matter how often you join your client colleagues for ‘Friyaaay Drinks’, or how many cakes you bring to the office bake-offs – you have too much industry perspective and additional insight for them to claim you as their own. You can be an integral part of the team, but you can’t be theirs exclusively.
Despite the aforementioned alcohol guzzling and cake gobbling, there’s often a certain whiff of hostility when someone from an in-housing agency first joins the workplace. This is often down to a lack of understanding – clients don’t initially know what you’re there to do, and they worry that you’re just going to criticise their work and change everything.
For employees to realise you’re there to act as a committed partner, and that you can tap into a wealth of insight from your external hub office, there needs to be clear communication. Senior figures from the client side are partially responsible for this, but you also need to make sure that you make yourself, and the work you can do, known by everyone in the office. If you want to create, or even in some cases introduce, a collaborative environment, then you’d better do everything to make sure that you’re seen as approachable. Otherwise, that initial friction might never be resolved.
Provided that you foster a relationship which relies on partnership, whilst also maintaining a certain distance on your side, then the in-housing model is unrivaled in terms of rewards.
It means the death of procrastination, and, well, lying, because it’s so transparent. Not just with stuff like costs, but all the way down to clients knowing what you’re up to, and vice versa. Also, quite frankly, a pat on the back is always nicer in person. You get recognised when you do a good job, and likewise if the client pulls off something spectacular.
Ultimately, the in-housing model ranks high in the Feels Department, because you both know the ins and outs of each other’s businesses, and the people within. It creates a mutual trust that people struggle to foster in a traditional agency structure. And sometimes, it’s nice to sink those ‘Friyaaay Drinks’ with the people you’ve been working alongside all week. Your client.