With the majority of in-house agencies reporting in to marketing departments, getting that relationship right is key to present and future success. As the results of the IHALC IHA Benchmarking Survey revealed, IHA leaders are ambitious to do better creative work: it’s their top priority. But the relationship with marketing colleagues is throwing up some significant barriers to achieving that ambition. IHA leaders believe their marketing colleagues often deliver poor quality briefs, lack a clear understanding of the creative process and are not good at providing feedback.
So how can a successful partnership between IHAs and marketers be accomplished? In essence, the partnership between marketers and their creative agency is no different from a partnership between two people. It is built on a foundation of trust, where both parties have clear expectations, and it is kept alive by effective communication. An agency relationship – whether in-house or external – requires nurturing just like any other human relationship.
But there are key differences between an external agency–marketing team relationship versus an in-house agency–marketing team relationship; which means the latter has to face up to some unique challenges.
As business colleagues, the relationship can get too relaxed, indeed practically horizontal. The lack of planning and being briefed late are both pain points that evidence this and feature strongly in the survey. Arguably, a degree of ‘separation’ – a healthy characteristic of the third party supplier relationship – actually drives better behaviour.
Then there is the issue of briefs. The client ‘marketing’ brief and the ‘creative’ brief are not the same thing. The marketing brief looks at the problem from the business perspective, whereas the creative brief looks at it from the consumer perspective. A big problem we see time and time again (and which also comes through loud and clear in the survey) is the lack of audience insight in briefs in-house. In external agencies, the role of the planner is well-established. However, in-house, only a third said they had strategy expertise, something that external agencies have proven over the years to be essential for creative effectiveness.
So how can marketing teams get the best out of their IHA?
Treat them like an equal
The best IHAs are strategic partners to the business, not service departments there to be handed tasks to complete. This can be a difficult adjustment for marketers to make and requires time and effort on the part of IHA leadership, proving their value to the business and building relationships with marketing colleagues to build trust.
Define shared goals and build a phased plan to accomplish them
When marketing works with an external agency, that agency will have a contract and a clear remit. Too often, IHAs operate on an ‘all-you-can-eat’ basis, with no means of charging for their time with a very woolly remit.
What is the IHA there to do, and what are the creative outputs? It’s vital to have a clear, shared creative ambition for the work aligned with measurable goals. Don’t confuse marketing objectives with creative ambition, be aligned on the type of work you want to produce, as well as the effects you want to see.
Establish strong communication patterns
All successful partnerships are open and honest. Marketers should discuss their preference for the frequency and content of agency updates. And IHAs should outline their expectations for joined-up, longer-range planning and communicating deadlines. Investment in account management can help.
Take the time to brief IHAs properly and invest in planners. If marketers are getting clearer, sharper responses from external agencies it may be because those agencies are working to more insightful briefs. Agency planners turn a marketing brief into a creative brief, whereas in IHAs, a marketing brief often goes straight into creative. Planners will help you get to better, more effective work.
Controversial opinion and debate should be respected during creative discussions. Giving feedback on creative ideas is a skill: learn how to do it, how to express it.
Marketers should expect to be challenged by their IHA partners. You wouldn’t expect your external creative agency to be passive or complacent so why would you expect your IHA to act like this?
Take advantage of being close to the business
IHAs have the fundamental advantage of proximity to marketing teams. As one IHA leader urged in the survey responses: “Get the in-house agency right into the heart of marketing, get rid of the layers and old-fashioned practices.”
The best IHAs work together with marketing to support one another as business needs inevitably twist and turn. This ensures that the creative thinkers in the IHA can add real value where it is most needed; spotting opportunities for pro-active problem-solving.
If marketing and IHA teams consider the above steps, they will be able to establish a strong foundation for a successful and lasting partnership, delivering great business results.
Jo Rolfe is a senior consultant at WDC. The IHALC In-House Agency Benchmarking Survey report can be downloaded here
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