The writing is on the wall and it’s in zeros and ones – digital marketing and creative are expanding at an ever-increasing rate and in-house agencies are playing a critical role in their growth. The pandemic has only accelerated this trend and digital teams are struggling to keep up with needed staffing, technologies and the funding required to support both.

See how digital teams keep rising to the challenges. 

The Digital Trend’s Impact on Agencies

In a recent survey of creative team leads, Cella uncovered a potential pain point for digital teams. While fully 70% reported higher workload, 81% had teams that either remained the same or actually decreased in size from 2019. Almost half admit that they are understaffed. This fact puts pressure on digital teams to adopt new technologies and methodologies that enhance efficiency and throughput. Unfortunately, investment in new technologies has gone down as well, impacting not just the volume of work that the teams can handle but the ability of those teams to adapt to new platforms in social media and content marketing.

On a positive note, in-house agencies now provide their clients with a wide variety of digital services and deliverables. Ranging from Digital Strategy to Virtual Reality to Digital Analytics, the top competencies include Digital Design, Emails, Web Design, Content Writing and Ad Banners. Looking forward, 33% of respondents noted that they see the need for Digital Strategy increasing greatly with Video Content Production and Social Media Management not far behind. Of note is that more and more of these new services fall outside of traditional creative execution and are more strategic and analytical.

Digital Staffing Challenges

The shift to new digitally-focused roles has had a major impact on staffing as teams struggle to add User Experience Designers, SEO Analysts and Marketing Automation Managers to name a few. Many groups are limited to challenging recruitment options with less than 50% of hiring managers having the opportunity to work directly with staffing agencies. Teams hiring for talent are leveraging a range of recruitment options including working directly with contingent labor as the most often used tactic followed by engaging ad agencies and working with staffing firms. 

While investment in creative teams may be lagging, marketing departments are seeing an ever-increasing investment in marketing platforms. Social media use is on the rise - roughly 51% of the world’s population uses it, with over 1 million people added every day. That’s 12 new users every second – and the typical user is on almost 9 different platforms.1 To take advantage of this trend, companies are spending more on paid search and social ads on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Overall digital marketing spend is predicted to rise by 13% for the second half of 2020 as compared to 2019.

The Value Proposition

The core drivers of value that in-house digital agencies deliver for their companies are not that much different than the drivers of traditional agencies. They include; cost efficiencies/savings, quality, brand knowledge and speed/cycle time. Digging a bit deeper, though, uncovers the fact that those drivers are amplified in the high speed and constant frequency of delivery that digital tactics require to be truly effective. We’re talking hours instead of days and volume that puts print tactics to shame. So knowledge of the brand - its voice and look and feel, the audience and any regulatory mandates are critical for an agency to possess. Given that in-house teams live and breathe their companies’ institutional knowledge to a degree that external agencies would struggle with, makes them the obvious choice to take the lead on the execution of digital strategies.

Process is Critical to Digital Execution

Underlying and buttressing the value, effectiveness and efficiencies of digital teams is a strong reliance on process. Digital projects are typically more complex than traditional print jobs, making a commitment to good process even more important. It’s surprising then that only 43% of survey respondents said that they have dedicated project managers assigned to digital projects. That has left team leads and even individual contributors taking on the role.

Fortunately, at least, is the fact that the vast majority (86%) of digital teams have some form of documented process for their teams to follow. In addition, 68% are using the Agile methodology, albeit much of it customized to unique business needs and dedicated to specific types of cross-functional or product teams. Another best practice digital teams are engaging in is the use of SLAs to align on client expectations with two-thirds of teams having put them in place.

Technology Successes and Opportunities

Technology married with effective process and quality talent is the final component to a high-functioning digital team. In-house agencies have done a fairly good job of building out basic infrastructure that supports Digital, Content and Social Media management along with Marketing/Email Automation, Digital Analytics and Online Collaboration/Communication tools. Where they are lacking, though, is in the acquisition and implementation of Emerging Tools such as CMP (Creative Management Platform), DCO (Dynamic Creative Optimization) or DMP (Data Management Platform). These are the technologies that will afford digital teams the ability to keep up with their audience’s voracious appetite for online content.

For the most part, respondents are leveraging the more mature technologies to their best advantage. Over 50% of them have a dedicated Digital Asset Manager (DAM) and 6 out of 10 are utilizing project management software. 57% of teams are tracking time and a healthy 72% are collecting operational metrics.

While there are some gaps in staffing, process and technology, on the whole, digital teams are trending in a direction that positions them for both near- and long-term success. This is a very good thing, as in-house agencies will most likely continue to take on more and more of their companies’ digital marketing efforts.

1 Source: We Are Social and Hootsuite