Integration? Partnership? Integrated partnership?

In-House Agencies (IHAs) have always had a peek into the Marketing world as it influences the work executed by the IHA. Yet it is just in the past five years that the move for IHAs and Marketing to establish a true collaborative partnership with one another has taken root. These collaborations expand and enhance the effectiveness, reach and success of marketing initiatives. 

Marketing, MarCom and Creative Services are seen by some companies as independent divisions, with no connection - and that can't be farther from the truth. All three are dependent upon, connected to, and working in concert with one another – requiring collaboration, partnership, strategy and the use of technology to be successful.

Evolving your In-House Agency?

The evolution of the IHA

The evolution of the present-day partnerships between Marketing and IHAs cannot be reviewed without highlighting the evolution of the IHA over time. Many IHA’s were born from the centralization of the silo’d creative roles residing within business lines - roles set to serve the business’ needs at will. Early on, many IHAs were largely comprised of creative production artists managing templated, repeatable creative and its minor edits – nothing much greater. 

As time went on and teams gained the trust of their clients and business partners, they became involved in more sophisticated tier 2 work that required the expertise of higher-level creative disciplines such as graphic designers, art directors and subject matter expert writers who assisted in executing work initially established by agencies. They then evolved further and the IHAs started taking on tier 1 assignments with the creative originating from their team instead of external agencies. Even greater creative strides were made by IHA’s as they expanded into disciplines outside of the print and graphic design arena such as video, animation and motion graphics production, and later, interactive, social and web. It was at about this time when the strategic Account Manager and proficient Project Manager roles grew to be more visible, appreciated, and recognized as critical positions. As the role of Account Manager continued to evolve into a true strategic partner with clients, the desire for integrated partnerships between Marketing and the IHA’s took hold. 

The move to strategic partner

Strategic content marketing has been present to some degree within the IHA for years, often led by Creative Directors and Senior Copywriters. However, it is the rapid rise of Social Media and Digital Marketing platforms that require it to be led by the best and most critical strategic partners far upstream of creative execution. 

The addition of cross-functional creative disciplines coupled with the rise of strategic content-driven IHA capabilities, allowed Marketing business partners to also put in place a partnership between external agencies and the IHA creative services for an integrated and collaborative approach to campaigns. Ideally this created a new collaborative dynamic where the internal and external partners were each leveraged to best serve the project.

More and more, Marketing teams are now relying on the input of higher-level creative and strategic roles within the IHA that include digital disciplines such as digital strategists, information architects and UX and UI digital designers. These internal partners along with identified external partners now both have a seat at the table to meet campaign objectives and boost marketing effectiveness. The merging of upfront collaboration and strategy between Marketing, its MarCom partners, external partners and the IHA is critical and being built over time as trust is gained. The need to reach niche and bigger audiences is the overarching goal of Marketing and the IHA and is where the integration and partnership between the two is most successful.   

In general, business is more competitive and dependent on strategic and unique creative to reach the greater audience segment. Social media and the various digital channels of communication are enabling Marketing’s greater reach to their audiences, and giving IHAs a bigger role in the strategy, planning and execution of marketing campaigns as the need for innate deep business and brand knowledge is available from internal partners. The IHA is no longer just the doer, but the integrated collaborative partner. Extended market reach requires the leveraging of all talent levels and tools, both internally and externally. Digital Marketing is at the forefront of messaging strategy and creative development for most any business. Digital tools such as AI, Marketing Automation and DCO (Dynamic Content Optimization) cast a wider net than traditional marketing platforms. The use of these tools and strategies require the planned engagement of performance analytics, so successes and challenges can be measured regularly, and adjustments made instantaneously. They also propel the partnership need between Marketing and the IHA, as the turnover of work and need for refreshed strategy is repeated at a greater rate than with previous marketing/creative means. 

Campaigns, messaging and creative success all hinge on strategic partnerships. Those who have been successful have created an integrated process from project inception to completion where strategic partnerships between the Marketing and IHA teams are the norm, and not the exception.  Together Marketing and the IHA align on the proper project strategy by not only agreeing on the strategic objective but also by unlocking the full potential of their internal resources, collaborative processes, technology and tools, and the additional external agency partnerships and processes that may be needed.

The hurdles to integration

While it would be nice to paint an effervescent picture of locked arms and roses for all those who approach integrated partnerships, with successes comes obstacles. There will be teams who will meet the idea of integrated partnership between Marketing and the IHA with reluctance or resistance and they will likely be those partners who are often used to one way of working – Marketers relying on an agency to supply the strategy, the creative, and in many cases the means or media for marketing.

The likely greater hurdle many IHAs have to clear is related to their being a Shared Services team. Often the IHA serves not only the Marketing business partners, but also multiple areas within an organization - Sales, Corporate Communications, Human Resources, Legal, etc.  While not a new hurdle, it is more pronounced as the strategic relationship between Marketing, Marketing Communications and the IHAs grows greater in more businesses. This is often addressed organizationally by the breaking out of select roles into strategic cross-disciplined teams who serve the high-level strategic work of multiple core Marketing business partners so they are not silo’d to one business, while other roles address the day to day less strategic business at hand.  Each organization and their associated Marketing and IHAs are unique, and creating a partnership strategy together that allows for Marketing and the IHA to partner and utilize other resources where needed will breed success. Creating dedicated IHA teams per Marketing group defeats the purpose of gaining fresh cross-functional knowledge from various IHA team members.

Future opportunities

Marketing communications and its creative output continuously expands its means toward reaching even greater audiences.  As objectives-based strategies, automation tools and their associated metrics strategies evolve, so too will the integrated partnerships between Marketing and In-House Agencies. In-House Agencies  should adopt more sophisticated processes and metrics to measure their work practices to ensure all of the right internal and external people are engaged in a project from inception, all are aligned to execute the proper work, and all are doing so with the support of the most effective tools. Yet even in doing so, one of the most powerful best practices for success will be that of the integrated partnership – ensuring that as part of “all of the right internal people engaged in the project” - the proper integrated partnerships between Marketing and the In-House Agency are in place, positioning all groups for collective success.