6 Steps to Building an In-House Agency

Keith Messer Insights, Talent & Resourcing

How to Build an In-House Agency
Building product knowledge in-house is the easy part for revenue marketing leaders, it’s getting the ownership and buy-in from your external partners where the challenge lies. Getting great creativity and innovation from your partner network is great too but, in a world where you get what you pay for, boy can it be expensive! What if you could get all the experience, product/business knowledge and creativity held within external partners built within an in-house agency framework; way more cost effectively and with the product and business knowledge inherently imprinted within your team DNA?

Lest you think this in-house agency structure endeavor akin to a unicorn hunt, we’ve produced this helpful guide to ensure your embarkation toward building a team of product savvy, agency-minded internal creators is a huge success!

In-House Agency vs. Outside Agency?

If you want a cost-effective way of producing a lot of materials in multiple languages or the like, then you want a creative production house. If you want a team of skilled professionals that are passionate about your products and customers, well you can get that in a production house too! If you want an agency it’s because they’re going to give you something your business can’t easily create itself, fast-paced creativity and innovation sparked by something amazing they did yesterday for another market leader, or something they saw shared from another part of the agency that gave them a brilliant idea for you. You can’t replicate that in-house, or can you?

Many well-intentioned in-house agency models turn into production houses very quickly, losing all sight of why they were needed in the first place. Why? Often because too much focus is put on cost savings or because other business drivers for an in-house agency were never properly defined in the first place.

If reducing the cost of creating marketing materials really is the only reason, what are you waiting for? Stop reading this and go build a creative production factory! Don’t call it an agency and pretend it’s something it’s not or you can expect a high turnover of staff and unhappy people as you haven’t been clear with them about what they’re joining.

In-House Agency or Marketing Team Extension?


Yes they are different things!

We’ve heard so many times from clients that they want our agency partnership to be defined as Ledger Bennett being an extension of their marketing team. We’ve said it many times in pitches and mean it.

What we mean in the context of external agencies is to become a true partner, understand and care so much about our clients’ products, brand and vision that we can create emotive buyer and customer experiences beyond their imagination.

It’s a statement that pulls us into your organization’s orbit. Importantly, we can be successful thinking of ourselves as an extension of your team because, no matter how immersed we are in your business, as an external partner there will always be an airlock between us and our clients, a certain amount of breathing space that allows for a very different perspective and approach.

Forgetting to enshrine this airlock and maintain some distance for your in-house agency is a huge risk to that fresh perspective you’re looking for. You don’t need to pull this team into your orbit, they’re already there. Be careful not to position your in-house agency as an extension of your marketing team, it means something totally different in this context and risks them getting swallowed up into the wider business.

Six Steps to Success

This guide will help you to create the right structure and environment for an in-house agency model to succeed. If after reading this far you’re sure you want to build an in-house agency and nothing else will do, here’s our pointers for how to make sure your it achieves what you need it to:

  1. Define your reasons for building this thing (other than cost savings) and not using another external agency. Is it: Better quality ideas than you get in-house today? Better product knowledge than your external agencies? Better integration with stakeholders across the business? Better ownership of the brand story? Whatever it is, start with why and you can build your team around that philosophy and mission. You have your corporate brand values for sure, but the agency will need it’s own identity within your organization for two reasons:
    • Giving it a degree of separation from the rest of the business so you can foster that amazing environment of creativity (more on that in point 4)
    • So you can attract and retain great talent (see point 2)
  2. It’s a people business, don’t forget it! Some of the people you bring in need to be of an agency mindset (some, not all, see point 6): curious, ambitious and a craving for variety. You need to create an environment where they can innovate and thrive. Hate to break it to you, but most corporate environments are a big turn-off for agency folks. Even the coolest brands will struggle to create the level of energy required in an in-house structure for a long period and being in love with your logo/brand isn’t enough to stimulate some of the people you need to make this successful.
  3. Maintaining efficiency is about maintaining energy. Agency models are run on levels of efficiency that aren’t given the same focus within in-house teams for obvious reasons. But you need to understand these operating models and implement at least some of them across your in-house team before they get bogged down in how the rest of the business operates and becomes an extension of your marketing function.
  4. Put an airlock between your agency and their ‘clients’. Consider what stage you bring your in-house agency into the planning process. Make sure you optimize that transition between planning and execution, in-house agencies cannot operate as an agency when they are expected to be involved too far upstream.
  5. Spoiler alert! Having an agency in-house won’t mask the problem of bad brief writing in your marketing function. Your in-house agency still need that ‘big insight’ from the business to be great creators and your marketing function need to be strong at facilitating the creative process to really make this model fly. Make sure your in-house agency can support strong brief writing by guiding marketers out of the weeds, that’s what great agencies do no matter where they sit.
  6. Last but by no means least, getting the right blend of people, attitudes and skills is the key to success in any in-house team. Some will happily have your logo tattooed on their chest, others who thrive off a huge amount of variety and need constant external stimulus. You need both to turn the very best ideas into great output and creating an environment where they can both work effectively together should be the focus of your in-house agency leadership. Feeding the curiosity and ambition of both is the to great leadership of a truly high-performing agency.

Still need help? Discover our FluidTalent approach on-demand in-house agency staffing and accelerate time to value within the staffing of your in-house agency talent or wider digital revenue team.

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