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The key to an internal agency’s success may be with an external partner

The past 10 years have seen a growing number of companies spinning up in-house teams to complement and/or replace their external agencies. Increasing competition combined with economic turmoil is driving them to look for more efficient ways of creating marketing content that generates results.

According to the In-House Agency Forum, over 72% of companies have spun up their own internal agencies (up 12.5% year over year), and that number continues to grow. But that doesn’t mean external agencies are going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, 90% of marketers surveyed by the Association of National Advertisers say they still work with outside partners.

The typical questions brands consider when choosing between insourcing and outsourcing are simple:

    • Do we have the knowledge, skills, and creative thinking in-house?

    • Do we have the bandwidth to execute on the desired timeline?

    • Is this something we need to ramp up and continue indefinitely, or is it a finite task?

However, with more companies opting for a hybrid model, it begs the question… how do you find the right balance? Can you use an external agency to strategically amplify the capabilities and output of your in-house team?

How to use an external agency to strengthen your marketing and creative

1. Get access to top-tier talent with deep portfolios. 

These can be challenging/expensive people to attract and retain in-house. In fact, the ANA reports in “Managing In-House Agency Creative” that 44% of in-house agencies struggle with attracting top-tier talent. By partnering with an external agency, you open your talent pool up to include top-tier strategists and creatives with extensive experience.

2. Leverage them for specialized talent and tools you don’t need all the time. 

Sometimes your marketing efforts require the expertise of a specialist. But what if you only need a specialist for a brief time? Using an external partner gives you access to a deep bench of the exact skills you need, only when you need them.

3. Scale your bandwidth up and down rapidly.

This strategy can be particularly effective to meet aggressive timelines without having to maintain that overhead indefinitely. It also saves you the onboarding costs of bringing in new talent. If you’re pressed for resources, but your forecasting doesn’t show a sustained need, an outside partner could be the way to go.

4. Learn from their deep expertise in your market. 

Working with an outsider is a great way to deepen and refresh internal knowledge. Internal employees often are delayed in recognizing and responding to industry trends since their exposure is limited. External agencies make it their business to identify market trends and adapt their approaches. Look for an agency that produces thought leadership, POVs, proprietary tools and resources, and a solid understanding of the competitive landscape and best practices.

5. Use them to roll out/reign in your brand. 

While many lean on in-house teams for brand work, external agencies can be a cost-effective way of offloading brand stewardship, particularly for large organizations with lots of content creators. In those situations, it can actually be easier to centralize your brand training and ownership with a small agency team who then works with your broad network of internal marketers.

6. Get an unbiased outsider’s perspective. 

Familiarity has a funny way of breeding complexity. Focus on the same problem long enough, and it’s easy to get weighed down by all the variables and potential outcomes. Sometimes an external agency can provide the clarity needed to make hard calls. When internal biases and agendas cloud decision-making, a fresh perspective can simplify the path forward.

7. Unlock fresh ideas with new thinking. 

Stagnated thinking is an all-too-common problem in the creative world. The ANA reports that 63% of in-house agencies struggle to keep internal talent energized. Keeping all marketing efforts in-house provides consistency, but it can also lead to groupthink and tunnel vision. These challenges are particularly evident when an internal team has been working with the same brand or trying to solve the same problem for too long. Bringing in a third party can be a strategic way of challenging limitations, uncovering new options, and re-energizing teams. One of the greatest advantages of collaborating with an agency is their creativity and objectivity.

Want to learn more about how an external agency can strengthen your marketing and creative? Give it a test run with our Creative Squad offering. You bring the creative challenge, and our team will facilitate a series of design thinking exercises so we can ideate together.