How to handle your advertising in-house without the downside

A May 18, 2009 article in Advertising Age discussed the pros and cons of bringing your advertising account in-house. The article was sparked by CareerBuilder, the largest US job site, pulling its account from Wieden & Kennedy to start an in-house advertising department.

Interestingly enough, many of the cons are easily avoidable. At the risk of repeating myself once too often, a freelancer network will provide you with most, if not all, of the pros, while at the same time avoiding the cons. The article lists five of both. Let’s dissect.

The pros remain

1. To cut costs
If a company switches from an ad agency to an in-house advertising department, there must be a cost factor involved. Yet, the company must pay salaries to their own advertising people. A freelancer network can press the cost even further down, because it will charge only for work accomplished, and even that at lower rates than the salaries of a number of full-time employees. And if the worst comes to the worst, it’s a lot easier to get rid of a non-performing freelancer than a non-performing full-time employee: just don’t hire him any more.

2. To align your brand message
Hyundai’s motive for starting its in-house creative shop was, we are told, motivated by a desire to ensure a consistent brand image worldwide. Totally doable with a team of freelancers under your HQ’s control.

3. It furthers speed to market
Agencies who work with a wide range of clients cannot be familiar with the ins and outs of a complex business. Who would know its business better than the company itself? Educate a team of freelancers, and they will know, too. All the time right by the side of your decision-makers, your “own” team of freelancers can also respond quickly to changing market conditions and communication needs.

4. It keeps the marketing function tied to the C-suite
According to the article, nearly 60% of in-house shops report directly to the company’s CEO or CMO. An added upside being that the “C-suite” pays more attention to marketing and advertising. No reason why that couldn’t happen with a team of high-calibre freelancers.

5. It lowers turnover
When working with an agency, you as a client have no control over the composition of the team. Someone decides to leave, and you’re left with whomever the agency chooses. Working with your dedicated team of freelancers, it’s your decision whom to include, whom to hire and whom to fire.

The cons go away

1. Steep start-up costs
True, building an advertising department from scratch may become expensive. In contrast, finding a working team of freelancers is more a matter of time than money.

2. Expertise with the marketplace and its changes
The article says ad agencies have a leg up by being in touch with the rapidly changing marketplace. This, however, is true mainly in consumer markets. If you work in a business-to-business environment, the changes do not happen overnight. If your Business Intelligence function knows what it’s doing, no problem here, either.

3. An outsider’s perspective
If you employ a team of freelancers, they are all outsiders. Unless you commission only a given number of people to do all your work, every team member will have other clients besides you and thus keep in touch with the world.

4. Access to top talent
A mirror image of number 3 above. Many freelance creatives don’t want to be bound by one single client (understandably, for creative as well as financial reasons), so you may need to widen your search to build a sort of “creative reserve”. Which may be a good thing. Shuffling the pack for each project will ensure the team always looks at your business with fresh eyes.

5. The fun aspect
The article cites the chance to work with an award-winning creative director as an exciting one for many corporate marketers. Well, for work with creatives to be fun and inspiring, you don’t need award-winning big-agency directors. The equation works quite well with any creatives who know their job. And that’s exactly whom you’re after, right?

A blog post by Mohamed Alkady, Freelancers Have Something Agencies Want to Give Their Clients But Can’t, more or less corroborates what I said above. (The post, however, seems to have been taken down now.) It cited many instances of freelancers going out of their way to provide value to their clients, up to learning a new language.

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