Creative in-housing and the turf wars it brings…

Loknath Das

The term in-housing has been coming up on the local and global advertising and marketing circuits for a considerable time now. While many large ad agencies claim otherwise, others argue that it’s a trend that’s slowly creeping up on them. However, analysing whether it’s a real trend or if the term is being over-used is not what this article is about.

Instead, we’re taking a cue from some anecdotal evidence we gathered, very incidentally, over the last few weeks while going about our usual business: When marketers create campaigns ‘in-house’ ⁠— recent examples include ads by Royal Enfield and Liberty Shoes that we recently covered ⁠— what is the role of the agency that is acknowledged in the credits? Does the agency team step in only to produce the ads? Does it function as an extended or outsourced marketing team that ‘checks’ the script, perhaps weighs in on it, suggests tweaks, and then proceeds to shoot? Does it work like a digital shop that also has a production wing? Or a production house that also does creative work like copywriting? Frankly, at the moment, we’re not sure.

We’ve encountered a turf battle more than once, which explains the graphic illustration above. The marketing team claimed the work was done in-house and the agency merely stepped in to execute, that is, produce, the films. But the agency involved said they were very much part of the creative process and were, for all intents and purposes, the ‘ad agency’ on the project. Which brings us to the question ⁠— what is the role of the agency when the brand team claims to have done the job in-house?

We turn to a few marketers and agency heads to seek answers…

Karan Kumar

Karan Kumar

Karan Kumar, chief brand and marketing officer, Fabindia

External agencies thrived when we lived in a period of sporadic campaigns. Their episodic interventions sufficed in an era when they did not have to be ‘always on’ and where content did not require real-time and almost constant creation.

For content creation to be ‘always on’, brands will have to create certain abilities to in-source listening as well as the ability to respond to what they hear in as close to real-time as possible.

External agencies could continue to play a key part in strategic discussions, such discussions may lead brands to make periodic fundamental departures from their current creative paths. These discussions are a critical window into the outside world helping brands avoid being blind to changing landscapes. But I don’t think they can partner brands on an everyday and ongoing basis. Their costs and business models don’t allow for that.

Therefore, there will always be a mix of both external and internal capabilities for brands to take their creative charters forward in an ‘always on’ environment.

Shuchi Chawla

Shuchi Chawla

Shuchi Chawla, head brand marketing, ixigo (a brand that relies heavily on ‘in-housing’)

The in-house advertising model is on the rise specifically for digital brands where time is of the essence and businesses have become more ROI driven. Building creative and production expertise in-house helps brands save time and costs as there is a quicker turnaround time and a faster approval loop. At ixigo, our creative and production teams brainstorm and conduct extensive research to understand the common pain points of our target audience.

Dev Batra

Dev Batra

Dev Batra, founder, Flamingo Digital (a Gurgaon-based digital agency)

The dilemma of credit sharing is not just in this context ⁠— but even within teams. A lot of times, even the owners or agency leadership would get all the credit for job well done while their key contribution in the said project might have been minimal. I personally believe that clients need to understand that the execution of an idea is as much of essence as the idea itself. A great script can fall flat due to bad execution. On the other hand, an average script can manage to connect with the masses all because the execution was compelling.

There are also instances when agencies (especially the smaller ones) don’t assert themselves enough and allow clients to take all the credit. But I believe true talent cannot be hidden for long — so, letting personal insecurities or greed come in the way of sharing credit where it’s due serves no purpose in the long run.

There are innumerable stories about stolen credits for music, lyrics, scripts, ad concepts, etc.. In such cases it’s the moral compass that needs to align with doing what’s right. But that’s more about an individual’s decision rather than an industry’s. Fortunately, in most cases, we’ve had the pleasure of working with clients who have been quite generous in sharing credits with us, albeit there were a few bad apples.

In most cases, the brand team present the positioning insights for their products very well in the creative brief. Most briefs begin with insights about the brand and context in which those insights need to be presented (For ex. I need a video for Diwali talking about this new expensive air purifier for farmhouses…). An idea is not a fruit that can be plucked from a tree but more like a snowball that gathers dimension as it gets discussed. Multiple iterations internally and then with the client will eventually lead to an idea that will check most of the boxes. In that manner, I have rarely seen a client who is not involved in the creative process. When they share sharp consumer insights — chances of a successful outcome is very high. But a marketer is not necessarily a creative person. Adding a few nuances to a script, copywriting, storyboarding, direction, production, graphic design, fonts and colour schemes — all of these require inputs from the creative team at the agency. There is no standard formula for allocating credits. Sometimes a junior copywriter might have been responsible for a script that goes viral and not giving credit to him/ her is just as wrong as not giving the credit to the agency folks.

Sartaj Jaffri

Sartaj Jaffri

Sartaj Jaffri, CEO, Black or White Brand Communications (a full services marketing communication agency)

Meaningful work is always the result of a smooth collaboration between the client and the agency. Hence it really does not matter who takes the credit. I feel it’s more important to move on and focus on chasing new business/new briefs and keep the engine running.

There was always a conflict the there but I believe the intensity of client involvement is much higher now and hence the issue of credit crops up often.

In the case of in-housing effort, the client shares a brief, which if written well, can be woven into a full-fledged campaign. But more often they aren’t skilled to develop/craft that brief into a meaningful campaign and that’s where the agency’s expertise comes into play.

Vineet Trakroo

Vineet Trakroo

Vineet Trakroo, CEO, chief evolution officer, Evolution Strategy Advisors LLP (Ex-CMO at Usha International and Pidilite)

Agencies and production houses are client partners and have a functional role to perform in delivering the right communication. The agency conceptualises and the production house has to give life to this idea and visually heighten the concept. The client is supposed to ensure it’s delivered as per the brief put together by the client.

Of course at each level the idea is supposed to get better and it’s a teamwork. If one does the job of the other or adds value, it’s for the project and credit is due to the function that is supposed to deliver and not others. However, it should be kept in mind no single person/function can make a film or creative or content.

If one does the job of the other function repeatedly then there is either no need for that service function or the service provider is not delivering and should be changed.

As the client is paying the bills they are the producer so finally they get what they want. This may or may not be as per the creative intent and neither as per the brief. The larger issue is the number of communication ideas or films that get lost when these three functions don’t work in tandem. I know of clients working directly with production houses as they don’t see agencies adding value post idea presentation.