In a recent trend, more companies are moving communications work in-house to the displeasure of PR and marketing agencies. The trend has become common enough to warrant a new term in communications lingo: in-housing.
Research by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) shows that 78% of its members had some form of an in-house agency last year, compared to 58% in 2013 and 42% in 2008. In addition, 90% said the workload of their in-house agency has increased in the past year, including 65% who said the workload has increased “a lot.”
Companies believe bringing digital PR and marketing work in-house lowers costs and provides more creative control and greater control over customer data. Greater control over data helps prevent data security or consumer privacy blunders and better safeguards the brand’s reputation.
Whether or not in-housing improves quality, decreases overall costs or meets other objectives is open to debate. Some companies eventually return to agencies after in-housing fails to meet expectations. Only 32% of brands say in-housing increased productivity and just 27% say it increased creativity, according research by the Data and Marketing Association. Still, the in-housing trend poses real concern to communications agencies.
How can PR and marketing agencies prevent clients from opting for in-housing – and regain clients?
Staff appropriately. Account managers often handle multiple clients simultaneously. Agencies want high production levels from their personnel, but in-depth understanding of clients and their products and quality becomes challenging. Assigning fewer clients and less work to account managers produces higher-quality work – and commands higher fees, argues Jade Minh in Everything PR. Hiring more people to ensure quality work can be costly, but not as costly as losing clients.
Become more nimble. In-house communications teams excel at completing work quickly when needed, essentially on demand. To retain or regain clients, agencies must do the same, argues Marc Brownstein, president and CEO of Brownstein Group. “It’s time to make our own shops as adaptable and embedded as in-house teams, ready to deliver quick and dependable work with the full confidence of our clients,” Brownstein states in Ad Week.
Treat staff well. The ability to attract and retain top-notch talent separates agencies from in-house communications departments, Brownstein says. Certainly, competitive compensation packages matter, but an attractive work environment and listening to employee requests are also important. In that regard, permitting tele-commuting can boost both employee morale and productivity.
Seek a hybrid approach. In a new trend, agencies and clients collaborate to create a hybrid approach. Agency personnel work as extensions of in-house teams, says Chris Laas, head of digital marketing at Etch. In some cases, agencies place their personnel in client offices. Some functions, such as strategy, planning and execution, are well-suited for shared ownership.
“Client-side teams often suffer from a scarcity of time to actually get things done. Often, they are involved with multiple meetings on a daily basis, which leaves them less time to actually execute any of the planned marketing activity,” Laas writes.
Establish transparent communications. Frequent and frank communications is key for healthy client-agency relationships. “We have worked hard to have transparent and supportive dialogue with our clients on where they may find efficiencies in-house versus SCOUT, and also cautioned against them where we think it may not be the best business model for them,” SCOUT Cheryl Maher told Marketing Land.
Offer stellar media measurement and monitoring. Comprehensive social media monitoring combined with online news monitoring offers one of the surest ways to please clients. Business executives consider social media monitoring among the most important services PR agencies offer, after only earned media services, according to the PR Customer Experience Benchmark Report from Researchscape International.
In addition, social media listening is one of the top public relations trends, according to the Evolution of Public Relations report from the Association of National Advertisers. Advanced PR analytics services, often combined with web analytics, SEO results and market surveys, can show that the PR agency met its goals.
Bottom Line: More companies now bring PR and marketing tasks in-house. Communications agencies can stem the trend by employing relationship, productivity and communication strategies that benefit both clients and agencies.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.