This is an edited reprint of a column originally published by Advertising Age.
The marketing industry is adjusting to a new era of project-based work, with as many as two-thirds of companies that normally hire outside agencies seeking to bring their marketing work in-house, according to research by Gartner. This puts both parties—marketers and agencies—in challenging positions.
Companies aren't bringing marketing work in-house just to save money. They also are seeking to streamline complex processes while working with invested professionals who are closer to the data and know their brand inside and out.
While the in-house strategy makes a lot of sense, it comes with a host of challenges, starting with the loss of a well-rounded bench of specialists in various tools, platforms, and mediums. Companies are realizing that finding the right talent isn't easy. Nor is managing a plethora of marketing functions, from data analytics to content production.
Today's marketing chiefs want the deep internal knowledge that an in-house team can provide, alongside the outside perspective and cultural currency an agency can bring. They also want to save money—a challenging endeavor, as workflow fluctuates. (It isn’t cost-effective to have salaried in-house specialists sitting on their hands when things are slow, or scrambling to hire contractors when things suddenly pick up in pace or scale.) They want to somehow bridge the gap between outsourcing and internal hiring.
Adopting a hybrid staffing model—working with an agency to embed experts, as needed, alongside the core brand team—can help marketers hire the right people at the right time. They can access a consistent and efficiently staffed team of talented creatives that deeply understand the brand.
Embedded agency team members, naturally positioned to find authentic brand stories to fuel strong creative, can cut through layers of project management and account direction required in a traditional agency approach. And they can do more than carry out a project from start to finish. They can help the company respond to and strategize around fluctuating needs.
In times of increased workflow, they can call on the agency to provide a "burst" of talent, extending the team's capabilities and skills.
That adaptability is crucial in today's ever-shifting media marketplace. Video projects, for example, are sporadic and require a specialized set of skills. For a particular project, an embedded agency can temporarily bulk up its hybrid team with trusted directors, operators, and creatives, thus relieving the company of extra hassles or costs associated with hiring an in-house or freelance production team.
As staffing needs within larger brands evolve, there's reason to believe that hybrid models will be applied to departments beyond marketing, from sales to customer service. With the right partners, businesses are realizing that they can, in fact, have the best of both worlds.