‘Closest people to the business’: Why Colgate-Palmolive is taking a hybrid approach to in-housing

Over the last year, Colgate-Palmolive built out an in-house media team as part of its plan to modernize the company’s capabilities and take a hybrid approach to media buying and planning. While WPP and Wavemaker still handle the execution, the company now has integrated brand experience leads and, depending on the size of the media budget, a programmatic lead for each division.

“It fundamentally comes down to strategy,” said Brigitte King, chief digital officer at Colgate-Palmolive, when asked why the company is taking a hybrid approach. “When we’re developing campaigns we have business growth objectives to meet. The closest people to the business know how to translate that into a great brief. That’s what [people on our internal media team] do.”

By having an internal team of 30 that works with agency buying specialists, King believes the company can “clearly pass the baton between the programmatic lead at Colgate and the agency programmatic lead who will execute the strategy for us.” In doing so, the company is able to have more control over the strategy without getting into the complexities of going fully in-house. 

In recent years, some marketers have moved away from the all-or-nothing approach to in-housing or working with an agency. Instead, they’ve sought a middle ground with a hybrid model using some internal team members as well as an agency to handle media buying and planning. 

Aside from the move to a more hybrid approach to media planning and buying, Colgate has also worked to rebalance its media mix to focus more on digital and less on linear TV. Two years ago, the company spent roughly 40% of its media dollars on digital; it has now upped that spend to around 60% or so for its brands.

Per Kantar, Colgate spent $99.8 million on media for its brands in 2021, down from $137.4 million in 2020. Those figures exclude what was spent on social media channels as Kantar doesn’t track social spending. 

While Colgate’s move to a hybrid approach is more focused on media strategy, the company also has content studios in-house for its divisions. That way the company can “balance what we need done by an agency versus what we can do in-house,” noted King, adding that “content studios can feed the beast” of social media channels like Instagram and TikTok. 

Colgate’s hybrid approach has likely become the norm for brands as going fully in-house can be costly, time-consuming and complicated. At the same time, privacy changes have marketers leaning on their agencies more and more. 

The hybrid structure has become the “most common structure of in-house media we see,” per Jay Pattisall, principal analyst at Forrester. “A common structure is the client’s own strategy because it is a discrete function that requires a handful of specialists, while the agency handles execution, including the buying and operations.”

Pattisall isn’t alone in recognizing marketers’ move to hybrid. “I believe it is becoming more and more of the norm,” said Nancy Hill, founder of The Media Sherpa and former 4A’s president. “I think the pendulum swung too far toward a total in-house solution and that clients are recognizing that it is almost impossible to manage.”

Hill continued: “There are some things that make sense to be in-house (data-driven analysis and product-driven strategies, eg), but other pieces make more sense residing in an agency. Given the talent crunch that everyone is facing, it will be better, in the long run, to figure out a hybrid model that allows for both internal focus and external POV and expertise.”


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