From broadcast ads to garbage can wraps: Inside Experian’s in-house creative agency

Experian’s 2-year-old in-house agency has enabled the national credit bureau to wean itself entirely off creative agencies.

Comprised of 15 employees, The Cooler leads the storytelling, strategy and content creation for the national credit bureau’s overall branding and public relations communications. The agency operates out of Experian’s headquarters in Costa Mesa, California, and works from ideation to execution, creating ads for broadcast, digital, social, mobile, experiential events, apps, all the way down to garbage can wraps. The company previously worked with agencies including IPG-owned Martin Agency.

Creative is often easier to bring in-house than media buying. Experian hasn’t brought media buying in-house and doesn’t plan to — Dallas-based Camelot and New York-based Blackwood Seven still handle media.

“We are doing nearly everything that any AOR for a major client would be doing,” said Todd Miller, chief creative director for The Cooler, whose previous roles throughout his 25-year career at traditional ad agencies include the title of executive creative director at JWT and TBWA. “Generally, an in-house agency is more collateral-driven. We are one of the few in-house agencies responsible for above-the-line, below-the-line and everything in between.”

Todd calls all Experian departments “clients” of The Cooler because he wants the team to view the work they do like that of an outside agency. If, for example, the public relations department submits a request for a social media post, they become the “client” and the agency receives a project brief.

For the past two years, The Cooler has worked to align the company’s focus to be more consumer-driven with a goal to drive consumer and client confidence around managing their data. Broadcasts campaigns, digital and radio content with an emphasis on identity protection are placed during high-impact TV sporting events such as the Olympics, March Madness and NFL games, and in September, the agency created its Financial Profile, an online website that profiles customers’ financial information, built out with data such as free credit reports, so they know what financial lenders can see about them as they make business or personal finance decisions. A new broadcast spot for the website launched in September and resulted in 47 percent of new visitors to the site signing up for an account in the first week of the campaign.

“Being involved in the development and ideation of a product from the start helps us align with the overall marketing and product development, which is a relationship you don’t have when you’re an outside agency where it comes as more of an assignment,” said Miller.

Similar to that of a traditional ad agency, the number of projects the agency works on changes on a weekly basis. The Cooler works on anywhere from two to 10 projects at one time, according to Miller. Creatives are mostly hired from large, traditional ad agencies because of the broad level of experience they receive there. The need is especially strong when it comes to broadcast, which is a major focus for The Cooler.

Unlike an outside agency, however, The Cooler is not divided up into teams. “We’re all participating in everything, whether it’s TV or digital,” said Miller. “When the team becomes 150 people, that might become more difficult. It would be hard to wrangle 70 creatives in a room.”

Not all companies have the talent and resources to form their in-house agencies that can handle everything from TV ads to social. Talent is a major issue. Even Experian will still enlist freelancers to work on major projects. For the launch of its Financial Profile and surrounding campaign, the company brought in commercial and movie director Tarsem Singh, who has directed international commercials for companies like Nike and Coca-Cola.

Still, it’s not easy to maintain creative agencies in-house. Talent is a major issue. Companies that are not located in coastal cities have a harder time recruiting the talent they need, and some companies have slow-moving, archaic human resources departments. Just how many employees a company needs to perform efficiently in-house is still a big question mark to many companies. When it comes to bringing media buying in-house, a May Digiday Research survey found that 73 percent of marketers said hiring necessary talent was a significant obstacle. Experian says its location in Costa Mesa is actually not an issue, citing it as a coastal city attractive to employees.

“A brand will need to be confident in the volume of work they need to produce and the types of jobs that are best kept inhouse vs. outsourced to make the investment worthwhile and keep their creative fresh,” said Michelle Bradley, founder and managing director, of advertising cost consultancy MBc Services.

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