‘You have to have support from the C-suite’: Brands struggle with moving marketing in-house

At the end of November, tech giant Intel became the latest marketer to reconsider its move to bring marketing in-house, instead placing creative and production work back into the hands of its external agencies.

Companies, eager for cost-savings, control and speedy turnarounds, have either gone all in and have built out internal agencies with multiple functions or have moved parts of their marketing previously reserved for outside partners internally. But many are finding the road to be less smooth than hoped for, and are encountering recruiting struggles, a lack of internal support or the realization that it’s simply too difficult to manage it all.

Teresa Herd, vp and global creative director at Intel, who up until a week ago oversaw the company’s 85-person in-house team Agency Inside and 45 freelancers it worked with, admitted that she did not expect Intel’s shift back to external agencies.

Speaking at the Digiday Brand Summit in Palm Springs, California, this week, she said Intel was seeing the ROI it wanted from Agency Inside, but that the company’s marketing needs changed in the past year and with a new CEO — Robert Swan — and interim CMO — Michelle Johnston Holthaus, Intel’s leadership no longer wanted to market to regular customers, which is what Agency Inside did.

“You have to have support from the C-suite,” said Herd, who said about 15 percent of Intel’s marketing needs were being done in-house. “[Intel] changed their target and radically changed their budgets. Consumer marketing wasn’t where they wanted to put their dollars. They wanted to move to enterprise marketing and B to B, and while Agency Inside could have managed that, that’s not what we were built for.”

Agency Inside was born from the realization that working with so many ad agencies (Intel had at one point 1,500 global agencies it was working with) convoluted the messaging that customers around the world were seeing from the company, said Herd. The company now works with 250 agencies, and just launched a global review.

The cost of the resources it takes to manage pieces of marketing in-house is a sore point for many marketers. Vodafone, for instance, has stalled its plans to bring programmatic media buying in-house because it needs to set up its own trading desk to do so, a process that requires more money and talent than simply setting up dashboards to buy social or search ads. For many companies, it might be easier to pay a straight rate to an agency to do so instead of dealing with surprising costs.

Another obstacle revolves around recruiting, especially for companies whose headquarters are not based in coastal cities which tend to attract the majority of creative talent. Two marketers, one whose company is based out of Cincinnati, Ohio, and one whose company is based on the outskirts of New York, said, speaking anonymously during a town hall session at the Digiday summit, that it was a constant struggle to recruit because people are automatically turned off by either the commute they would have to make or lack of amenities in their cities.

For this reason, cannabis company Glamster, which sells CBD and THC-infused creams and mists, has allowed its 25-person internal marketing team, which does everything from programmatic buys to creating social content, to work from wherever they want to. “Forgo the fancy office,” said Kartik Ram, CEO of Glamster. “What’s the point? I won’t go there, and neither will anyone else on my team. People want work-life balance and like to work in bursts.”

For Jennifer Kavanagh, svp of marketing and media at the Philadelphia Eagles, recruiting talent for the company’s internal marketing agency is a challenge. And what is even more difficult, she said, is finding the fastest way to have those teams work together. Kavanagh was hired by the Eagles this past June and has been tasked with generating marketing momentum even during the off-season. “The question is, how can we work together to create continuity?” she said.

Herd said that when it comes down to hiring for an internal agency, think about the needs, and not the wants of a business. “When I first got to Intel, the CEO was like all these companies are doing this, why aren’t we? It’s the buzz, it’s the thing,” she said. “But I didn’t start thinking about going in-house until I knew I had the talent.”


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