An In-House Manifesto: the importance of fun

This is the third and final post further exploring our session on refining our In-House Agency Manifesto and sharing some key insights.

Over this series of posts, we’ve been debating our Manifesto to identify the key principles for in-house agency success. Our ten point plan was originally drawn up at Campaign’s In-Housing Summit in October. At our last In-House Life session online, in partnership with Adobe Workfront, we returned to the Manifesto with the help of Arabella Gilchrist, who set up Camelot’s Creative Hub, Natalie Brewster, Director of Global Creative Operations at The Body Shop, Three Creative Director Mat O’Brien and WDC partner John Owen. Our mission – to land on the essential ingredients needed for any In-House Agency to thrive.

You can watch a recording of the session here.

We’ve previously looked at North Stars and Remits and, in our last post, building trust and proving the value of an IHA. In this final post, we examine the role of process, building a culture and how to become the agency of choice, as well as the importance of fun.

Process is a topic that we have explored at length in many of our IHALC sessions. In this particular session, we mainly focused on approvals and feedback as getting that right can be part of the trust-building and education process that we talked about in the previous post. As Arabella pointed out, you need to look at “who is feeding back, what they are feeding back and at what point in the process. I think there’s actually an education process that needs to happen quite early on to explain that ‘this is the kind of feedback that is constructive, this is the kind of feedback that is obstructive’,” she said.

And the requirements are different depending on what kind of IHA you have. The feedback required in a simple production studio ought to be fairly straightforward and based mainly on questions of ‘hygiene’. But, as Mat argued, “if you want to become a creative agency, you do need to nurture, protect and grow ideas, and big corporate companies aren’t built to do that. They want a solution as soon as they’ve come up with the question. They don’t want to go through that process [of exploring ideas and routes]. It’s about identifying and trying to build a two-way conversation with the stakeholders that want to be involved in a creative process. But then there will be others that just want to run away. They don’t want to know about the process, they just want to see the ending.” Selling in an idea and reviewing it constructively is just as important as coming up with the idea in the first place, Mat said.

Having one approver – preferably the same person who set the initial brief – is a big advantage, John said. But he also warned that, when it comes to introducing any new form of process, “don’t underestimate how difficult it is. It’s relatively easy to write what should happen down on paper, it’s much more difficult to make it happen in practice. And it might feel very frustrating at times if that stuff doesn’t get adopted to the extent that you perhaps would have hoped, but that’s just normal. Implementation is when most of these things go wrong. And perseverance is a big part of getting there.”

Should every IHA aim to be the agency of choice for its business? It’s a natural ambition to have, but competing against external agencies for work can lead to destructive outcomes and a hit to morale for the IHA. At Three, Mat explained, he enjoys a collaborative relationship with agency Wonderhood, meeting its ECD once a week to review live and upcoming work and also has regular meetings with Wonderhood’s planners.

Mat stressed the importance of knowing your remit and how you fit alongside the work that external agencies do. He also stressed the value of understanding the motivations of key stakeholders – some might want to great creative work, while, for others, the most important outcome might be a reduced demand on their time, or increasing volumes of work. Understanding these and how to deliver on them can make the IHA become the agency of choice for those who are not necessarily looking for ‘big ideas’. “If you start pitching or competing [against external agencies], then that creates tension and ambiguity,” he said. Arabella agreed that “It’s better to be friends and allies and present work together, than it is to be pitched against each other.”

So IHAs and external agencies can exist happily together if the role of each is understood, valued and respected. One thing that can help an IHA gain respect and credibility is for it to be named and branded as an agency in its own right.

“How do you define the distinction between the in-house agency and the marketing team?” John asked. “How do you navigate that? I think that’s something that a lot of in-house agencies have to wrestle with and find different solutions to. It’s often dependent upon the remit and the nature of the relationship with the business. But it’s it’s certainly a question that needs to be addressed.”

Generation, Three’s IHA, has its own branding which appears on presentation decks and on its own page on the intranet, helping to reinforce its presence within the business. “Having the brand and our statement of intent – which is ‘creative for the connected age’ – was a real breakthrough. We were building upon what was originally an asset producing studio, so we had to put a kind of line in the sand.”

“I think we did it through behaviour, rather than name,” Arabella said of her time at Camelot Creative Hub. “We became the kids that people wanted to hang out with. We did the Camelot Creative Month where we’d do sessions for the rest of the business on things like how to film from a drone. It was a really good way of getting out into the business. We had a lot of people coming to us afterwards saying, ‘Oh, I’d love to find out more about the Creative Hub, could I come and do some work with your bit of the company?’”

For Natalie, things are different because Anita Roddick established the Greenhouse, an in-house studio for the Body Shop, back in the 90s. But she also picked up on the final point in our Manifesto, about having fun but also being fun to be with. “It’s that classic thing where all the other departments want to hang around the cool area, like moths to flames. People want to hang out where the fun is. It’s always fun and vibrant…..for us, I think it’s been really, really helpful.”

“I think calling it an agency giving it a name, are really, really important points, actually,” John concluded. “And that sense that the people that you’re working with should probably have the most fun they have in their job when they’re working with the agency. If you can get that and give people that sense, then they are going to want to work with you and you are going to become the agency of choice for them.”

View a recording of the full session here

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