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  • Writer's pictureDan Larden

We Need To Update The Way We Think About In-Housing

Originally posted on AdExchanger -

Last month, at an event in London where global brands came together to talk about ad tech, a presenter asked everyone in the room about in-housing. A big brand put their hand up to signal that they hadn’t in-housed – an agency still fully handled their paid digital campaigns.

When questioned, it turned out they had direct contracts with multiple technology vendors and had also hired internal digital experts.

Five years ago, that would have been considered an advanced in-house programmatic strategy. But today, there are so many flavors of in-housing. The term itself has become a bit like “programmatic,” where the meaning across organizations varies so greatly that there’s little point in using it on its own.

What matters now isn’t how brands define “in-house” or if in fact they “in-house” at all – it’s whether they approach their digital advertising strategically and thoughtfully.

The gray areas of in-housing

Some people argue that in-housing was a term coined and hyped up in the advertising press by those that benefited from it. In-housing was seen as a barometer for digital advertising maturity.

Larger consultancies seemed to be the main winners here, rolling out high-level sophistication indexes and audits under the guise of expensive digital transformation programs.

Now, it’s just as (refreshingly) common to hear a brand talk about the slow and steady steps it’s taking to increase their digital ad expertise as it is to hear about a brand running fully fledged internal ad agencies.

For example, Coca-Cola’s Global Marketing and Media Services division manages the brand’s relationships with central ad tech and digital media partners, focusing on building standardization and digital best practices. This requires a slow and steady approach. Meanwhile, HP, with its 120-person strong digital media team, has much wider hands-on-keys remits across paid digital.

Both strategies reflect their organizations and represent different flavors of in-housing. So what exactly do we mean when we talk about in-housing today?

It comes down to how you, as a brand, stay one step ahead of the ever-changing digital ecosystem. In other words, creating a model and pace that suits your internal organization.

For a lot of large global brands, this process feels quite daunting. This is especially true for those that have historically relied on brand building through traditional channels such as TV, merchandising and sponsorships. But it doesn’t need to be scary at all.

Maintenance, not upheaval

Starting with a loud, top-down digital transformation approach isn’t the only way to move forward. Most brands just need to start with a simple education in digital advertising.

Identifying the low-hanging fruit opportunities for simple changes or standardizations (such as digital marketing KPIs across products and geographies) often becomes a natural next step. From there, increased media performance and a higher percentage of digital as a proportion of the marketing budget occurs over time.

This approach is less of a drive to take everything inside the walls of your own building. It’s more akin to the maintenance of a garden as it changes throughout the seasons, and ensuring it has the structure to withstand an occasional unexpected storm.

Don’t think of it as in-housing. Think of it as continual landscaping.

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