The internal-external agency partnership—finding synergy for success
In the high-tech industry and other fields, companies are increasingly building—and acquiring—internal agencies for content marketing, advertising, video production, and similar functions. Does this indicate the demise of the external agency as we know it?
As someone who works at one of those external agencies, I don’t think so. Instead, it’s a trend that must be understood by internal and external marketers alike. Most organizations need a mix of internal and external agencies to best serve both their long-term and short-term needs.
Inside the rise of the internal agency
What’s driving the rise of the internal agency? Strategic necessity.
Forward-thinking executive leaders realize that marketing effectiveness depends on sound content strategy and consistent high-quality execution over time. To that end, they are building teams of in-house experts to help address those needs. At the same time, executives are assembling internal agencies to better control program costs, increase control over the creative process, and improve messaging consistency. Moreover, they hope to enhance agility, reduce errors related to scoping and prioritizing projects, and streamline operations with external agencies.
All of these are good reasons to have internal agencies. And internal agencies can deliver some important benefits, including:
Brand consistency: An internal agency can act as the steward of the parent company’s brand, voice, messaging, and design rules. Many of them maintain and update guidelines that explain these rules to internal and external teams, and act as a resource when questions arise or revisions are necessary.
Streamlined process: An internal agency generally has unfettered access to all types of organizational resources. By having close contact with other individuals and teams, an internal agency can also facilitate consensus between stakeholders who don’t agree—a process that can be difficult to manage externally.
Agility: An internal agency can often provide immediate help on short notice. Without having to go through a budget process, getting a quote, establishing a statement of work, and so on, an internal agency can quickly reprioritize and start immediately on whatever is needed right away (such as an opportunistic but last-minute executive presentation).
The benefits of an internal-external partnership
While internal agencies can offer important benefits, they can also be challenged by their unique circumstances. Partnering with external agencies can often help internal groups overcome their challenges and optimize the return on overall marketing spend. In particular, external agencies can help with:
Perspective: The inside perspective is not always the best one. Members of an internal agency might struggle to offer unbiased or fresh views. In other cases, office politics might impede frank and honest opinions. External agencies provide an independent perspective that can help avoid producing marketing material that sounds like the “house organ.”
Content strategy: An external perspective offers a broader, more objective view of the market and can help circumvent—and sometimes resolve—organizational conflicts that can arise during content strategy development. A solid content strategy identifies and prioritizes audience segments that are key to achieving business goals. Often in technology-driven markets, the most crucial audiences you need to reach are quite different from the audiences essential to your current and past success. An external perspective can help the organization remain focused, prevent backsliding into old habits, and help facilitate rapid change.
Messaging: Working with an external agency to develop new messaging can introduce fresh ideas and language. And while internal-only messaging projects might tend to drag on, integrating an external agency into messaging projects can help focus the effort. An internal-external partnership can help shorten timelines, accelerate creation of well-aligned messaging documents, and orchestrate their outreach across the organization.
Content audits: What content is working, and what isn’t? What should be retired, and what should be revised? An external, impartial perspective can help organizations sort through and take advantage of existing content efficiently while avoiding biases and minimizing internal feuds.
Content streams, blogs, e-newsletters: Any type of program that has a structured timeline and a well-defined set of stakeholders can be outsourced easily. By letting an external agency handle projects with regular, recurring deadlines, the internal agency becomes available to tackle high-profile quick-turn projects.
Social media content support: Internal social media teams are tasked with delivering dependably great content that reflects their company’s unique expertise and viewpoint. But shifting priorities and rush projects can prevent internal teams from consistent execution. By outsourcing execution to an external agency partner, internal social media teams can get the reliably high-quality content they need to be effective.
Customer reference programs: Running a customer reference program can be very labor-intensive. Letting an external agency manage the tasks of reaching out to customers, scheduling interviews, routing reviews, and producing well-designed assets can maximize the value of internal resources.
The best approach to integrating resources
How do you optimize the integration between internal and external resources? The best approach involves establishing a program or a retainer. Setting up a program—such as managing a blog or producing customer references—enables the organization to maintain a regular cadence for new content while reducing the need to generate individual statements of work and purchase orders for each new asset. Engaging an external agency via retainer minimizes budget management issues and provides flexibility for the agency to quickly respond to client needs, allowing the external agency to act as an integral part of the internal team.
Successful companies use external agencies to complement and best leverage their own internal communications experts. They realize the benefits from strong internal agencies while gaining the advantages of an external perspective, plus a wealth of supplemental resources.
Want to discuss how TDA Group can work with your internal agency? Drop us a line.