Agency or in-house for design resource. What’s right for a post COVID world?

How businesses can have their cake and eat it!
The debate of whether to employ in-house resource or depend on agency support has been raging long before COVID. That being said, it would be hard not to talk about the elephant in the room. There’s been a huge shift towards businesses employing in-house resource over the past five years for various reasons: the increase digital need, GDPR making it difficult to share data with agencies, to name a few. But of course, some businesses have been reminded of the responsibility and commitment that also comes with employing in-house versus relying on external agencies. Most notably the ability to switch things off or dial down quickly when the business needs change. 


So, how do businesses find the right balance between in-house brand knowledge, economy and speed of turnaround versus the agility, expertise and external perspectives that come with external agencies? We believe businesses can and should have their cake and eat it because quite frankly, we’ve never seen the point of cake if you can’t eat it!


Have your cake and eat it - Agency vs In-house


It may sound strange coming from an agency, but we’re huge fans of businesses having an in-house resource. There are lots of reasons in-house makes sense: not just economically but for speed and agility as well (read more about the pros and cons).Although, in-house isn’t the answer to everything, here are our tips for how you could approach a post-COVID review of your resourcing:


#1 Do a resource ‘v’ requirement review 
This might sound obvious but it’s harder than it sounds, it’s the main thing that trips’ businesses up. It’s not a case of saying, ‘we have regular requirements for Adhoc design, so we need a designer’. This generally doesn’t work because designers come with different skills and strengths; UX designers, digital designers, conceptual designers, finished artwork and layout designers. From working in the design world, we know that even generalist designers still have styles, strengths and weaknesses. Our advice is to go beyond the ‘we need design’ and consider what kind of requirements you have: is it mainly digital; setting up brochures, updating packaging, layout and artwork or is it conceptual. Alternatively, do you need someone who often improves and edits the content thinking things through to optimise the way they work, or do you need someone who is happy to follow precise briefs to create hundreds of consistent assets? What software will your designer spend most of their time working in? If your requirements are mainly helping the sales force with presentations in PowerPoint, producing sales collateral or brochure layout, then employing a designer whose favourite software is illustrator or photoshop may lead to frustration. Once you have really reviewed your requirements, reflect on the resource you have or think you need, get more detailed about: favourite work, strengths, most confident software packages etc. Be honest about the volume of work you have; you might feel frustration when you have a quick turnaround design job requirement but be clear on how often this happens. 


Tip: Often we see a blend of in-house resource for regular needs and agency support for specialist skills and less frequent requirements is the best solution. 


#2 Structuring for success 
Once you’re comfortable that you have the optimal levels of skills and capacity in-house to support the business needs, make sure you structure your in-house team for success. This is the second area we see businesses get stuck! Here are some key checkpoints that need to be decided on to avoid frustration: agreed reporting lines, briefing, the proofing & approval processes, how work will be prioritised and scheduled, who will be responsible for accessing external support when needed, who steps in if creative differences arise and even a robust internal complaints procedure. Often businesses have adequate skills and capacity, but both the designers / in-house agency and the business stakeholders are frustrated by missed deadlines, poor attention to detail, vague briefs and a perceived lack of creativity. Whilst everyone gets frustrated and blame gets tossed about, it’s difficult for anyone to independently solve the issues because the root cause is bigger than any individual, it’s the structure. 


Tip: We have years of experience in developing appropriate structures and processes for all these areas, talk to us about how we can help you set yourselves up for success. 

#3 Choosing when to bring in agency support 
Even when everything is working tickety-boo, there are times when you’ll need to think about bringing in an external agency. It is important to choose one that not only has the right skills and experience but also can fit in culturally and work seamlessly with your existing in-house team. Talk to the agency about the skills and characters you have in-house and don’t miss the opportunity to get agencies and in-house collaboratively working together. This is great for the development of your in-house team, whilst also helping give the external agency the vital brand knowledge they need to do a great job for you. 


Tip: We are often brought in to support businesses with sensitive internal comms, confidential product launches, re-branding projects or seasonally when workloads are high or resource levels are low (covering holidays). 


Getting your resourcing levels right is a great way to optimise your marketing budgets if they’ve fallen foul of cuts during COVID. Talk to us about how our Blended teams approach could help you have your cake and eat it.