Getting agencies and internal creative teams to work together

March 8, 2018

You’ve launched your new brand, orders are flying in, and life is good. Is it worth investing in an agency when you could build your own internal team? It’s a question a lot of growing e-commerce brands ask.

We get it. Why invest all of those funds in an agency when you could use those resources to build your own team? 

The Problem with Agency Only

If you’ve seen the TV series Mad-Men, you know what an "Agency of Record" is. A business pays a monthly fee to a single agency in order for ongoing access to the full suite of their creative services.

This old relationship model is a bad one. Someone is usually unhappy. Either the client feels like they aren't fully utilizing the retainer, or the agency gets overworked, producing sub-par work as a result.

Agencies can be notoriously vague about what they’re going to deliver and how they’re to go about doing it. Pricing these relationships can also be a challenge. What if the client wants a TV ad one month, and a business card the next? How do you end up pricing those things accurately when you are committed to "X thousand dollars" a month? Either the agency has to take a loss some months, or they cause the client to feel nickel and dimed by always asking for more money. It's a lose-lose.

This model can also disincentivize agencies from producing innovative work. They end up playing it safe so that the client stays happy.

Agencies somehow managed these relationships for the better part of 10 years. But that’s changing. Businesses are wanting more transparent partners that actually understand their goals and can leverage their expertise and creativity to solve real-world business problems. 

The Problem with Internal Only

You may be tempted to think you should just do it yourself. Hire a designer, a developer, a strategy specialist, a copywriter, a videographer, a photographer, a project manager. But do you really want to have that kind of overhead on your books? Assuming you value hiring quality people, this can get very expensive. 

What about the internal processes and systems that are required for your new team to effectively work together? Do you have a process for revisions and collaboration that won’t burn out your team of creatives over time? 

Speaking of burnout, how will you go about replacing the top-talent developer you hired when she inevitably moves to San Francisco for more money? You already know how expensive and time-consuming hiring can be. Don’t forget equipment. Lots of Macbooks, not to mention payroll taxes, healthcare, benefits, etc.

Beyond the economic challenges of an internal creative team, who is going to lead them? Is that leader specialized in managing creatives? (And you know those creatives can be a touchy bunch.) How are you going to make sure they all have the same standards of excellence? 

Do they know how to design and create for a specific user instead of pushing their personal aesthetic or communication preferences? Will their individual work be uniform enough to create a consistent brand voice? How will the videographer’s epic movie style work with the sarcastic and witty tone of your copywriter? What about that photographer who insists on styling everything in beige?

Assuming your team gets that far and can align their work into a singular position — is that the brand position your target customer actually resonates with? 

It’s very likely you will spend at least half a million dollars a year on a creative team that does sub-par work that isn’t moving your brand in a unified direction. 

So what are you supposed to do? 

The Blended Approach in 3 Steps

We suggest a blended approach. We think there is a way to get the best from both an external agency and an internal team. If done right, this three-step relationship works beautifully.

1. Define a Strategy (External Agency): 

When you hire a consultant or agency, you’re really hiring their expertise. Let them do what they’re good at. These are a group of creative specialists. They think outside the box, they create new solutions to help you stand out, and they can create experiences tailor-made for your customer. 

2. Build the Tools (External Agency): 

It’s incredibly important to have the right tools. Let your agency do research, craft your messaging, design your website experience, create your visual identity system, devise an execution plan, and usage guidelines. 

3. Use the Tools (Internal Team):

Let an internal team build momentum off the expertise of your agency. Internal teams can be great for jobs that require regular input and quick iteration. Blogs, PPC campaigns, landing pages, social content — all of those things can be created and implemented by your internal team without the expense and time that an agency would require. Just make sure you follow the brand strategy and usage guidelines.

Finally, you will want to have occasional checkups. Your agency can help train your team on how to appropriately use the brand's tools, and occasionally audit the health of your brand. If you need to inquire about a solution for a new challenge, you can repeat the process.

This three-step process is designed to make the relationship between your team and your agency healthy, productive, and effective.

2023 - Zach Janicello

2023 - Zach Janicello