According to Oliver South Africa, on-site agencies save considerable time for clients around briefing, raising POs and other project demands. There are also the cost and time efficiencies gleaned from a single in-house agency, as opposed to managing multiple smaller content or digital agencies.

In-house agencies are returning to the inner shrines of companies. Several major corporate brands have brought content and marketing agency capabilities back into their folds in recent years – including the BBC, Atos, Google, Adidas, Honda and Deloitte.

One of the most celebrated is Lego, which developed an in-house agency as part of improving the delivery and speed of Lego’s marketing efforts. Julia Goldin, Lego’s Global CMO said, ‘The in-house team provides two things, one is complete integration – same goals, same agenda, the ability to solve problems very quickly and much greater learning across the organisation. Secondly, which is most important, this leads to being more agile and responsive to the marketplace.’

These agencies operate as their external namesakes would – they have their own structures, autonomies and reporting lines thus engaging with the parent company as an external agency would. As Goldin’s comment reveals, there are major integrational benefits when doing so internally.

However, internal agencies that are managed by the client themselves also have drawbacks, such as material overheads or managing staff, explained Gabrielle Gray, Executive Creative Director of Oliver South Africa, an agency centred around the on-site model.

‘There are obstacles to this approach to the model. It can be difficult to attract the right creative talent who will only want to work on ‘one brand’. Secondly, it is difficult to manage that talent because creatives defend their ideas when facing opposition. If one is employed full time, they may tend to agree with the person who is paying their salary, which is a threat to objectivity and thus better creative work.’

Gabrielle Gray, Executive Creative Director at Oliver South Africa.

Managing the vagaries of creative staff is often at odds with other business cultures. External agencies offer this as their differentiator – they can ensure harmony. But there is a demand for high volumes of dynamic content, which is seen as the way to further personalise customer engagements, hence the need for integration and a seat at the table. The ability to have a quick conversation at the watercooler is very useful, something only agencies located at the customer business can provide.

Fixing internal drawbacks

Today’s office bubbles with new technologies and workflows. Quick face-to-face chats and other frequent engagements grease the wheels. This is a creative catalyst for content and marketing agencies, where projects benefit immensely if their receiving parties are continually engaged without being inconvenienced.

Although making a switch back to internal agencies doesn’t automatically remove the challenges resolved by external providers, this has prompted a third approach: the on-site agency.

‘With the on-site agency working at the client’s premises and forming an integral part of the marketing team, the members of the onsite agency are always present and available,’ said Paul van den Berg, Oliver South Africa’s Chief Executive. ‘You can’t hide behind an email. The agency team is in the client’s workspace, ensuring they are accessible at all times. Moreover, the quality produced by the agency has to be of the highest calibre, with people on both sides caring about the brand, resulting in the co-creative space becoming more productive.’

Paul van den Berg, Chief Executive Director at Oliver South Africa.

This is a view that clients have raised as well. Some benefits cited include early-morning interactions with agency staff, including them in workshops during the day, and realistically expecting turnarounds on ideas within a day. Additionally, an on-site agency can manage the operations and staff requirements, placing people and teams as and where they are needed.

As with many of the more modern business models emerging in the 21st century, on-site agencies offer positive cost implications too. They manage staff overheads and ensure teams are lean and within scope, whilst still answering the client needs. They also provide better access to specialists without the traditional expenses of doing so, as they are able to rely on their ‘hub’ offices nearby, where specialist talent sits and can be used when needed.

Efficiency, agility, proximity and operational savings – the value propositions of on-site agencies allow for strong relationships to develop. Van den Berg noted, ‘The working relationship evolves from agency and client to one of business partners. The agency is also welcomed as part of the working family and becomes a complementary skill set of the client. It is more efficient to strategically work together.’

On-site agencies offer a revolutionary approach to creating dynamic, continual brand value and engagement. But being so new, there is not a formula for success. Nonhlanhla Koza, Business Partner for Oliver South Africa, cautioned that such a venture depends on everyone buying into the idea, the mode of communication and the client’s vision.

Nonhlanhla Koza, Business Partner at Oliver South Africa.

‘It is important to set up the model correctly so that all parties are in agreement and it is a continual learning process. Yet, when businesses come around to this new way of working, the benefits are realised quickly, and the experience sets a new standard in agency engagement.’