How If developed an in-house agency to ensure success
Today there are many different in-house marketing models. The most complicated and rewarding structure being that of the in-house agency. Yet, according to Bannerflow’s State of in-housing Report 2021, only 36 percent of brands have developed a separate in-house agency.
One such brand is If, one of the largest insurance companies in Northern Europe, with regional offices across all the Nordic and Baltic states. For If the development of its own in-house agency If Creative Agency (IFCA) was essential in gaining control over data and improving accountability.
In this article, we interview Migu Snäll, Art Director at If Creative Agency. In particular, we focus on the reasons for selecting an in-house agency model, plus the barriers and benefits of developing a fully functioning in-house agency.
Why did If decide to move to its marketing functions in-house?
Migu Snäll, Art Director, If Creative Agency: The main reason was to gain an in-depth view on the business and its marketing functions. The business of insuring requires in-depth understanding, especially with confidentiality being an important part of issuance. It is an advantage if you can have the broadest possible view of all your operations.
Furthermore, having control of our data was key, which is especially important when dealing with GDPR. Today, there are many things that cannot be communicated outside of the company to stay within the boundaries of the legislation.
It was felt [as a business] working as an in-house agency would allow us to use our data effectively. Plus, enable us to make the wisest decisions, and the best executions – while remaining in full control.
Why did If create an in-house agency?
Migu Snäll: If has a long history of in-housing marketing functions based on cost saving. At that time our in-housing focus was mainly production based. We would use external agencies for planning and design, and then we would then do the production in-house. But this strategy was rethought, and both me, and my role, represent our new way of thinking!
About two years back the business came to the conclusion that external agencies could not paint the whole picture regarding cost and performance. Added to that were increased confidentiality issues. A strategy that would bring planning and design functions in-house began. The end result was the creation of what we now call If Creative Agency.
If Creative Agency now has full responsibility for planning and designing. However, we still use a single advertising agency for the Nordics, which helps us with parts of our brand advertising. What’s groundbreaking about this relationship is that part of If Creative Agency works with them as a joint operation to develop and share future communication concepts.
How does If Creative Agency work across the Nordic markets?
Migu Snäll: We do not have a structualised, central team – for example, a single team based in Stockholm, Sweden. Instead we have departments in each country and key roles that are spread amongst the regions. For example, I myself sit in Helsinki but work in the central team.
Essentially, we have a central team, and key personnel, spread across the Nordics which communicates with the regional teams. Furthermore, within the whole of the agency we have four Art Directors and not a single Creative Director – there is, however, a Creative Manager that works as a team leader in each region.
Do you get a better return of investment (ROI) from working in-house?
Migu Snäll: Yes. We are certainly getting a lot more from an in-house agency set-up. Our previous model produced a lot of great campaigns but the campaigns were not necessarily consistent, nor were they Nordic focused at all. They were also created individually in each region, with a different external agency.
Today everything is connected and we are able to create a more unified brand experience. The result of this shift has been improving ROI.
Are you more creative working in-house?
Yes but that’s an interesting topic, as it has a lot to do with the way you perceive creativity. It’s not the traditional view of creativity like an advertising agency would perceive it, where “creativity” is based on individual campaign executions and TV campaigns, etc. The way we see creativity is much more conceptual and modern. In that sense I strongly believe we are much more creative!
Do you see a positive relationship between creativity and ROI?
Regarding ROI and in-housing, we need to know how the business develops through creative actions and executions – not just how a single campaign is performing. Behind everything we do today is a much bigger picture and I believe with the set-up we have you are able to finally sit in the middle of everything and have full control. With access to all of the data, you are capable of making more precise decisions.
The old way of thinking would be to pursue individual campaigns or WOW effects but I believe the real beef is to be found in driving the business KPIs and that for me personally is something that is really exciting.
Were there any unexpected barriers setting up an in-house agency?
Migu Snäll: If has a long history of in-housing. I have colleagues that have worked over 10 years in-house at If! But transitioning to in-house agency set-up has resulted in a great deal of change for them. It requires the adoption of a new mindset, with us taking on nearly all creative responsibilities.
Indeed, in If’s case I would say maybe the biggest barrier was the transition from a production focus to a creative focus. It requires a different way of thinking in terms of how you approach problems and look for solutions.
For example, creativity for us now is mapping out different solutions and then analysing them against each over – finding the one that benefits the brand the most. In fact, we are still learning to do this effectively. And for some of us it is an easier process, having come directly from advertising where you have experience working with various companies, and building different brands.
Mindset can be a barrier and it’s definitely a challenge. But it can be overcome if we educate ourselves in working towards the same objectives.
What have been some of the benefits to setting up an in-house agency?
Migu Snäll: I have a long history working in advertising and even at its best, the brief an agency receives only contains a tiny slice of company data. Suddenly seeing everything, with full transparency, access to everyone and everything – marketing, management, etc – it’s very enjoyable! Finally, you are able to utilise the agility that your work needs!
How has technology and the use of Bannerflow helped you to function better?
Migu Snäll: Technology has helped us immensely. Achieving the levels of productivity we need via the old way of working would be extremely expensive. Especially if buying it in from an external company.
I have a lot of hands-on knowledge of how things used to be – developing and producing vast amounts of display advertising manually. And how it takes a catastrophic number of man hours and personnel!
Having a platform, like Bannerflow, which makes display production dynamic and gives all our teams, both in-house agency and marketing teams, the same access and functionality is revolutionary. We couldn’t even think about working without it now – it’s a crucial part of how we work.
How do you see in-house marketing developing?
Migu Snäll: Developing a new way of thinking and taking more creative responsibility internally requires the right skills. And that of course requires both developing the right talent, or hiring the right talent, with the right experience. Previously, it was a challenge finding talent but in a very short time period, within the creativity community, in-house working has begun to generate a lot of interest. Brands need a certain way of thinking to see challenges and be creative.
I believe we have gone through a transitional phase too. One where advertising agencies were happy to lease personnel to work in-house – but now that is in the past. Brands need to be involved at the conceptional, KPI, and business development level, and the objectives that define them.
Third party earning logics based on how many hours an execution would make, or big WOW executions, only benefit an agencies cash flow (and brands in the short term). Building a brand and developing real success in the long term is what I believe in.
Want to know more about how Bannerflow can help your brand work in-house?
Learn how your in-house team can achieve the productivity required for dynamic in-house display advertising with a creative management platform (CMP). Simply, get in touch with Bannerflow, or request a demo now!
Finally, if you would like to know more about the state of in-house marketing in 2021, download our exclusive report.