Decoupling: The Upsizing of In-house Agencies

There has been a fair amount of discussion within the creative industry recently on the practice of decoupling and how it’s impacting the way advertising agencies are streamlining operations.

Under the decoupling model, many agencies are less interested in being full-service generalists and focusing more on what they believe to be their greatest strength: specializing in the generation of big, creative ideas. Transmedia storytelling firm, Amusement Park Entertainment, is a good example of the emergence of a new type of “anti-advertising” agency. Amusement Park Entertainment, a co-venture between celebrated creative Jimmy Smith and IPG, takes it a little further by owning (or at least co-owning) the big ideas their creatives generate as well as adopting a rule to never work with jerks.

You may be thinking, “Decoupling … outside agencies … really?” But before your eyes begin to roll, there’s a silver lining. The practice of decoupling can be a huge advantage for in-house agency leaders and the creative and strategic teams they manage. So, if decoupling is so advantageous for in-house teams, you may be wondering, “What’s the silver lining?”


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While many advertising agencies are looking for ways to maintain relevancy in the midst of their clients taking more control over the development of the brand messages being delivered to their stakeholders. Decoupling’s growth within the industry is two-pronged—the rightsizing of outside agencies and upsizing of in-house agencies in the deployment of big ideas. The silver lining is that in-house teams are being asked to generate both big, creative ideas as well as the underlying strategies supporting those concepts too.

In-house leaders will need to fiercely advocate for increasing their team’s professional development budgets to meet the demand of all the new and varied projects that will be requested as a result of decoupling.

Apple is a great, evolving case study on how a client is taking more control over the development and execution of its brand. They’re doing so by building a world-class in-house team—reported to be growing from 300 to 1,000 people strong. Apple is reaching far and wide to attract established in-house creatives like Arem Duplessis, former design director of The New York Times Magazine, as well as talent from outside agencies to join their in-house team.

Of course, Apple is sort of a utopic example, but it will be interesting to see how this global influencer will increase its internal creative workforce and brand as their agency partner TBWA holds it’s breath to see how all this will impact their business relationship as well as their creative ego.

But, like Apple, many smart organizations are increasing their marketing communication budgets, bringing more brand development operations in-house. They’re growing existing in-house teams by directly engaging more specialized freelancers and production houses employed by their outside agency partners. In-house team employers are also recruiting more strategic talent who can read the tea leaves of big data and determine if messages are penetrating successfully (or not) into the marketplace and into the minds of target audiences.

Photo from Shutterstock

Photo from Shutterstock

In fact, the topic of decoupling came up briefly during the Q&A segment of a webinar designed to launch the 2014 In-house Creative Services Industry Report, where it clearly stated that in-house teams are growing, not by the addition of full-time employees but in partnering with more contractors. Not to mention that nine out of 10 in-house managers polled reported they use contractors and 33% of all respondents plan to increase their freelance expenditures. Plus, 43% of all respondents said they believe there will be an increase in interactive and multimedia design projects requested from internal clients.

As decoupling takes hold of the advertising industry, the upsizing of the in-house agency will usher in a much brighter future for corporate creatives. If you’ve spent time dreaming of the day you’d finally be able to sink your creative chops into one of those hot assignments that typically went outside, well, your lucky day is coming sooner than you think.

If the professional development dollars aren’t looking so hot in-house, it’s probably time you took your professional development into your own hands. Make room in your personal finances to broaden your professional skills. As Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Are you prepared to succeed in the upsizing?



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