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Moving Creative In-House? Intel Reconsidered, Maybe You Should

Girl dancer hanging on fabric illustrating hung up content strategyShould We or Shouldn’t We?

Thinking about making part of your content strategy creating an internal agency and moving all creative and production in-house? That move seems to be getting a lot of buzz these days. Indeed, as I read the quickie bios on one of those “Here’s a List of CMO’s Who Are Killing It” articles, more than a few made mention of leading a shift away from agencies to standing up an internal shop to replace them.


So why did Intel just shutter theirs, cleverly called “Agency Inside,” and lay off 30-50 creative and production staffers? Is it a good idea or not?


The arguments in favor of in-house creative shops appear sound enough on the surface. Staff will have internalized knowledge of the brand’s voice, goals, value propositions, etc. It will create efficiencies and maybe save some money. There’ll be speed and agility as staff measures, adjusts and executes content on site. There’ll be easy access to company thought leaders. And the very best creatives will love being there M-F, 9-5 because you provide Pop-Tarts and wacky nooks to sit in!


Hm…I Thought This Was Going to Be Easy and Fun

But a funny thing happened on the way to building internal agencies. Companies started learning that running an agency isn’t the cakewalk it often looks like from the outside. Maybe they’re learning it’s a big Thor-like hammer to attack a nail that might not be that big. Or that it’s an additional bureaucracy that complicates things worse without affecting business goals as hoped.


In other words, you know all those things creative agencies are struggling with now (and they are)? You’ll be acquiring those same struggles as you go 100% in house.

  • It requires a large organization with its own communication problems

  • It’s expensive to do it right and keep everyone busy

  • It’s hard to keep up with and quickly integrate new tech and trends

  • It’s hard to convince clients (it’ll be internal stakeholders in your case) what’s best

  • Finding & getting the best creative talent is a real art – and that’s IF you know what to look for


Am I saying you shouldn’t build an in-house agency? Nope. If it’s right for you and you have the resources and manpower and strategy to run it effectively, rock on. Especially if you at least have a consultancy to help you build out this internal creative capability – your content operating system. But if it’s going to be an experimental half-effort with “sorta” executive buy-in, you might be on the verge of going down a rabbit hole and needing your headache medicine in bulk from Costco.


You Wouldn’t Be the First Victim of Sameness

Hey, even the very best minds in entertainment gave the “all in-house” concept a shot. There was a time when ABC Television decided to stop taking pitches from 3rd party show runners. All shows were envisioned, created, and produced by ABC’s own people. They changed their mind. Shows took on a highly unintriguing staleness and sameness that reflected the policy ABC deliberately put into place…have all shows come from one small talent pool and creative point of view. The public said, “Meh.”


Intel’s VP and Global Creative Director Theresa Herd said, “Agency Inside was founded to tell the brand’s untold stories to consumers and bring brand awareness on a global scale.” Now they’re shifting to ecosystem marketing and specific audiences. Smarter, more targeted, more strategic, and not requiring the heavy lift and perpetual maintenance of an in-house agency.


No, it’s not the stated reason Intel is making this adjustment, but there’s a great deal to be gained from not building walls around your brand’s creative output such that every artist inside winds up assimilated into producing only the safest, driest, most in-the-box, most corporate content available.


Keeping All the “Crazy” Ideas Out

Like ABC, 100% internal creative invites tunnel vision, an echo chamber, and the lameness of sameness. No one will be passionately fighting for the audience. No one will dare challenge the brand. No one will pitch brilliantly original concepts that might actually get noticed in our noisy content world. Brands must keep exposing themselves to outside, untethered creative thinking.


Which isn’t to say there’s no place for a content capability inside of organizations that’s uniquely versed in and adept at finding, working with, coordinating and getting the most out of contracted dreamers and creatives. Much of the procedural and technology work (a different kind of creative) can thrive as an in-house part of a content operating system.


But when it comes to owning and insulating your creatives, you might just find that a) it generates internal frustration, b) it doesn’t deliver the results you hoped for, and c) competitors are coming at you with entertaining and effective content that leaves you asking “Where in the world did they come up with that?”

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