The year was 2009 when  I took over a fledgling in-house agency. I recall being eager to turn my passion for social media into more effective social marketing. I envisioned, the in-house agency would meet a vital need for the enterprise. It would fill gaps in marketing strategy, execution and measurement.

In my mind, this small, but mighty team would steer CMOs toward integrated social marketing. We would plan, execute and measure campaigns that drove results. We’d share best practices with the marketing teams. Our team would find synergies. Together, we’d build a community and collaboration.

We accomplished about half of those lofty goals. This took more time, energy and budget than I could have imagined. And it rarely felt like we could do enough for our clients. If I could pen a letter to my younger self, I’d share three lessons about building and leading an in-house agency.

focus photo of brown pencil and Field Notes book white printer paper

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash
  1. You get what you pay for. 

    Our in-house agency operated as a non-profit. In fact, we operated in the red. The only cost we passed along was the licensing fee for social listening software. This is no way to run an agency, even an internal one.  CMO bristled when asked to chip in for the software license. This, in turn, made us reluctant to implement a fee structure for our services. But, in retrospect, that’s exactly what we should have done. Establish an service level agree. Set the costs for services or hourly rate. Use that revenue to deliver the quality of service clients deserve. This, plus high quality work, will breed respect your in-house agency and its work. 

  2. The client is always right. 

    An in-house agency has awareness of how the company works. But it also serves many masters in that company. When marketing goals are misaligned in or across teams, an in-house agency is challenged to reconcile competing priorities. For instance, the company should have been using shared resources for economies of scale. But each business unit CMO, armed with their own budget, wanted to optimize to their specific marketing needs. An in-house agency should help CMO set objectives that align to company goals. Be ready to identify and help resolve conflicting goals and objectives to avoid misdirection and waste.  

  3. Seek to understand, then be understood. 

    Our clients were as varied as the products they sold. Each had a unique understanding of and appreciation for social marketing. This impacted how they resourced, planned and prioritized social marketing. It affected how CMO and their teams worked with partners, including in-house and external agencies. Those who understood and valued social marketing tended to invest more. But they also knew the importance of integration. Take the time to understand the marketing leaders you serve. Learn their priorities. Use this info to find the best way to appeal to them and work together toward a common goal. 

As this week’s articles point out, there are good reasons to set up an in-house agency. There are times when shift marketing functions from external to internal agencies makes sense. But misconceptions about in-house agencies can undermine success. Use the articles to get a glimpse of the good, the bad and the ugly. Then, use Gartner research to learn how to choose the right model for your in-house agency. Find best practices to build and optimize an internal agency. Learn work effectively with your in-house agency to achieve the desired results.

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