Creative Content
August 18, 2020

In-house or External Agency - which to Choose?

What Spotify, Barclays and Airbnb have in common?

Aside from the fact that they all use tech, they have also realised the importance of building an in-house creative team. 

In this article I want to share with you some of the insights I learned around the importance of building an in-house creative team if you’re looking to grow your tech startup.

The balance of internal & external resources are integral to the growth of any company, especially a tech brand. I learned first-hand that when building an in-house creative team for one of our clients, kwiff. 

This is what the in-house & external agency landscape looked like in 2018, according to the Association of National Advertisers: [1]

  • 58% of all work is done in-house
  • 90% of in-house agencies work with external partners
“The ideal relationship between external and internal is an AND, rather than an OR.”[1]

The whole notion of in-house agencies really boomed around the 2008 - the year of the infamous economic crash. At that time, the main motivator for business to bring the creative work in-house was the reduction of cost [2].

Unfortunately, the early rise of in-house agencies created a connotation that the quality of work produced in-house is inferior to the quality of an external agency. One of the main reasons for that presumption was the “b category” talent that was hired into the businesses.

However, this could not be further from the truth in the 2020s. As businesses become more and more digital by default, the number of marketing channels grows and with that grows the volume of work a brand needs to do to stay on top. Especially when marketing directly to consumer.

Building an in-house agency is an excellent move. It yields lots of benefits, especially long-term. However, it comes with a lot of challenges too.

In my opinion, we’re very much in a “new agency era” where the in-house creative teams and external agencies coexist, not compete. They are both absolutely crucial for business growth. 

The shift in the market towards more in-house agencies has, and has to have, an effect on how the collaboration between internal & external teams unfolds. The external agencies have to offer a product and service offering that supports the internal teams.

The benefits of building an In-House Creative Agency in a tech startup 

Let’s look at some of the benefits of having an efficient in-house creative agency:

In-house agencies are fantastic at understanding the business and understanding the brand. [3]
  1. First and foremost, a massive strength of an in-house agency is being close to the brand and  the business. It’s great to have a team of dedicated creatives who are in the same (or next) building as your product or finance team.
  2. Secondly, you’re gaining speed and agility in the delivery of creative projects. The in-house teams have instant access to the decision makers and can get stuff done very fast.
  3. Access to legal counsel. This is especially useful for any social media activity. If your social managers or content creators have quick access to the legal help they can sign off any social post very quickly. That naturally leads to being very reactive on social media, which is what is required if you want to thrive in that space.
  4. Owning the data. Data - I think it is one of the most popular 4 letter words in the advertising industry right now. In-house agencies have constant access to the data and can leverage that in a customer-centric approach across the business.
  5. Knowing the customer - most successful B2C brands have been built on leveraging the insights into their user base into product development and marketing campaigns

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Why it’s always a good idea to find the right external partners  

1. Perspective.

One of the biggest strengths of an external partner is the perspective. The teams external to the brand can help with seeing the bigger picture at times, especially with the high concept or the strategic work. External teams work across multiple brands and categories. Their detached objectivity and consumer-centric focus is a nice ying to the yang of the in-house creative team.[4]

2. Specialism.

This is really important. In the digital marketing space there are very specific specialisms that take years to build and require a hands on approach and dedication to master and excel at, like programmatic or paid social.

3.Industry Insight, Process & Innovation

External agencies constantly improve their service delivery pipelines and processes and have to stay on top of new technologies. Sharing the processes and technology insights is very useful to learn for the in-house teams.  They also can bring secret industry insight, for example through a Facebook partnership, if we’re looking at a social media agency.

8 things to consider when building an In-house Creative Agency 

“It starts with making sure that the talent on your (internal) team knows the business and the brand and combining that with the equal knowledge of advertising and marketing. You need to know what levers to pull and how to pull them across (..) media, including measuring the results in the market (..) and use that insight to drive the next generation strategies.”[5]

If you’re considering building an in-house creative team that’s great news. 

Here are my tips on setting the creative team for success:

1. Evaluate the needs of the business. From there determine what you can deliver in an excellent way. As a direct to consumer brand, you probably will be looking into social media marketing and advertising, so maybe one of the core competencies will be around organic creative or branded content creation.

2.  Make sure you have alignment and support for the top, every step of the way. In-house agency needs to be a corporate strategy and backed by key stakeholders to reach full potential.

3. Define what the in-house agency is, who it is, what does it do and what does it not do. What is your Inhouse capability, operation practices, or rules of engagement - don't let those things be defined by those sitting outside of your organization.

4. Formulate a model, team and operation practices that enable consistency of the delivery and move everything else out of the way. Focus on what’s important.

6. Hire the right talent and manage it well. Invest in the best mind and muscle you can. Hire people who know the industry of marketing and advertising. Spoiler alert, not all creatives have been exposed to that, so be careful who you take on board.

It really depends who you hire and also, how you manage them. You can hire the most brilliant minds in the industry but if you’ll keep them on a short leash or will be feeding them bottom line jobs then their creativity will certainly wane. Creativity is like a muscle -  you have to exercise it to keep it active.  

6. The knowledge of the business of marketing and advertising because that's the business you’re in. The team you hire needs to know what levers to pull and how to pull them across a variety of media including measuring the results in the market. They also need to know how to use those insights to drive next generation strategies and campaigns.

7. Beware of fear. Fear is one of the things that stops creative in-house.

8. Find the right partners that support the in-house team and contribute to the growth of the company. If you choose the right external partner, they will not only help you grow your business but will also significantly contribute to the improvement of internal processes of your in-house agency.

In order to produce competitive and compelling campaigns the best results are achieved by coordinating the resources both inside and outside of the company. Both in-house and external agencies have a shared interest - growing your company.

Hope this sheds some light on paid social & creative content.

We’re sharing content regularly for those who want to grow their business using the digital space, with a focus on digital marketing.

If you have any suggestions, questions or just want to geek out over some creative topics, let’s connect on Twitter or Linkedin

Thanks for reading! 

Stay safe,


Article links:


[2] Marta Stiglin

[3] Emily Foster,

[4]  Jay Pattisall

[5] Marta Stiglin

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