May 01, 2023
Agencies add valuable perspective as in-house brand studios grow
By Sabrina Sanchez
For the last decade or more, brands like Nike, Red Bull and Netflix have found success by integrating themselves with culture beyond traditional ad formats, from experiential campaigns to original documentaries.
To do so, many have invested in developing in-house content studios to execute on bigger ideas faster and with less red tape. As a result, dynamics between agency-client relationships have changed, with brands taking greater creative responsibility while bringing on agencies to support specialized projects and operations.
WeTransfer, for instance, has had an in-house studio for a decade, but it still collaborates with agencies on most client work. Its most recent campaign, however, featuring musical artist group Jungle, is the first that has ever been led entirely by its in-house team, chief marketing officer Angelique Temple told Campaign US.
That’s because with direct insight into what its 80 million monthly global users “most respond to,” the brand’s content studio was best positioned to create a campaign true to the brand, she explained. Plus, it wanted to own the full creative strategy and execution.
Brand studios offer strategic control
Brands often develop in-house creative studios to gain more ownership of their creative and brand strategy. One of the major benefits they see is the ability to work with creative teams that fully understand the product.
The model has had particular success at publishers and networks, which can use in-house studios to develop relevant brand work for themselves, as well as for clients looking to place media on their properties.
For instance, TelevisaUnivision’s content studio, Asi Studios, doesn’t just help the brand produce relevant work for clients, but enables its own clients to create work that resonates with its audiences, said Fernando Romero, TelevisaUnivison’s SVP of U.S. digital advertising.
Due to its insight into Hispanic audiences, the network can help brands create accurate and representative work they will value. Asi Studio has worked with brands including Toyota, Chevrolet and JC Penney to build Hispanic-oriented campaigns that tap Hispanic creators, directors and talent.
That same knowledge of its audience is what also makes Asi Studios the best fit to develop the network’s own brand campaigns, Romero said, adding that no one who understands TelevisaUnivision better than its people.
“U.S. Hispanic consumers don’t really see themselves represented out there in messaging, so we help clients achieve the goal of true authentic representation,” he said. “[On the other hand], if Hispanics do see themselves represented, 60% of the folks that we have surveyed said sometimes the messaging is actually inaccurate. [We] understand those nuances.”
Vox Creative, the content studio and agency within Vox Media, has a similar business set-up, where brands come to the studio to develop content that works well for specific audiences, from women consuming content on The Cut to millennials reading news publication Vox.
Agencies fill in the gaps
As brands look for more ownership and control over their work, agencies still have an important part to play – both in filling in operational gaps and in bringing in an outside perspective.
Brands with in-house studios that work with Atlanta-based, independent creative agency Chemistry typically bring the agency on to handle operational tasks, such as shooting creative concepts and executing the strategy presented by the brand, according to president Tim Smith. This can look like anything from using a brand’s set to shoot a production or applying data and analytics to measure performance.
Often agencies are helpful when brands are juggling multiple campaigns in-house, as they add “more hands and more brains” to the process, Smith said.
But not all brands with in-house studios just want executional support. Netflix, for instance, which is well-known for its in-house marketing team, will tap Chemistry to lead on larger, “banger ideas” that break the mold of typical campaigns, such as experiential events, Smith said.
Brands also value the outside perspective agencies can bring to a project.
“[At an in-house company] it’s impossible not to get into the trap of [doing things a certain way] because that’s the way [they’ve always] done it or because the board will never approve [something different],” he said. “Agencies burst that bubble. That’s the value.”
Fueling the shift to project work
As brands begin to exercise more control over their creative work, the financial relationship with their creative agencies is changing. As creative AOR contracts become less common, agencies that work alongside brand studios are adapting how they scope and price projects.
Chemistry, for instance, charges a set price for fast-turnaround projects versus charging by headcount. As ideas arise, an internal group coined the “Bomb Squad” pauses work on other projects to meet tight deadlines, Smith explained.
In addition to long-term partnerships, Vox Creative also said the company is also scoping more on a project-basis for everything from production, to media distribution to audience targeting on its properties.
As project work increases, balancing a heavier workload and tighter deadlines can be challenging. But proving they can create successful work for a brand often leads to repeat clients, Chemistry’s Smith said.
“There’s ownership on their side, which always helps,” he said.
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