Opinion: Why are brands taking their creative teams in-house

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Kartik Johari

Kartik Johari of Nobel Hygiene mulls over the multiple reasons why having an in-house creative team can be beneficial for brands, especially in the age of AI.

The world moves fast. We live now amid a maturing digital landscape, generative AI and free-lancer libraries. If you’re thinking of taking your creative team in-house, there is no time like now. 

Let’s dive in:

Speed, speed, speed

All marketing managers have burned their hands, their souls, and whatnot for quicker TATs. Internal teams give you the flexibility to rapidly iterate and close out work, with minimal changes. Lower-order requirements (think topical-day greetings, new-joinee mailers, or 3D render changes) do not need constant back & forth between multiple parties and can be finished quickly, releasing bandwidth for higher-level requirements. 

Eg: All my teams (agency in the past, in-house in the present) have “Egg Tasks” which are supposed to be done quickly, in the first attempt, w/o any “overthinking”. Timelines for such tasks have come down to 45 mins, from 4 hours with agencies.

Deeper Immersion

In-house teams live and breathe the brand on a daily basis. Their efforts are grounded in the realities of production, cost, annual budgets and category/brand movements. To give this download to an agency is a task unto itself; and they still remain at a distance, if not completely disconnected, from the requirements of the business. 

Eg: Our latest launch of Friends UltraThinz (apart from being an innovation in the category) was closed completely in-house, with over 14 rounds of iterative feedback in four weeks. The output from my most trusted agency didn’t come close to the requirement that we had, despite two different attempts across 21 days.

No “Time - Splitting”

No matter how committed or honest an agency is, the entire business model is built around exploiting human capital for maximum output. Consequently, the people on your brand are going to be juggling multiple brand briefs in a day, leading to delays, requests for “brainstorming time” and insistences that “creativity can’t be pushed” (said with a dead-serious face, as their designers face constant burn-out). The resources dedicated 100% to your brand are usually the ones at the bottom of the stack, where experience/exposure is low, and attrition is high.

Meanwhile, your in-house teams are forever laser-focused on your brands. Multiple different ideas and innovations are being constantly adapted for your brand’s benefit, and the time taken will always be less due to the singular focus of your team.

Generative AI + Tech

“Aye, ChatGPT se poocha kya?”. With the advent of generative AI, the ability to rapidly brainstorm and prototype concepts is at an all-time high. Most agencies we spoke with had their guards up regarding most of these tools. Understandably so, as their core competency is being questioned globally. But barely any of them are using these tools, even to augment their own work internally.

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Now, with the right guardrails internally, dozens of pieces of content can be made, sharpened and pushed into production daily. Most marketers know that TV ads, DVCs or new campaigns come around once every two years. Most of the content work, forming the bread and butter of daily tasks, has a wide spectrum, everything from internal sales leaderboards, and trade-scheme comms to lucky-draw designs + certificates. Most of this work can be rapidly closed internally now.

Eg: My team regularly uses tech tools to work smarter. We have created processes around ChatGPT, we track projects on Google Sheets + Notion, use MidJourney and DALL.E for visuals + referencing, Canva for most deck and collateral creation, and have just started on Loom to accentuate internal feedback. This is still the baseline. We haven’t even gotten started on using AI for transcribing meetings, improving spoken comms, auto-creating animated videos, etc.

People (not personas :D)

Even in the age of Generative AI, all businesses are people businesses. There are brilliant people behind the best AI/ML models, people sharpening their prompts on ChatGPT, and a bevvy of jobs are nowhere close to being eradicated, whether an accountant or a humble chaiwala. With agencies, you will have a limited scope of whom to work with. And all work, despite the best of intentions, is only as good as your SPoC communicates internally. 

For internal teams, you will have the responsibility and the privilege to work with people who YOU pick. Your team is beholden to you and the work you do for your brands. Plus, internal talent knows that they could be replaced, not simply moved onto another brand. Additionally, you are free to work with the best functional experts across the industry; and not be restricted to the roster that your agency likes.

Also, it’s Cost-Effective

If you have sharp control and a top-level, motivated team, it will still cost less than hiring an agency on retainer.

My internal team members are now the custodians of my brand. As a collective, their work sometimes astounds me and they have a deep grasp on the requirements of the brand and the requirements of the teams, from Sales, Production to HR. When was the last time that an agency blew your mind away, with a cost-effective, on-brand idea that requires minimum guidance and involvement from you personally? For me, that’s now a weekly phenomenon!

Eg: My internal team consists of a content head, two copywriting juniors, four graphic designers and one animator. They are excellent, passionate and intelligent people and I cherish working with all of them. My entire team costs me less than 5L a month, and I’m churning out 125+ pieces of finished content. Most top-agencies retainers may begin at this level, where you will get a minimal allocation and no special treatment. Not to mention, ALL ideas are subject to their rate card, adaptation costs and internal buffers.

I hope I’ve made a succinct and direct enough case for us to start building creative teams within organisations. A leaner, more agile and tech-enabled way of working is going to be the norm in the future of marketing. There remain some functions that cannot be taken in-house at once (like primary research or media buying), but there is still tremendous scope for us to do good work within companies.

A warning before I end, though. This is NOT easy. There are inherent challenges in the framework; there is no one to blame for deadline misses, as you remain responsible for picking, training, managing and motivating your team. Yet, having said that, the rewards at the end of the journey are intense and deeply rewarding.

Make a start with an experimental budget. The speed of work alone should convince you.

This article is penned by Kartik Johari, VP – Marketing & Commerce, Nobel Hygiene.

Disclaimer: The article features the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the stance of the publication.

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