Wayne Blodwell: Common mistakes advertisers make on their in-housing journey

Wayne Blodwell, Founder and CEO, The Programmatic Advisory, is one the most knowledgeable and influential figures in the programmatic industry and is NDA’s latest regular columnist.

I know, I know, another article about in-housing programmatic, but before you close the article, I think it’s worth stating that I don’t think in-housing is right for many brands and I don’t even work for an agency…. so stay with me.

There has been a flood of studies this year which have suggested that more brands are in-housing than not. I won’t discredit those studies but I believe they massively skew towards DTC brands (and not your typical agency advertiser). We have also seen a bunch of agencies/consultancies created which are specialising in helping brands to in-house, particularly in programmatic.

As such, advertisers are looking at in-housing as a way to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ because of this hype and are making some clear and obvious mistakes. Whilst in-housing is absolutely right for some brands, it really isn’t for most. Here I look at a few of the most common mistakes those embarking on an in-house journey are making.

Upfront due diligence

Back in May 2017 I wrote a whitepaper on in-housing and it essentially gave brands four things to think about before even considering in-housing (commercial feasibility, data access, talent and measurement). Today, these four areas are still being ignored, particularly commercial feasibility. How can you embark on something as transformative as in-housing without working out your new cost base, no matter the strategic importance?

I find the triggers for in-housing to be far removed from the practicalities of what’s possible with the right agency partners. Typically, you hear marketers say that three desires that led to the in-housing decision; commercial transparency, data ownership and being more strategic. All three of these can be enabled with the right agency partnership (well in theory, agencies can be difficult when revenue streams are challenged let’s be honest!).

A plan & stakeholder buy in

It’s baffling to me how few brands develop an itemized plan to in-housing. ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’, my scout leader used to tell me. Those delivering in-housing within a brand need to have good and realistic timelines in place as without these the process kind of floats along and can start to irritate senior stakeholders.

Speaking of which, someone somewhere in the bean counting office has their eyes on an in-house project and is likely wondering why it’s not going to plan or is taking so long. It’s REALLY important to get stakeholder buy in, whether that’s with the powers that be that are funding it, or the local marketers who are buying into an operating model that the central marketing team have decided upon. Build relationships, keep these stakeholders up to date and most importantly make sure they are part of the process.

KPIs

Next after stakeholder buy in is to make sure there are clear campaign and internal KPIs. In-housing is transformative but when a year down the line you are scrabbling for KPIs to validate the success, you’ll really wish you had put some in place before you started.

As a starter for ten; operational agility (quantifiable in hours), campaign KPIs, team satisfaction/happiness (quantifiable through surveys) and cost savings from a range of linked items.

Talent

Finally, and this is the most obvious mistake, be realistic about the ability to hire, but not just to hire, also to retain. I don’t buy in to the mantra of some providers that ‘our staff like to work on multiple clients, not just one’, as with the right client who does the right things their account can tick all the boxes.

However, be aware of the culture the people you are hiring are used to. It’ll likely need to be replicated – surround them with like-minded individuals and shield them from internal politics – they’ll really feel a lot of pressure if the in-housing initiative is grand.

There are probably more mistakes and I’m sure many still think in-housing is the only answer (or there’s a ‘spectrum’ to it), but hopefully my first column for New Digital Age has provided the non-populist opinion.

Oh, and I should have noted at the start, The Programmatic Advisory does not work with agencies, we consult for brands. Perhaps we should start peddling the in-housing narrative and trading off the hyperbole in-market, but hopefully my column shows that this simply isn’t the right approach and being a consultant is always about doing the right thing for your client.

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