I never thought it would come to this

Commuting from Gloucestershire to Paddington in a mask, having parked in an empty station car park…

… and that’s the only travelling I do nowadays, with no real meetings, no flights from Heathrow, and no holidays.

Facing another month (at least) of no visits to family and friends – or vice versa…
… and with no restaurants, no pubs, and no golf…

Nightly worst case scenarios and death numbers from the Brothers Grimm…
… while Boris celebrates Brexit by stripping away all our freedoms.

And Sir Martin Sorrell says, “If you are having to manage things 24/7, it’s better it's in-house”…

And he went on to say: “Compared to if you have to go brief the agency, the agency comes back in a few days’ time and says, ‘you know the brief's not right and we have to redo it.’ Or comes back and says, ‘you know the creative director’s mother or father is ill.’ That doesn't work anymore. You have to have it in real time. So, control of some of these functions becomes more and more important”.

I spent 20 years in ad agencies, and loved it. I was lucky enough to start at Pritchard Wood & Partners in the glory days. Mr Pollitt had just invented planning, so we understood the consumer as well as creativity. I took over Mr Lowe’s accounts when he left for SH Benson en route to a stellar career. We worked on the Smash Martians and the launch of Range Rover. It was the Swinging Sixties, and we had a great time. I worked in seven agencies and managed four of them, including my own. I lived in Madrid, Lisbon and Kuala Lumpur, and travelled all over.

Then I spent 30 years building Agency Assessments International into a serious client-side consulting firm. We ran hundreds of pitches, helped manage global relationships, and worked in more than 30 countries.

For all that time I believed that the world was about clients managing their business and brands, and briefing a stable of externally owned and managed agencies to develop customer communications and manage channels. And with agencies working across a roster of clients.

That’s obviously still happening, but what a massive new factor the in-house agency (IHA) has turned out to be.

It’s a perfect storm for agencies. And like most strong trends, there are two major factors at work. It’s been push/pull. As IHAs have grown (nearly 80% of advertisers in the US and Europe already have one), so conventional agencies have come under tremendous pressure. They are still retained by big clients, but with reduced revenue as they have to share their clients with... their clients!

If I were to start Agency Assessments all over again, the question wouldn’t be McCann or BBH. It would be, ‘should you stay with an external agency, or bring the business in-house?

Sorrell has a point. If you can save a lot of money, get the work quicker, and regain control of all your marketing functions, go for it. Set up your own IHA. There’s nothing to stop you hanging on to one or more traditional agencies for strategy and cutting-edge creative. And benefiting from their experience across clients, sectors and markets.

Post-Covid, money will be even more important. There’ll be an even greater premium on speed and fast turnaround. And with the ExOs and FAANGs calling all the shots, the best way to compete is to copy them, control your customer journey, control your E-commerce, and control the way your first party data is used.

Disintermediation is an ugly word. But so is failure.

With the pandemic causing chaos, and crisis closing in, it makes sense to reduce our dependence on outsiders. The in-house agency started its life as a pragmatic solution. It’s now looking as if it could be a strategic master stroke for many organisations.