By Todd Bolin  /  Chief Executive Officer

I used to worry more about in-house agencies as competitors. However over the years, we’ve learned, it has actually given us the opportunity to embrace the partnership, and has allowed us to get better at what we do.

A recent Gartner survey found that 34% of U.S. brands currently operate an in-house agency/department and that 32% of all marketing work has shifted to in-house resources. The reasons, clients say, typically surround cost, control, and brand knowledge. That same study however, also found that overall marketing spend with external agencies has remained remarkably constant as the role of marketing within clients has expanded and become more integral to organizational success. This has led to expanded budgets, responsibilities, and pressures on CMOs as a result. It’s interesting to note that the ANA reports that 90% of brands with in-house resources still use external agencies.

These days, it’s rare when we don’t work with a client’s in-house agency resource which can vary from a graphic designer or two to a fully staffed agency structure with writers, photographers and project managers. What we may give up in areas covered internally, we can make up in focus and expertise. Frankly, it’s allowed us to do more of what we’re really good at. At Bolin, we concentrate on:

1. Evolving brands.

Markets shift, consumers age, competitors adjust. Brands that sit still risk losing relevance. In-house resources, often tasked with the steady stream of “always on” content, must largely work within brand voice and message guidelines. Refreshing and evolving brands requires a different skillset, with the freedom and permission to challenge convention. An example of this was after years of acquisitions muddying their brand portfolio, the 3D printing market leader engaged us to develop a new brand identity to reflect and inspire its global leadership position. We developed a branding framework along with messaging that aligned with both product and market priorities. We then developed a new global identity that remains today as one of the most identifiable icons within the industry. Their in-house group now has a playbook for implementing and informing assimilations of future acquisitions.

2. Solving client problems.

Don’t get me wrong, we love producing beautiful work and for clients, and when we have the opportunity to follow projects all the way through final execution; there’s an accountability and quality they value. What we’re ‘absolutely best at’ however, is solving problems creatively. We work with a well-known adhesives brand in the building products space where their in-house team is actually much larger than we are. And yet, this client taps us regularly for new product introductions, product naming and positioning projects when they need really smart work and great creative concepts that their internal group can then execute on.

3. Pushing boundaries (and sometimes comfort zones).

Clients often come to us when they’re “stuck.” What’s worked in the past is now for some reason, less effective. Perhaps a new competitor or market factor threatens to change the status quo. An outside perspective can help to see the proverbial forest for the trees. What’s worked in other product categories or industries? Is the voice of the customer clear and represented? For the most part, in-house agencies will struggle with breaking rules and pushing boundaries. Not because they can’t, but because they operate within a system designed to protect those boundaries. A cellulose insulation brand came to us positioned around performance characteristics of energy efficiency, fire retardancy, and sound dampening. We took a step back, re-framed the product positioning (from a consumer perspective) and developed an entire campaign and messaging matrix around ‘home as sanctuary,’ the emotional consumer benefit supported by the product’s many features.


The good news for marketers is that external agencies and their ‘in house’ counterparts both can have important roles in successful marketing of a brand. Those distinctions are less about skillset and more about core purpose and what each is absolutely best at. We became a better agency once that lightbulb went on, much better positioned to collaborate rather than compete with a brand’s internal agency resources.