Who owns creativity: In-house or agency teams?

Over the past 10 years there has been continuous investment the growth of in-house creative teams which has resulted in a changing relationship between companies and their agencies. In this episode, we will look at the pro’s and con’s of in-house and agency creative teams, the different ways they work and where we all need to go from here.

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Show Notes:

A little over a month ago I was on a panel for NY Festivals advertising competition called ‘who owns creativity?’. The panel had me and two senior agency executives discussing this topic which isn’t as simple as many people think. It isn’t  just in-house vs. agency teams.


Over the past 10 years there has been a shift where in-house creative teams continue to grow and as a result the dynamic between companies and agencies is changing. Lets start by exploring the basics of each side of this conversation.

AGENCY: Creative is the heart of the house
IN-HOUSE: Team is important but not the main product of the company

AGENCY: Focus on ideation
IN-HOUSE: Focus on ideation through launch

AGENCY: Variety
IN-HOUSE: Brand and product ownership


Lets expand on those basics a bit more because there are pro’s and con’s to both side with 5 pro’s and con’s of each type of team.


1 – Cultural connection
Pro: You are a part of the company
Con: You have to work to stay fresh

2 – Depth of understanding
Pro: You live the companies problems
Con: You can become use to the excuses for why things cant be done

3 – Dedicated team
Pro: Dedicated to the problem
Con: Can become complacent

4 – Cost (sometimes)
Pro: Cheaper than an agency
Con: Are a full-time expense

5 – Speed (sometimes)
Pro: Dedicated resources can start right at a moments notice
Con: Hard to flex capacity


1 – Fresh perspective and inspiration
Pro: Always looking for new ideas and perspectives
Con: Little ownership past ideation or over time

2 – Depth of experience
Pro: Working across a lot of industries and mediums
Con: Broad but not deep experience

3 – Broader skillset
Pro: Ability to more easily work on emerging technology
Con: Often need to get paid to learn new things

4 – Budget flexibility
Pro: A deeper bench that allows for big or small teams
Con: Base rate is still higher than in house heads

5 – Speed (sometimes)
Pro: Used to working fast, all night, etc. to get the job done
Con: Tend to have higher turnover rate an in-house teams


– Beneath these basic differences is also a split perspective in how creative teams should work with their clients.
– Its about wether you bring your clients in to your process or wether you keep them at arms length
– Because generally in-house teams are inclusive with their clients. They have to be if they want to be successful.
– And generally agency teams are more arms length or exclusionary because they are external to the company.


– The simple answer is both side still own but both sides need to evolve because they are both at fault
– Companies want more inclusive models for how they get ideas. They want people who can teach them how to be creative and have the confidence to get ideas out the door.
– Agencies need to return to genuinely valuing relationships. I would say they have declined because of the rise of the mega holding corps. They buy up these small to mid sized agencies, put pressure on billings, and the quality of work falls.
– BUT companies have a lot of work to do too. They need to set agencies up for success, let them do their work and stop holding them back, and work as partners not as just vendors.
– And thats the real lesson here I think because both sides need each other.
– Agencies don’t understand how companies are changing and how they need to work to change with them. They need better models for working with in-house teams not competing against them. Because thats what I see too often – both sides competing and everyone is losing. Commercial creativity is about partnership and both sides needing each other.

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