Bridging the Client-Agency Gap


According to an Association of National Advertisers study released in October 2018, advertisers are using in-house agencies more, with 78% of ANA members reporting having some form of in-house agency in 2018, compared to 58% in 2013 and 42% in 2008. Still, many advertisers understand the various benefits of engaging an agency to help with their marketing efforts and pursue a relationship that fits the bill.

In a past life, I was the front woman for an in-house creative agency of sorts. And when the team was notified that they were going to collaborate with an outside agency to develop a campaign, the response was lackluster. Once I was out of earshot, I’m pretty sure they said things like,

“The agency won’t listen to us anyway.”

“Why are they paying for an agency when we could deliver just as well?”

“Nobody around here respects us.”

“We know ourselves better than the agency.”

Conversely, I’m sure the creative team at the outside agency was equally reluctant. They probably said things like,

“They’re too close to things to push new ideas.”

“They’ll water down our ideas.”

“They don’t think strategically enough.”


But, guess what. If you find the right outside agency and take some smart steps, a partnership can result in some great results. Here are five tips to bridge agency and internal creative teams for a successful project or a longer term relationship.

  1. Hold a joint kickoff.

    Get everyone together from inside and outside for a project kickoff. Have a clear leader for the meeting. Summarize afterward with clear next steps, due dates and persons responsible – and don’t move on to the next thing until these items are settled. It may feel a bit formal, but trust me – it prevents negative competition and turf wars.

  2. You do you.

    You know which person on your internal team is hands-down kickass at a specific aspect of a project. Is someone a whiz at social media engagement? Is that part of the strategy? Great. Internal communications? S/he can lead the internal rollout before a campaign hits the streets. Does someone have the respect of the leader of the business unit, serve as a subject-matter expert and know whom to ask about business goals? Do you have a CRM queen? Awesome! Let her develop the CRM strategy to support the effort. Somebody an SEM genius? These aspects of a marketing strategy are wildly important. Figure this out before the kickoff and introduce these team members as the experts in these areas right off the bat – a good agency partner will support their leadership.

  3. Get everyone to sign off on the brief.

    Whether it’s the media buyer, webmaster, service-line leader or designer, the brief is king. Buy-in at the outset – everyone’s buy-in – will keep all eyes on the prize. Refer to it often.

  4. Don’t pit teams against each other.

    It may seem as though a “friendly competition” of in-house against agency will yield the best ideas. My experience, however, has resulted in resentment at best, and a forced mishmash of ideas to avoid hurt feelings and watered-down, ineffective concepts at worst.

  5. Celebrate together.

    Even under the best of circumstances, this type of collaboration will likely be challenging at points. Once it’s up and running, it’s important to celebrate everyone’s contributions. And once it’s successful, even more so!

Hear from our client Certified Angus Beef® brand on what really makes the difference when it comes to the right agency partner for your team.


Looking for an agency that can work with an in-house team? Contact Hart to discuss how our collaborative process can positively impact your marketing results.

John Logue
Director, Business Development