Society, individuals and businesses have either risen to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic or they haven’t. There are stories of successful innovative approaches that companies, governments and other institutions have engaged in or dismal failures that have cost people their livelihoods and even their lives. Cella wanted to find out how in-house agencies (IHAs) have fared and recently published a COVID-19 Impact Report based on a survey of nearly 250 creative, marketing and digital in-house agency leaders, that captures our findings.

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In-House Agencies on the Rise
An exciting bright spot has been the ability of in-house agencies to not only remain relevant to their companies, but to proactively take the lead in forging ahead with new ways of working as well as providing new services and value to their companies. The pandemic has brought into sharp relief the inherent value proposition that comes with being embedded and fully integrated within host companies. Institutional knowledge, an intimate understanding of the brand, strong client relationships and an understanding of industry legal and regulatory guidelines are the primary drivers of the IHA’s current successes. A recent ANA survey underscores this trend with a majority of respondents calling out their in-house agencies as the most important producers of creative assets during the pandemic. Cella has dug a bit deeper into how IHAs have responded to the current crisis and has come up with some interesting insights.

Remote Work Success
Probably the biggest shift companies have needed to make is towards remote working arrangements. While many other corporate departments have struggled to make this transition, a majority of in-house agencies not only have seamlessly pivoted to work from home but had already proactively planned for this possibility. They fared better than they thought they would, with 71% responding that in retrospect they were well prepared. As a result, productivity for the vast majority of IHAs has remained as good as or even improved in their teams and for those where it decreased, the causes were Covid-related such as distractions at home (e.g. children) and increased emotional stress. Along with productivity, quality is another area where over 90% of teams have either maintained or improved upon in their deliverables and services. This all points to a potential post-Covid shift in how IHAs will operate with fully 61% saying they will actually increase work from home in the future.

New Work and New Ways of Working
Many IHAs have experienced a shift in the amount and type of work they’re engaging in in response to the pandemic. This is occurring because of evolving marketing initiatives that are addressing Covid-specific messaging and communications as well as branding realignment. A little over half of the teams surveyed reported an increase in work being driven by new marketing plans and to a lesser degree, a greater emphasis on digital platforms for corporate outreach. 31% of in-house creative teams have been negatively impacted, though, with the primary reasons being a reset of marketing strategies and Covid-related corporate-wide cost cutting.

The IHA Evolution
Adaptability is another key contributor to the rise of the IHA during COVID-19. IHAs are pivoting to take on social media projects, crisis communications, online events and digital advertising. There is an increased emphasis on SEO and content marketing affording IHAs the opportunity to get involved in marketing efforts farther upstream. This rapid evolution to new technologies, platforms and messaging has caused companies to redirect dollars from external agencies to in-house teams with over a third of companies reducing their spend with outside vendors and shifting work to their in-house teams.

There are a number of operational and organizational shifts that are also occurring in IHAs which will be covered in a subsequent post. For now, though, in-house creative teams are rising to the occasion and bringing great value to their companies.