New forms of hybrid client-agency relationships are booming in digital media, with brands balancing data security and the trend for in-housing against the need for outside expertise.

Though the in-housing momentum shows no sign of slackening off, many marketers are favouring a mixed approach, keeping data and select media activities close to home while deploying third-party agencies for strategy, digital innovation and ad-tech consultancy.

We discussed this at length during an in-housing seminar we hosted a couple of weeks ago, with Ollie O’Neill, digital marketing manager at The Times and Will Spring, EMEA sales director at ad platform Beeswax. 
The Times Newspapers’ hybrid approach keeps its data warehouse and social media-buying in-house to safeguard customer information and maintain editorial secrecy while using an agency for planning and buying of display and PPC.

O’Neill suggested that, in a time of increasingly complex media strategies, brands need to know when to call on outside help with digital media technology, even when constructing in-housing projects. “You need to step back and say, ‘you guys are the consultants, you guys are the experts, you crack on,’” he said.

Trust and transparency issues, downward cost pressures and the weakening of brand/agency relationships have led to a growing number of advertisers to bring that advertising under their own roof.

Marketers including Unilever, P&G, Vodafone and T-Mobile have all moved varying proportions of their digital media in-house in recent years – though Vodafone has since slowed down its transition – and has launched in its own media outfit, Forward.

The seminar heard how brands are beginning to recognise the huge challenges associated with taking advertising in-house. It also homed in on the pros and cons of in-housing, with GDPR challenges, cost efficiencies and transparency in the former column and, in the latter, talent creation and retention challenges, the need for a broader media perspective and the complexities of ad tech.

Brands that succeed in the transition to an in-house or hybrid media model are likely to be those that retain specialist advice, it was agreed. After all, agencies aren’t just about buying media. They can work as consultancies, helping brands find, recruit and retain talent and build the technology they need. And, perhaps most importantly, they allow brands to see a broader spectrum of what is going on in the marketplace.