This article was originally published on Business Insider on Nov. 18 2020
A number of brands have been bringing more of their ad-buying and creative production capabilities in-house over the past few years — a trend that's sped up amid the pandemic.
Fully 55% of 196 respondents surveyed by the According to an Association of National Advertisers (ANA) said they relied on their in-house agencies to adjust their campaigns since the pandemic hit in March.
Meeting that demand is a new crop of consultancies and firms that are helping brands do work such as hiring, creating content, media buying, and measurement. While the trend may threaten traditional ad agencies and holding companies, some like Dentsu and WPP are establishing in-housing consulting practices in agencies of their own.
While this list is not all-inclusive, Business Insider identified 20 companies that are helping brands with this work, based on recommendations from industry analysts, trade organizations, and clients.
Here are the companies, listed in alphabetical order.
Accelerate by Isobar
Ad holding company Dentsu-owned digital agency network Isobar launched Accelerate a year ago after seeing more CMOs request in-housing help.
Isobar global chief client officer Sue McCusker said that Accelerate is not a product that Isobar sells, but a service it offers clients such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Danish energy company OK.
For OK, it automated its marketing and helped it with personalized communications across its web, email, direct mail, app messaging and points-of-sale at gas stations.
Isobar said it doesn't break down Accelerate's revenue but said that specific areas of growth this year have included clients tapping its consulting practice and adopting some of its IP and media analytics tools for their in-house agencies.
It's also recently expanded into production with a platform called Content Symphony that gives clients access to its network of 24 studios globally.
Aquent Studios was spun off from creative staffing firm Aquent in 1997, and draws from a talent database of nearly 2 million design, content, and experience professionals to develop in-housing solutions for clients, billing them for project-based work and managed services.
The independent consultancy has 700 employees who work with more than 30 brands including Microsoft, Starbucks, Snap, Liberty Mutual, Uber and Sephora. For Uber, it recently created a production studio for UberEats that went from creating content for 200 cities from 15 in less than 12 months.
It also has a project management software called RoboHead that it licenses to clients.
The firm claims more than $100 million in revenue per year and says that growth slowed down in 2020 to single-digits after four years of double-digit growth.
Blum Consulting Partners
Blum Consulting Partners is a 4-year-old boutique firm led by Alex Blum and Andrea Ruskin, who come from the creative production side of advertising.
While that makes creative execution, production, and archiving of creative assets its strengths, it says it can help clients with everything from strategy and messaging to technology issues and process challenges.
Blum wouldn't name clients, but said that it's working with a $93 billion global technology company and a fast-food chain in the US, and has seen a 50% net growth since its inception.
Some recent projects include helping a 150-person internal agency reorganize to handle an influx of new work and helping another client build a new agency.
The Pittsburgh-based indie agency has been around for decades, but began helping its clients take media and production in-house in 2016, president Scott Morgan said.
Since then, it's helped clients in the financial services, healthcare and retail industries like Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and Home Depot set up digital media and search marketing and production functions, embedding its employees as interim CMOs in some cases, Morgan said.
Brunner claims that its in-housing practice has grown by threefold over the past two years.
Established in 1985, Cella is a consultancy that has been helping clients with staffing, consulting, and managing creative and digital in-house agencies since 2009 under EVP of consulting and managed services Jackie Shaffer.
It established its first managed in-house agency in 2012 and serves companies like Merck, Walmart, Comcast, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Twitter with work like account and campaign management, analytics, creative and marketing technology.
The firm recently started offering embedded teams that fill in the gap between its staffing and managed services.
Essence, part of WPP's media-buying arm GroupM, began consulting with clients on how to set up their own media operations in 2019 under Oscar Garza, who previously helped brands like EA build their agencies.
Essence helps familiarize companies with self-service media platforms and put the right talent, technology, and processes in place, Garza said.
After helping clients like NBCUniversal, GroupM is building a new division at the network level to help advertisers bring more media planning and buying work in-house.
While creative production company Freedman has been involved in the production side of advertising since 1990, it recently started to help clients with creative and strategy services.
The firm says it can help brands like Fitbit produce content for variety of channels fast, solving the challenges that come with expanding to local markets around the world.
The independent firm claims it can help clients achieve up to 35% savings on global campaign costs.
Established in 2009, Bain & Company owned-FRWD is led by John Grudnowski and helps clients with marketing duties like data activation, marketing technology, analytics and insight, and advertising optimization.
FRWD claims to have worked with more than 50 major brands in 2020, largely in consumer products, retail and financial services, with its client base more than doubling year-over-year in the fourth quarter.
French conglomerate Fimalac-owned Jellyfish is known as a digital agency, but in-housing has become up to 10% of its revenue in the past few years as it's has helped 35 brands like Lowes, Crate & Barrel, Disney+, and News Corp. take charge of their digital advertising, according to the company.
When Dick's Sporting Goods wanted to bring its programmatic media buying in-house, for example, it helped it create a strategy and train staff over a period of six months.
Founded by Tom Triscari in 2015, the New York-based consultancy has economists, technologists, and management consultants focused on in-housing programmatic media buying operations.
Led by CEO Matt Nally, LabMatik serves clients like Nestle, Disney, SAP, Constellation Brands, and Berkshire Hathaway, particularly as they prepare for Google's plans to phase out third-party cookies.
It claims to bring in $4 million in revenue annually and help clients cut costs anywhere from 20% to 60%.
MightyHive, part of former WPP founder Sir Martin Sorrell's ad conglomerate S4 Capital, has helped marketers including Bayer, Electrolux, Sprint, and Sony Pictures Entertainment set up online ad-buying operations.
The firm says it's expanded to help clients with data and creative services as cookie-based advertising is phased out and works with sister agency MediaMonks to help clients stand up their own content studios.
In-housing engagements form a significant portion of the firm's revenue, and it says it's closed several new engagements this year.
One case study published by the Harvard Business Review said it helped save Sprint $6 million in agency costs annually, which it diverted to drive online sales.
"It was no secret that the agency holding company model had its challenges, and the pandemic has certainly exacerbated those challenges," MightyHive's CEO Pete Kim told Business Insider earlier.
Marketing vet Simon Martin set up Oliver in 2004, promising it could make brands more efficient by taking their advertising in-house. Today, the You and Mr. Jones-majority-owned firm has more than 3,000 employees in 46 countries and clients including Unilever, Adidas, Microsoft, 3M, WestJet and Bayer.
Oliver embeds team members with clients, auditing their processes, helping them create content and measure it. It helped Unilever set up U-Studios, its internal content arm, which helped bring down its costs by 30% in 2017.
With a 2020 revenue of $250 million, OLIVER claims to have grown 35% globally this year and its North American business 380% in the past three years. Most recently, it expanded to France under ex-Google strategic partnerships director Jean Neltner.
The 8-year-old shop led by CEO Norman Brauns offers clients performance and brand marketing expertise including content, search-engine optimization, pay-per-click strategy and analytics.
It also has a keyword generator that automates SEO marketing and natural language generators and embeds SEO managers and supervisors with brands.
Its clients include Expedia, Square and more recently, Realtor.com, and Columbia University.
Playbook was spun off in 2019 from Forward — the in-house digital marketing agency at travel company lastminute.com.
The UK-based consultancy has more than 20 clients including Enel, Danone, and Rough Guides, helping them with product, marketing and branding strategy, and media planning and buying. For Cedat85, a speech-to-text technology company, it helped launch Cabolo, a new recording and transcription service.
Playbook says its annual gross revenue grew 40% in four years.
Serpico by Croud
Digital marketing agency Croud chief executive Luke Smith and chief strategy officer Ben Knight created Serpico as a standalone in-housing division in 2019.
The idea is that clients can plug into the agency's technology and global network of 2,400 on-demand digital experts to handle their digital media themselves.
Croud works with 90 clients including IWG, Vans, AXA IM, The North Face, AMC Networks, and Eventbrite. Serpico helped UK horse racing pool betting operator The Tote build a new marketing tech stack after being acquired.
It reported global revenues of £20m ($26.4m) in the last financial year, and said that Serpico's revenues have grown by 313% year- over-year in the 2020 financial year.
Marta Stiglin launched Stiglin Consulting in 2005 after an agency and brand career that included doing marketing communications for Bose's consumer products.
Stiglin helps in-house agencies at clients including Deloitte to McDonald's with things like workflow audits, resource redesigns, management coaching, and-onsite training.
For McDonald's internal shop Agency 123, Stiglin helped it save as much as $6 million in production fees, said Joe Youssef, its senior director.
Demand for companies seeking help with in-housing has shot up by as much as 20% during the pandemic, said Stiglin, also a founding member and a board member of the trade association In-House Agency Forum.
"Anytime there's any disruption to the economy, people figure out how to do more with less, and this time there's a real call for bringing digital competencies in-house," she said. "In-house agencies are now being called to put a CTO hat on."
The&Partnership, an independent agency network which has WPP as a minority shareholder, has been helping clients with in-housing since 2008 by embedding creative, media and account management teams next to their internal marketing teams.
Off late, it's letting clients access its talent regardless of geography in the pandemic's work-from-home environment, so someone in South America can help clients in North America, for example.
It's worked with The Wall Street Journal, Toyota, and The Royal Bank of Scotland. For the Journal, it embedded staffers with the publisher's marketers to help with strategic, creative, digital, design, event, and production needs.
The network says it has grown over the past four years in a challenging ad landscape due to its in-housing work, which has grown 18% to 20% year-over-year over the past two years.
Three-year-old creative and production firm Tilt specializes helping brands' in-house agencies and internal marketing departments with visual content.
Since it started by working with Walmart, it has grown into a 40-person company with clients such as Audi, Google, and HP under IPG and The Martin Agency vet Ron Carey.
Last year, it worked with Audi's in-house creative agency KreativWerk to produce a teaser campaign for the Audi RS 6 Avant; and recently helped Walmart produce over 250 product images for its website in three months during the lockdown.
The firm claims it saw top-line growth of 70% between 2018 and 2019, and projects revenue between $10 million to $15 million in 2020.
Ad holding company WPP's digital agency, Wunderman (now WundermanThompson), launched Wunderman Inside in 2018 to help companies set up social media, CRM and e-commerce teams and the like, and it represents a growing part of WundermanThompson's business, said Melissa Dorko, Wunderman Thompson North America's chief growth officer.
Wunderman Inside places people from WundermanThompson inside clients' offices on a long-term basis. In the past, it's helped Best Buy build a division that now employs more than 100 people.
It's now working on projects for over 15 companies across North America, including Dell.
WBC In-House Advisors
WBC is a year-old consultancy that embeds its leadership within brands on a contractual basis, helping them revamp their content studios, organizational structures, strategy, and tools.
Founder Wayne Barringer founded the firm after helping Boeing with its in-house content studio over the years, including when the company faced its 737 Max crisis in 2019.
It has worked with clients ranging from multinational brands to non-profits including SAP, MGM Resorts, Abbott Nutrition, and organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters among others, Barringer said.