Bob Gohn
By Bob Gohn on June 28, 2023

The creative dance: getting in-house & agency creative teams in lockstep

It’s easy to say that in-house creative teams know your brand best. After all, they set the brand's creative direction overall. However, an in-house-only approach is not necessarily faster, cheaper or more productive. This is where creative agencies step in. When these two teams are in lockstep, the chemistry can create beautiful work. But to combine in-house and agency resources to supercharge your brand you need the right relationships. 

While it’s tempting for brands to keep it all in-house, even the strongest in-house design teams often complement their work with the support of an agency. Creative agencies offer a wide range of skills, perspectives and the ability to adjust rapidly and cost-effectively to meet changing needs. You can lean on in-house, brand-specific expertise while benefiting from the extra capacity, niche design expertise and new techniques of an agency team.

Why the hesitation among in-house creative teams?

In-house creative teams can be reluctant to welcome the support of an agency. Giving large creative production projects to an outside partner can be daunting. Can an agency truly convey the brand in their creative? Can they provide a personalized approach that aligns to our vision? After all, the agency works with many brands. The reality is that this perceived weakness can actually be what catapults your brands creative due to the external influencer of an agency. 

One of the primary challenges companies face is the initial struggle of partnering with an external team and everything that comes with it. There will always be onboarding time for any partner in any line of business, but there are best practices to speed that process.

You may think an external team will never understand your brand as well as your in-house team does. That’ll be true if you don’t truly invite your agency partner in. It's all a matter of how you approach the partnership. The more you share, the better they understand your brand story, current goals and future direction. If anything, this "hurdle" can be viewed as a positive as an external team can view your brand through a different lens and offer other perspectives. The results can be game-changing.

It’s also important to consider that the hiring process for an in-house team can be costly and time consuming, without any guarantee those individuals won’t walk out the door tomorrow. Hiring is no guarantee of longevity or engagement with the work. On the other hand, you can easily scale work up or down with an external agency. 

Once you reach a level of stability, consider a blended approach. Build a robust in-house team, then start working with a creative agency team to fill in the gaps and provide outside perspective, support for big projects and more. 

Learn more about Highwire's

creative storytellers


Best practices: in-house + agency creative collaboration

For the in-house/agency partnership to work, the agency team needs to be treated like a true owner of your brand. But that doesn't mean an agency team should be fully integrated with the in-house team. Maintaining some separation allows for a collaboration where everyone brings something different to the table.

Consider the following:

  • A creative agency can and should build trust by maintaining consistent communication. This ensures you know where the agency stands based on their current work, as they let you in on the creative process. Agency creative teams shouldn't take a brief and disappear. Instead, they should interrogate it, asking questions to clarify and pinpoint what's missing. 
  • As you build trust and an agency gets to do more, this relationship will free up your in-house team to tackle other creative work they may not have had time to explore. Plus, creative agency teams will bring in external thoughts, offering suggestions on how your brand can come to life in a new way. This is another reason why constant communication is key. This allows them to find spots within your brand where your internal team may be experimenting and be open to some new, creative approaches.

  • Monthly creative critiques are invaluable to ensure everyone is on the same page. You and the agency you're working with should hold design critiques each month reviewing assets from the month before to see what is working and what is no longer necessary. For example, do different trends apply to this month's work? What is working for other clients or brands that can work for you? Exposure to different creative techniques, based on what agency creative teams are exposed to, can help you elevate your creative workstreams.


Case study - the potential impact of agency creative teams

Recently, Highwire worked with a financial services company to create an employee culture video. The company had never created a video like this before and wanted to attract a Gen Z audience. To attract this new audience, the company wanted to create a different “vibe” or style for the campaign that would resonate better with Gen Z. Since Highwire had already developed a strong working relationship and trust with the client on prior creative work, they felt comfortable handing over the reins and encouraged Highwire to push boundaries. 

Together, we worked together to make decisions on how animations and transitions would come to life while implementing a more direct and playful tone. It was a truly collaborative process between the agency and in-house teams and resulted in a strong video that aligned to the current brand while introducing new elements that could be applied in other areas, too.

Bottom line: Strategically pivoting away from the brand's traditional tone allowed the in-house team to take a new and exciting direction. 

Build trust to get the right balance

The in-house and agency creative team's relationship can be tricky to master. When it comes down to it, it comes down to trust.. Once trust is there, a partnership can develop and flourish. Each team will push the other to get the best outcome. 

Ready to rethink your in-house team's relationship with an agency? Get in touch with us today!

Published by Bob Gohn June 28, 2023
Bob Gohn