What's Happening to Agency Models? | OLIVER In-House Agencies

OLIVER recently collaborated with ISBA and Future Thinking on Rise of the In-House Agency, the first ever quantitative study into the use of different agency models by UK brands.

We took a look back over the results and discussed the top takeaways, biggest surprises and most interesting emerging trends.

In-house agencies took a beating in May when PepsiCo was forced to pull its Kendall Jenner ad.

Was the agency model really the culprit?

Debbie: “Let’s get real here: this could have happened with any agency, external, in-house or on-site.  To blame the agency model is naïve in the extreme and implies that only external agencies are connected to the real world and popular culture. This was purely and simply a judgement miscall.”

Adele: “This sort of thing usually happens because a brand misunderstands its audience. Whatever your model, if your agency doesn’t have the right insights or you’re not feeding those insights into your marketing strategy, you will end up in situations like this.

The problem was amplified in Pepsi’s case because it tried to tap into the zeitgeist, but failed to recognise its place within it.”

Sharon: “It’s also important to remember that every iteration of each agency model – in-house, on-site and external – takes a slightly different form.

It’s possible PepsiCo’s own specific setup did allow a mistake to slip through, but eight brands in our survey are creating their own TV advertising in-house; four completely off their own bat.

tv stat in text

There’s no reason an in-house agency can’t be creatively and strategically excellent, with the right level of rigour and push-back if properly built.”

What was the biggest surprise in the survey results, or what did you find most interesting?

Sharon: “We were pleasantly surprised that over a third of brands have an “on-site” agency.

We knew the model was increasingly in demand; but when you consider that our clients weren’t targeted for the survey, this research shows that on-site is bigger than OLIVER, and may be reflective of modern business economics.

It’s a major shift for the industry and for the traditional agency model, because it proves on-site is an alternative that works.”


“And it was remarkable to see how rapidly this shift has taken place. On-site and in-house capabilities now being considered by 45% and 44% of brands respectively.

This has been underway in the US for some time now, but it’s fascinating to see it finally being echoed this side of the pond.”


“I think the survey really highlighted a drive to greater agility and better control of data – and how this has gone right to the top. We saw the most senior people at the biggest organisations seeking to change their communications models.

I was also struck by the number of marketers (67%) saying they could get more done by having stronger relationships with fewer agencies.”

relationships stat in text

If you had one piece of advice for a brand marketer reviewing how they handle advertising services, what would it be?


“I’d suggest getting some external advice.

The industry is undergoing constant change on an unprecedented scale and at unprecedented pace.

We’re moving from an era where most marketing businesses operated very similar external agency models, to a future where every model will be different: shaped around the brand’s consumers and with data at the core.

Here at ISBA we’ve got a great perspective on the market and we can link CMOs with others who’ve been through the same growing pains.”


“Know what your brand stands for and where you sit versus your competitors.

It’s tempting to try to shift your brand, but this often disorientates consumers, so it needs to be approached strategically.

Some respondents in the survey told us that brand tracking was a major priority for their market research over the next 5 years, while nearly 2 in 5 (17%) cited it as their top market research priority.

Future Thinking’s new Brand Archetypes helps brands manage this process. Using archetype theory, it provides a unique perspective on what a brand means to consumers and how to engage them emotionally in order to drive a competitive advantage.”

on-site stat in text


“Think big, and expect more.

What looks like a creative or marketing problem at the surface might, in fact, be a more fundamental business challenge. Not every agency is an expert in things like workflow management and efficiency-saving tech, but OLIVER’s experience in these fields can help brands free up time and money for real, meaningful business transformation.

Countless agencies can compete on quality of work. Brand marketers should equally evaluate their suppliers in terms of bang for their buck.

In my experience, not many agencies can prove value on both fronts so that’s where the battle lines are drawn.”


Adele Gritten
Joint UK Managing Director & Corporate Development MENA at Future Thinking

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Adele has been in research & marketing strategy roles, both agency- and client-side, for 20 years.

Adele’s background includes 5 years as UK Commercial Director at YouGov, and she has particular expertise in brand, concept and comms work, thought leadership, segmentation and U&As.

To get in touch, call +44 3033 3208 220 or email info@FutureThinking.


Debbie Morrison
ISBA Director of Consultancy & Best Practice


Debbie is part of the six-strong management team at ISBA.

She works with the organisation’s blue chip members  on more than 2000 projects every year, providing advice on issues including marketing transformation, agency search and selection, agency contract and fee negotiations and more.

Contact Debbie on +44 20 7291 9020 or email info@isba.org.uk.


Sharon Whale

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Sharon works closely with OLIVER’s senior team to articulate OLIVER’s unique in-house proposition, and uses her CRM planning skills to create strong data connectivity throughout the Group.

A passionate advocate for great customer experience, she’s collected numerous industry awards during her career, including landing both a DMA Grand Prix and a Cannes Lion for The Economist in 2015.

Find out more by calling +44 0203 142 3500 or email info@OLIVER.agency.



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