The 2018 IHAF Conference & Awards Show was held in Boston and in attendance were AffinityX’s Stephanie Vautravers, VP of business development and Sara Droke, director of business development. They had the opportunity to network with key executives including those from Bank of America, Orvis, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Robert Half and The Boston Consulting Group — and had good insights to share about the themes that emerged from the event.
Overall, Sara was extremely impressed with the quality of the speakers from major brands like Avocados From Mexico, Discovery Creative, Dollar Shave Club, HelloFresh, Intel and Microsoft. She noted that the audience engagement level was high, saying that “people weren’t working on laptops, looking at phones or stepping out for other meetings. That’s a testament to the content provided and how much the attendees valued it.”
Stephanie reported that she repeatedly heard that in-house agency execs attend the IHAF conference to compare notes with other people who work for in-house agencies, commiserate with one another and validate that they are experiencing many of the same pain points and successes. She said that “some actually referred to it as therapy.”
So what themes jumped out at Stephanie and Sara at the event?
Do In-House Agencies Get the Credit They Deserve?
Sara described how the keynote speaker, Teresa Herd, VP, global creative director at Intel, spoke about the value of bringing services in-house, emphasizing that cost savings isn’t all that matters when in-housing — there is greater value to be had. For example, in-housing gives the team access to technology, as well as input into creative, unlike when they work with outside agencies. However, she also described how in-house agencies constantly feel pressured to prove their value internally.
In fact, Stephanie reported that one of the breakout sessions was about the pending dissolution of Discovery Creative’s in-house agency. Despite being named “in-house agency of the year” in the past, Discovery Creative plans to completely eliminate its in-house agency by the end of 2018. The company attributes this decision to the fact that they largely touted cost-savings, rather than promoting the good work they were doing.
Overall, a main takeaway was that it's very difficult to prove the worth of an in-house agency and the support of C-suite executives is imperative. It's essential to rally people around the same goals and get them to understand that the in-house agency is more than just cost savings for companies.
Creativity was a common theme, as a majority of the speakers and attendees seemed to be on the creative side.
Sara described an interesting session on “creativity in media” led by John Moore, president of advertising agency Mullen Lowe. His view was that creativity is what is missing in advertising, both in-house and in agencies and gave some examples of compelling content — such as a campaign he worked on for JetBlue. Sara described the session as “inspiring and reenergizing” for the attendees regarding quality of creative.
She remarked on a panel titled “Shift Happens” that aimed to “examine the new face of marketing.” David Klay, associate creative director of CIGNA and one of the panelists, pointed out that when he uses a lot of contractors, the talent pool is deep. “This is the way to get the best work, breakthrough work.” Recognizing that most creative people don’t want to spend their time versioning, HelloFresh has one team for creative, conceptual work and another that handles production tasks.
Organization of the In-House Agency
Stephanie mentioned that the organization of in-house agencies was a topic of discussion. In other words, where brand creative and production should sit within the agency; reporting to the creative directors or creative operations?
In-House, External Agencies and Contractors
Another topic of conversation was around in-house agencies collaborating with external agencies, as well as competing with external agencies for projects. The pluses and minuses of each were discussed. Many attendees talked about working with contractors, not necessarily third-party vendors like AffinityX, which could help create efficiencies for them!
Lack of Programmatic Themes
One topic Stephanie and Sara noted was missing from the conversation was programmatic — possibly because most of the attendees were creatives and not necessarily from the media side.