Outsourcing In-Housing And All That Jazz

The Men From The Agency

I’ve been having lots of bollocksy conversations with ‘industry types’ about whether doing production in-house or outsourcing it is the right thing to do. I’ve always been of the opinion that you need at least a good core of production in-house. Otherwise you miss out on lots of things – especially if you’ve got a good culture of sharing ideas, inspirations, frustrations and stuff.

I don’t think that’ll necessarily always be the case. If the digital side of the industry reaches a point of maturity that could always change. But given the fact that it’s an open platform that anyone can add to and help to extend and evolve I don’t see it being mature (in all respects) any time soon.

I was reminded that I’d not posted anything about this when I was watching the rather super Men From The Agency on BBC4 on Sunday Night. It’s about CPD who I’ve written about before. And Richard wrote a very good thing about how they were a New Media agency when this documentary was aired back in 2006.

The thing that made me think about the in-house/outsource debate was the way that Alan Parker and Ridley Scott used to be a totally vital and key part of the creative team. Making films in the basement of the agency and pushing what could be done in terms of ‘making stuff’. Perhaps I’m not familiar enough with the types of relationships that agencies have with directors and production companies today. But from the little experience I have, this looked like a much tighter unit.

It was only later on that Parker went and set up a separate production company at the request of some senior CDP dudes (if I remember correctly and I might not, I was nodding-off slightly at this point). I’m guessing that this departure and separation was at a point where they’d collectively made their point in terms of creative use and evolution of the medium.

When I say I’m guessing, I really am. But I felt that there was a parallel that helped me to self-justify my myopic view of the world even further. So I’m going to ride it until someone tells me I’m wrong.

13 thoughts on “Outsourcing In-Housing And All That Jazz”

  1. I’ve written my Campaign digital essay about just this dilemma. No sooner do you think you’ve got all the skills you need in house than a whole new set come along. And nobody seems to agree on or have found the ideal way to go yet…

  2. I think this has to be the bollocksy conversation du jour for all of us, industry types. It seems everyone has an opinion on out vs in (myself included). I tend to agree with you to a certain extent Iain – that you need to keep a certain amount of capability in-house in order to even consider what you can do out of it. But whether that capability actually needs to be people at the coal face, or rather people capable of understanding what goes on there, I am not sure yet – although I am leaning towards the understanding side right now. If you do outsource I think it’s got to be with regard to a partner who can fill the gap left by not having it in-house, rather than say a third party who you just throw flat PSDs or whatever at and say build this. If you remove it from one place you have to replace it somewhere else. But yes, everyone seems to be chatting about this right now.

  3. I think what’s possibly changed here is that in-house and out-sourced don’t make so much sense in a digital/online world. In-house doesn’t have to be in-the-house.

    At least that’s the way I’d like to be working. I like working repeatedly with agencies that I get on with and can feel happily part of, but I don’t like living in London (or the UK for that matter).

    There’s no reason why ‘in-house’ has to mean permanently employed or in the same physical space. Isn’t it more a question of how you treat the relationship and how you trust each other in terms of working process, etc.?

    Maybe it’s just me, but given that most of the time being in-house means sitting at a computer for 90% of the time, sending mails, sharing files on servers, etc. the whole in-house/outsourcing concept seems out of date.

  4. I think if you’ve gotten to the point where you have to ask the question ‘in-house or out-sourcing’, you’ve already move into a place where you don’t really have the choice anymore… By that I mean, If you’re small enough that everyone is there for reasons beyond a rational skill / experience matrix, then you benefit from something you can’t get from outsourcing. Conversely, if you’re big enough to be able to get experts from various places for short periods of time, then you’re not likely to have the people there for the ‘irrational’ reasons that make in-house teams work.


  5. Knotty I’m not sure I get your point. There’s lots of start-up agencies who are claiming that they’re never going to have in-house production resource from the outset – so they’re small and outsourcing, and they’re never going to get the benefit of the matrix.

  6. Andy P.

    I think I agree with you. And I think it works for experts/consultants in teams. And of course distributed teams can work. But it’s more the idea that production is someone else’s deal totally that I think is a mistake right now.

  7. This is a tricky question. I’ve worked at a great startup that said from the outset that they were going to have no in-house production; but always with the caveat that they were going to have people around who knew about production. I was one of those people, the trouble was I missed production and felt very rapidly that things were starting to pass me by. Personally I think the difficulty here is the changing nature of the digitial medium itself. The goalposts move, and what’s impossible last month might become the norm the next…
    Unless you’re right down there in the coalfaces you probably won’t know what’s technically possible or what isn’t. It’s hard to think ‘outside the box’ or ‘inside the box’ if you don’t know what the box even looks like as it changes day to day.
    I’m back on the coalfaces now, but even in an integrated environment most of us have to make the choice between ‘strategy and creative’ and ‘production’ so it makes sense that agencies will as well. I think we’re making these choices to early.

  8. I think I reacted to the idea of production outsourcing. If your business is to produce digital ‘widgets n grommets’, then you can do it easily.

    If by outsourcing you mean loosely integrated experts or teams of experts in various locations working closely together, I don’t see that as outsourcing at all.

  9. I agree that great quality work isnt going to get produced without having the intricate knowledge of production inhouse in some way/shape/form.

    I can understand that agenices may want to rid themselves of being essentially sweat shops and turning out banner after banner and i can see why people would want to outsource that, something that Athlon have been doing for a while.

    Hopefully creative agencies should be able to remain creative and bring in the resource that they need to produce great work in the same way that our ATL colleagues do, but still keeping a core team inhouse.

    Interestingly i came across this article a while ago on Poke’s originaly vision…. makes interesting reading with the benefit of hindsight..


  10. I think there’s a fundamental digital/interactive difference compared with TV or print and that’s that interactive work breaks. Often. With TV and print you have to have the competence to create the end result, but after that it’s over, it works on every other tape machine or billboard.

    Interactive has moving parts, operates on unstable platforms and is much more like industrial design and architecture than traditional media industries and you really do have to have some production knowledge in order to conceive of, let alone execute, creative ideas.

    So in that sense, if you’re in the business of coming up with decent creative ideas for interactive/digital projects, you’re likely to (or should) have a knowledge how stuff gets made to a level of detail that I think some traditional media creative/strategy (okay, let’s say advertising) teams don’t.

    Here’s where the out-of-house in-house distinction starts to not make any sense for me. The question is who has the knowledge and experience and whether you bring them into the early part of the process or not isn’t it?

  11. I’m a big fan of outsourcing, but it has to be the right project at the right time, and, like any business structure, will not suit everyone.

    Lately I’ve been thinking about it in terms of what I want my guys doing. Do I want them spending their time doing form pages and basic CSS, or would I rather than time was spent getting under the hood of, say Adobe Air, focussing on R&D that can then be spun back into client projects? That’s a simple answer for me.

    Ultimately, the basic tasks will always cascade lower and lower as they become more common place. The same way textile production was sent to Asia and now India as methodologies and processes became common place enough to be easily replicated, elements of what we do have started to and will continue to shift.

    “Yeah, but we’re creatives and that can’t be outsourced.”

    True, but the best patterns don’t originate in the factories where they’re made.

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