The trend for brands to internalize media management is one that waxes and wanes, oftentimes becoming a hot-button operations issue before returning to the back burner.

If your brand does consider making this move, the somewhat misleading phrase ‘in-housing’ will inevitably be mentioned, sending internal stakeholders and agency partners alike into a spin. There’ll be visions of having to develop an internal mini agency to manage everything from audience and data through to activation, optimization and analytics. Which is a tremendous investment.

The reality is very few brands actually want this level of internal media management. Even fewer have the resources and expertise to make it work. Most are looking for a hybrid situation, where they take a more hands-on role in the specific aspects of media that are really important to them, while leaning on managed support from agency partners for the bulk of their operations.

Far from being a choice of extremes between a fully agency-managed model or a fully brand-managed model, you can find a sweet spot that works for your brand on the vast spectrum between the two.

The Hybrid Approach Explained

A hybrid approach to media management can take a variety of forms. And it looks different for each brand, depending on goals and priorities as well as internal capabilities. You may want to just take on a small portion of the operation, such as segmentation, or you may want to internalize activation while your agency focuses more on education and strategy.

One of the more common hybrid models is to split the audience component and the activation piece, with the brand managing one and the agency managing the other. But even this model takes a variety of forms.

Some brands prefer to internalize intelligence and manage their own data, with the goal of taking ownership of the customer relationship. They may want to build and model audiences themselves, but then still push those out to their agency partner to activate. These brands don’t necessarily have the teams or core functionality to activate media internally, and often have no wish to do so.

On the flip side, other brands want to do the activation component themselves, with agency support for the data and intelligence piece. This is because brands often struggle with how to operationalize intelligence. They might get a seat on DV360 and hire an activation team, but still leverage their agency partner’s interconnected suite of applications to analyze audiences, derive insights, create segments, and syndicate these out to all the different channels and platforms.

A hybrid approach to media management is most effective when it takes workload off your brand’s internal team, allowing it to focus on the aspects you see as most important. Agency partners deliver valuable services and functionality to complement your efforts and support your goals.

There are several reasons why hybrid is a sensible approach to internalizing media operations. These include:

Ensuring Innovation Not Stagnation

Media and marketing move quickly, and agencies are set up to keep pace with new ideas and trends. But that isn’t necessarily the case with internal brand teams. When brands have a small, tight team working a particular way it’s easy to stagnate—with an immediate impact on performance.

If your brand does internalize some of its media management, there is still an important role for agencies in preventing stagnation and driving innovation. Agency partners can bring expertise around new and emerging trends or channels, provide ongoing training and support, or help with onboarding new technologies.

Internalizing some aspects of media rarely means an end to agency relationships as you’ll need to tap into those partnerships to stay fresh and relevant.

Reducing Financial Investment

One thing that is often overlooked when brands consider internalizing operations is the sheer cost involved. Particularly the amount they will need to spend on technology platforms.

Assuming you don’t already have demand-side platforms (DSPs), ad servers, audience management platforms, and customer data platforms (CDPs) in place, you’re going to have to either build these capabilities from scratch or spend a great deal with third-party providers to access them. Entering into costly bi-annual contracts and onboarding a huge range of platforms is often far less appealing from a financial perspective than making use of the technology suites your agency partners bring to the table. A hybrid approach, where you can still use your agency’s tech platforms, can offset a lot of the expense.

Getting the Right People for the Job

Of course, it’s not just technology that contributes to the cost of internalizing media management. There’s also the investment required to hire a whole team of people to support these activities.

These are highly specialized roles so your talent acquisition team will have to learn how to recruit for ad ops, campaign management and strategy, and data science and analytics roles. Attracting the right talent and keeping it can be a real challenge. Your internal team is a great environment for people to get trained up but, with a potential lack of upward mobility and opportunity, there’s no guarantee they’ll stay for the long haul.

A hybrid approach means your internal team still benefits from agency support and expertise. This could mean help with recruitment and training, or it could mean providing an overflow facility to ensure operations run smoothly if you have resourcing issues or team disruptions. And of course, the agency is also on hand to help with strategy.

The Many Faces of In-Housing

When the term ‘in-housing’ is used to describe internalizing media, it suggests an all-or-nothing proposition, but this simply isn’t the case. There are many ways for brands and agencies to share the workload.

A hybrid approach allows you to focus on the specific elements that are most important to you, while your agency supports and complements your efforts through a combination of managed services, people, or technology. It is a far stronger proposition than a fully ‘in-house’ model and allows brands and agencies to maintain productive, mutually beneficial relationships.