Barclaycard’s five rules for building an in-house creative agency

Barclaycard now handles 85% of its creative work in-house, which has given the business more ownership of the brand while reducing costs but it has also increased accountability.


Barclaycard has created an in-house agency that now handles 85% of its creative, but Richard Atkinson, vice-president of its advertising and creative studio, believes there are certain rules brands must follow in order to ensure taking work in-house is successful.

The creation of the team, he says, has created an army of brand guardians who get work done about 60% faster than agencies, while saving the business money in the process. But it has also meant the marketing team has to take more responsibility for effectiveness.

Talking at the Festival of Marketing this morning (10 October), Atkinson said: “We’ve gained in many areas but we did lose the ease of just casting everything over [to the agency]. We’ve had to take more accountability ourselves.”

The changes also mean the marketing team cannot simply come up with a brief and let people get on with it. In order to operate as a high-performing in-house creative agency, brands have to set up the right infrastructure to allow the team to thrive. And that comes from focusing on five key areas, according to Atkinson: strategy, diversity, external inspiration, creative space and collaboration.

“When we’re working with traditional agencies or creative people, we always begin with a solid, strategic starting point. You don’t want to lose that when you work with internal teams because you won’t get the best work out of them,” he said.

Hiring a diverse team is also key. “Most brands today have a diverse range of customers; if you fill your creative team with people who don’t come from diverse backgrounds then they’re not going to be able to communicate or answer questions for diverse customers,” he added.

Although the team is based in-house it’s important they don’t only look inwards. External agencies often work with a number of clients and get inspiration from a wide pool of sources, so the same should be true of an in-house team.

“The benefit of having an on-site team is that you have them truly immersed in your business, but the risk there is that they don’t have enough time to draw on external inspiration. You need to make sure you give them time to do that, whether that’s giving them test briefs for another brand, going to meet different people or working on different things, you need to make sure that continues to happen.”

Keeping ideas fresh is a challenge though given the same people are addressing the same business issues time and again.

“I would be lying if I said it was easy. It’s a difficult thing and actually, it’s even difficult for traditional agencies where you’ve got people working on the same account and the same challenges, he explained.

The benefit of having an on-site team is that you have them truly immersed in your business, but the risk is that they don’t have enough time to draw on external inspiration.

Richard Atkinson, Barclaycard

“You have to rotate the teams. We’ve got a combination of 15 different teams that we work with and we have six core conceptual creative teams. Every one of them will only spend two months on each part of the business and we’ll flip them between the consumer and business side as well. We’re also lucky that we have two big brands that we support – Barclays and Barclaycard.”

The reason a lot of business bring creative in-house is so they can work more closely with other internal teams, but in order to do that the team must be set up for collaboration.

“If you don’t allow for that collaboration you won’t get the full benefit of an internal team,” he said.

Lastly, the working environment itself is important, so the work space must be set up to foster creativity.

“If you’re going to create an internal team and force them into the middle of your office next to people wearing suits then they’re not going to be very happy; you may get some people through the door but they won’t be very motivated and they won’t produce their best work.”

This doesn’t mean businesses need to have a “mezzanine floor with beautiful soft furnishings” but the space must be set up to allow for meetings and so people feel inspired.

Building the right team

When it comes to hiring people, he said the focus initially should be on strategy, creative and client services.

“Creative and strategic are quite obvious but people think that when you’ve got an internal team you don’t need client services because the marketing team will just talk to the creative team: no, that won’t work,” he said. “You need a barrier of people to make sure everything is working properly. So to get started, I would bring in a planner, a creative person and someone to lead client services.”

While the majority of Barclaycard’s creative work is handled in-house, it does still outsource 15% to external agencies.

“If you want to create the best work you need to appreciate what can be done internally and what should be done externally.”

Barclaycard’s two main creative functions, its internal creative design team and its lead advertising partner, sit at the top, but it also has a number of other external partners for things such as campaign delivery, strategic planning, media and technology.

Managing these relationships is crucial. Barclaycard is in the process of hiring a new ad agency and Atkinson has been upfront to all the agencies taking part in the pitch about how its set-up works to manage expectations going forward.

“We have been very clear about which bits they will be involved in and which they won’t be, that has made out lives a little bit easier. I can assure you the advertising agency does not want to get involved in the work we do in-house, because they are focusing on our advertising and that’s a really big job. They don’t want to get involved in production and email communication. As long as you have the right agency matrix the relationship isn’t that difficult to manage.”

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