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Powerful Partnerships: How to Implement In-House Design Solutions

Posted By: SGK May 02, 2019

This blog post has been contributed by Rich Gearing, client solutions associate, SGK.

In recent times, some big-name brands have moved towards an in-house setup to manage their creative solutions. Whilst there can be benefits to this, it seems to be a rinse-and-repeat model which struggles to maintain a sure footing and often becomes the casualty of cost cuts.

Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) is a setup whereby a host company partners with a creative agency to install an on-site creative team. When this is executed effectively it can become an incredibly powerful long-term strategy. BPO often remains much more cost-effective and has proven to be more sustainable than the brand-owned ‘in-house’ alternative.

Whilst there can be notable benefits to the BPO approach, there is a need to be hyper-sensitive with regard to the challenges and, perhaps more importantly, the potential knock-on effect of those challenges — some of which are shared with the in-house model.

WATCH: The Agency’s Role in Partnering With In-House Teams

Perhaps the most readily apparent issue with in-housing arises through the simple fact that the team are so visible. This creates 'over-the-shoulder' pressure, which brings with it the blight of the “Can you just…” — often simple tasks, but which run into days, deviate from the core and create issues in prioritisation when workload spikes. Scope creep combines with a lack of control as the in-house team are used to sneak in work that the company don't want to fund out of the proper purses. One mistaken "ok, just this once" and the core scope has instantly expanded without consultation or agreement.

Whilst BPO is not immune to the same pressures, it does benefit from ultra-clear delineation. In having defined roles, responsibilities, reporting lines and purse holders, scope creep becomes a business agreement rather than a water cooler conversation. The agency on-sites are more empowered to stick to their core and avoid deviating from that without prior agreement — all whilst retaining clear and visible control of project costs.

There's an argument that being an in-house team equates to 'living the brand' however, part of the very raison d'etre of hiring an external agency is their diversity, exposure, experience and unhindered creativity. Living a brand day-in, day-out, might seem convenient, but it also breeds complacency and stifles innovation — ultimately resulting in creativity becoming too 'safe'.

This is a time where the traditional thirty-second or one-minute TV ad is dying, increasingly to be replaced by six-second social media clips posted by influencers, resulting in products selling out within minutes yet becoming 'old hat' barely three-weeks later. Things move at such a pace in this modern, fast-fashion life that 'safe' simply isn't going to cut it.

It is for this same reason that the talent pool becomes diluted by the in-house alternative. The best candidates tend to want to work for the best agencies and avoid being stuck working on one brand. Straight away you're left looking towards lesser talent to get bums on seats.

In using a BPO approach, the agency element and connection is not lost, thereby lessening the risk of talent dilution and avoiding stifled creativity. In addition, an outsourced agency will offer a team who are already trained, are up-to-date on the latest software, can get started immediately and are connected to an agency that will be more diverse in its background and skillset.

From a workload perspective, how can a fixed size in-house setup respond to peaks and troughs in demand when things happen and change so quickly? Sure, more heads can be put onto a project - but that will inevitably mean resorting to the traditional external agency model, meaning the in-house benefit is instantly diluted, style consistency is lost and costs spiral.

Further to this, when growth is a requirement, will the floorplan real estate carry too much worth to enable it? This need for scalability is a prime justification for the BPO model as it is a consideration which is factored into the agreement at the start. This brings benefits as a need for more heads won’t blow out costs and periods of low volume doesn’t result in valuable desk space being taken up with costly thumb-twiddling.

READ: Continuous Improvement: What It Means for Leading Brands Today 

For an in-house creative IT setup there may be a drive to utilise procurement efficiencies and purchase PCs for the in-housers to keep costs down, which risks further diluting the talent pool as many creatives are only comfortable working on Macs. Conversely, swallowing the cost of a Mac setup but integrating them into an otherwise PC-based environment brings its own challenges, not to mention the specialist IT support considerations.

Having all of the equipment owned and managed by the outsource agency saves the host company significant sums of money, particularly over longer periods where software licence costs and equipment upgrades can mount up quickly. This also avoids situations where these important updates and upgrades might otherwise fall foul to the kind of cost saving that typically makes in-house setups suffer.

BPO is a model which requires strong and true partnering — arguably more than a typical agency relationship to ensure it works exactly as it needs to, with ultra-clear delineation and elevated levels of trust and ownership. This ensures the setup remains focused, driven and adhering to the core purpose. This also enables the host company to focus on their own core business — a factor which 57% of companies who use outsourcing state as being their driver for adopting the approach.

Regardless of the client, their workload, the complexity of the work or any other challenge of the setup, at SGK we aim to instil an environment that fosters the creation of, in the words of Steve Jackson, Executive Director of Schawk Australia: “strong, hard-working, fun-loving on-site teams building an inspirational culture, professional relationships, innovative solutions and delivering longevity of service“. We employ, and nurture, subject matter experts who become relied upon, specialists who know their field inside-out, the vastly experienced and fresh blood alike, to build the best teams we can to service the needs of our host.

Our teams develop into a hybrid culture where they bridge the agency-client relationship so effectively that we can always be trusted whole-heartedly to get the job done. As John Lawrence, Director of Client Solutions at SGK, puts it:

“A critical element of success is the development of a symbiotic relationship that drives open collaboration, culture creation and shared objectives. Your goals are our goals”.

More than that, though, we also recognise the need to truly tailor our offering; and, in a world where in-housing is presently on the rise, we recognise the need to support and compliment those in-house functions. Of the 64% of Corporate America who are currently utilising in-housing, 30% consider ‘staying abreast of trends’ and 19% consider ‘strategic acumen’ as their top issues — a prime example of where we can bridge those concerns and bolster the in-house offering.

And that is where the SGK approach to our BPO resources is perhaps most powerful. With a structured 'Design-Solution-Implementation' approach, we can listen to the need, build the solution and execute to realise the full potential of that solution. Resource becomes scalable and can be focused beyond pure production, meaning that adaptation and strategic execution can be 'on the table' from the start without significant cost impact. The setup can adapt, change and evolve easily and readily; and, perhaps most importantly, without impact or negativity with the client.

About Rich Gearing: Rich is a Consultant with the SGK Client Solutions team. He is a Packaging Artwork specialist and Subject Matter Expert who has over 18-years’ experience spanning FMCG, pharma, consumer health, food, retail, supermarkets and alcohol. He has worked for, and with, major brands and Blue Chip companies internationally; and has always done so with one eye on Continuous Improvement, process efficiency and eliminating waste.