There’s been a lot of talk lately about internal and external agencies working together. And I’m all for it. In fact, I recently published a paper through Harvard Business School entitled Build It, Buy It or Both. The piece details the evolution of the in-house model, featuring two case stories on internal and external teams that have cracked the code on collaboration. Here are five take-aways for arriving at more-collaborative constructs:


The first is Alignment—ensuring that both internal and external agencies are fully aligned around a common purpose and that the relationship is set-up in such a way that both groups are moving toward a shared objective.


Second is Clarity. This is about making sure that individual roles and responsibilities are clearly communicated and understood, enabling participants within each agency to recognize what should be communicated from one to the other—and that communication flows both ways.

Streamlined Operations

Next up is Streamlined Operations—so the combined team is optimally organized to evolve shared, streamlined operating practices and a disciplined approach to work that enables efficient decision-making and integrated implementation.

Mutual Support

Fourth is Mutual Support. This happens when the employees of the internal agency and the employees of the external agency willingly share ideas, insight and resources with one another, for a level of mutual support that enables individual and team performance.


And finally, Leadership—the combined team is effectively guided, motivated and inspired by skilled, centralized leadership that fosters a culture of performance, partnership and accountability.

I cannot emphasize the last point nearly enough. In the absence of solid leadership, internal/external agency pairs struggle. They may have the parts and pieces needed to collaborate successfully, but they don’t have a skilled quarterback. And without someone in that position, they have a much harder time moving the ball down the field.

Many companies are adopting hybrid policies where they mix and match internal and external resources to deliver the customized bundle of services they require. Arriving at the right mix of talent and services to produce relevant, resonant communications campaigns requires all of us as marketers to take another look at how we’re staffing and sourcing advertising—essentially what to build and what to buy.

UPDATE: I’m delighted to note that the above-mentioned article was published in the February 2016 issue of the International Journal of Marketing Studies,