Agency Inside aims to help clients in-house capabilities

Founder Roy Levine is responding to industry trends with consulting services and a software platform.

Roy-Levine

As many clients look to bring agency services in-house, a new consultancy led by industry veteran Roy Levine promises to help them build up those competencies through a combination of traditional consulting services and a software platform.

Toronto-based Agency Inside soft-launched at the end of 2018 in response to what Levine, its founder and managing partner, sees as a trend with clients in-housing more marketing capabilities.

A 2018 study by the U.S.-based Association of National Advertisers, for example, found that 78% of its members had in-housed at least part of the marketing function, up from 58% of members only five years earlier.

Similarly, research conducted by the Canadian Marketing Association and Ipsos found that Canadian marketers relied less on their agency partners in 2018 than at any other point since 2010. Nineteen percent of marketers reported decreasing their reliance on agencies, a trend driven primarily by cost implications and operational needs.

In response to these trends, Agency Inside has positioned itself as “part operations nerds, part software developers and part talent agents,” according to its website.

Initially offering consulting services to clients looking to enhance their internal capabilities, the shop is also in the process of building a software-based platform allowing companies to streamline their internal processes by accessing freelance talent, reviewing case studies and best practices, read guideline documents and industry news.

Levine describes the offering – which is currently in development and expected to launch officially in Q3 – as “a bit of an UpWork meets Basecamp meets QuickBooks meets a whole range of marketing-related services that we conceptualized.”

The idea, he says, is to help clients build new in-house teams from scratch, or improve their existing processes and become more sophisticated in their approach, while saving on significant overhead costs.

Two unnamed clients have signed on since January, according to Levine, and on-demand staffing means headcount can fluctuate between three and 23 employees. An external, specialized team is currently building the platform, and Levine anticipates hiring five to 10 staffers once Agency Inside reaches commercialization or secures funding.

“We’re not advocating for getting rid of your agency,” Levine says, echoing the fears of some people working agency-side, who have faced a push towards assignment-based work while also fending off competition from consultancies. “We’re not out to replace agencies – at all. Agencies for sure serve a purpose for many different types and sizes of clients.”

In particular, Levine believes many clients will continue opting to have agencies handle “strong, big-idea creative,” while reinvesting the savings of in-housing certain functions back into that brand work. One of the advantages of continuing to work with external partners, he says, is that they offer a sober second look at campaigns that could be costly if deemed insensitive or inappropriate by consumers.

Agency Inside is not the only shop looking to capitalize on the trend. Oliver, another agency that helps clients in-house by embedding staff into their offices, has secured business with large clients, including Manulife, WestJet and Swoop. But Levine says that while Oliver has had success placing people inside, he considers his offering to be more empowering to clients.

The idea for the agency dates back to 2017. Levine, who has worked in the business for more than 20 years (with time spent at BBDO, Rain and his own firm, Purpose Global), had developed a system allowing clients and agencies to work on marketing programs while keeping staff to a minimum. In 2017, he says he began thinking about how to scale that model.

The shop’s platform could be useful to agencies as well. A number of startups have sprung up recently, including Toronto-based Good&Ready and Round, that promise to keep overhead costs low by building bespoke and multidisciplinary teams of freelancers that cater directly to client needs. These shops could also avail themselves of Agency Inside’s services, says Levine, although that isn’t a core focus on the business.

“I’m not interested in making agencies better,” he says. “I’d much rather work directly with clients. But if an agency wants to access the platform, because they need the structure, they need to the processes, and they need the templates, absolutely.”