To say that OLIVER had a stand-out year in 2020 would be an understatement. Despite the global events of the last 18 months, the business has gone from strength to strength. Not only has it almost doubled in size, it has picked up a slew of awards for its in-house agency teams. In 2020 alone OLIVER was named EMEA Digital Network of the Year (Gold), Digital Innovation Agency of the Year (Silver), Customer Engagement Agency of the Year (Silver) by Campaign; Campaign also named U-Studio (Unilever’s in-house agency in partnership with OLIVER) as their Global In-House Agency of The Year. Alongside this, it was in the top three agencies most shortlisted by the DMA, named in The Drum’s Honors list for helping brands “get their in-housing in order”, was highly commended by Creative Review and was recognised by Adweek as the #1 fastest growing large agency in the US. When you read this, one thought is synonymous with OLIVER’s resilience and growth: it’s the business that continues to prove the doubters wrong.
Even as many countries stared down second lockdowns in September 2020, data pointed towards huge growth and sustained demand for in-house creative services. A report by the WFA and The Observatory International found that 57% of multinational brands already had in-house agencies, while 17% were considering making the switch
. Speaking to LBB about what is driving this demand, Sharon Whale, OLIVER’s CEO of global markets and operations, tells us it comes down to the convergence of three things: technology advancement and acceleration, marketers’ increased need to simplify the complex, and the best creative talent wanting a more dynamic way of working. These things, she says, indicate that in-housing will “continue to revolutionise the advertising and creative industries for a long, long time yet.”
And OLIVER started it.
Sharon joined OLIVER back in 2016 as the business’ very first CEO of the UK Group, tasked with growing its operations and capabilities worldwide. Sharon started her career in agencies when DM and CRM were in vogue, including Proximity where she rose to become Deputy Chairman overseeing work for some of the best brands in the country (John Lewis, Lloyds Bank, VW and The Economist to name a few). And it seems innovation and evolution enticed her once more to OLIVER, where she has over the past five years observed and contributed to “unbelievably fast growth”.
The in-house model has certainly had its critics in the past; whether questioning its ability to attract the best creative talent, or its cultural integrity where people were not all based at one central creative hub. But, fast forward to today, with everyone unwittingly thrown into remote working – and an increasing amount of incredible talent choosing to go in-house as a result – and you can see how models like OLIVER were actually more prepared to cultivate culture from a distance.
Sharon believes that the reason so many of OLIVER’s teams flourished despite the pandemic was due to the business being founded on “the only truly agile model in the industry”. OLIVER’s model is bespoke and entirely adapted to individual brands; it can take the shape of an on-site or near site agency, an internal client team, an external tech partner or a hybrid model combining a mix of all three. “OLIVER is the world-leading pioneer at designing, building and running in-house agencies and marketing ecosystems for brands” she explains. “We create whatever is best for the client, and what will give them the best results.”
“We’ve spent a long time gathering data and testing, and we’ve put that learning back into our model. We are using it to accelerate the solutions that we offer clients. Right now, we believe that future marketing ecosystems will become deeply reliant on the speed, agility and firepower that only in-house models like ours can bring.
Of course, we have had to build our creative culture differently to that of traditional agencies. With in-housing, switching from working in our office or the client’s office to working from home didn’t feel like a break, but a continuation of what we were already doing. Our technology, systems and processes were already in place to support the change, and that change has now become more permanent. We’re way ahead when it comes to agility, flexibility and global scalability – which means we can be way ahead with our creativity as well.”
But the pandemic was not the only accelerator for the exponential growth of in-house creative teams. Data and technology has been making marketers’ jobs increasingly complex for a long time. Globalisation and the proliferation of media channels have made it nigh on impossible for global brands to have visibility and control over every piece of output – something that many marketers that are trapped in a technology-led arms race are desperate to change.
“Technology is always the biggest disruptor in the marketing sphere,” adds Sharon. “We’re in a period of constant disruption as tech is changing how people behave, shop, and interact with brands. Our task is to make sense of all this within a complex ecosystem and use it to the brands’ advantage. We build bespoke solutions and systems around each brand’s ambitions and challenges. We want to give CMOs control over their marketing ecosystems and their customer interfaces – we’re here to simplify it. Knowing how to navigate disruptive technology is the key to future-proofing your business, and it’s always been a priority for us.”
Looking to put a spotlight on these very drivers of change, OLIVER and LBB are launching a new series titled ‘Inside In-Housing’. In the following weeks LBB will be speaking to leading CMOs about in-housing, what it means to them and how talent, technology and social trends are changing the course of marketing.
Commenting on the importance of the series, Matt Cooper, CEO of Little Black Book says: “It’s been incredible to see OLIVER’s rise over the past few years, redefining how we perceive the client/agency model as well as creativity in-house. At LBB, we’re passionate about creativity and how it’s expressed. There’s nobody better placed than OLIVER to explore the topic of in-housing, and I’m massively excited to hear from the range of voices that this series is going to feature.”