Are in-house content units a threat?

Necessity has been the mother of invention in a literal sense at Trinity Mirror. With its print revenue stream under relentless pressure, the group is beefing up Invention - its rebranded creative solutions department offering bespoke multiplatform advertising packages.

While Trinity Mirror is adamant that Invention is not a creative agency in the accepted sense, other media owners are setting up in-house operations that are distinctly agency-like. Last year, Guardian News & Media established Guardian Labs, a content solutions division that marked its debut by signing a deal with Unilever to promote a sustainable living marketing message.

This month, Metro set up Story, an in-house agency aimed at extending its relationship with brands beyond conventional advertising. It all goes to show how badly newspapers crave extra revenue sources. Not only has print circulation fallen but, also, powerful media agencies drive ever-harder bargains. It begs the question of whether creative agencies will have to be even more nimble and innovative if predatory media owners of all kinds are not going to steal their lunch.


Keith Moor, chief marketing officer, Santander

"What’s happening poses no risk to creative agencies. As long as they focus on understanding our brands and our customers, they will always be one step ahead of any media owner. Although new media companies in particular have a lot of creative talent in-house, it doesn’t mean we would exclude our agencies, with which we will continue working in partnership. However, I think the trend will continue because companies such as Guardian News & Media and Metro won’t necessarily regard themselves as just producers of newspapers. And when I meet media owners, I want to talk about content, not channels."

Trade body

Bob Wootton, director of media and advertising, ISBA

"With everybody from PR companies to creative agencies offering content marketing, the current situation is very muddled and confused. What’s clear is that there will be a lot more competition between agencies. The result will be that consistently brilliant creative agencies such as Bartle Bogle Hegarty will rise to the surface while the less good ones will just sink. Also, there just isn’t enough money in this for everybody, with some advertisers wondering if they can make content work. At the same time, media agencies tend not to be good at handling bespoke and labour-intensive but not very remunerative projects."


John O’Keeffe, worldwide creative director, WPP

"Creative agencies wouldn’t regard media owners setting up in-house creative operations any differently than they would any other new agency looking to tempt clients with their ideas. I also wonder why it’s necessary to use the name ‘Labs’. Why are so many people intent on trying to create a science out of advertising? It’s the ability to come up with great ideas that will win the day. The Guardian and Metro are well-known brands within the creative sphere, so they obviously think they’re well-placed to tap a new revenue stream. But creative agencies continue being pretty good at taking on all comers."

Media owner

Rupert Howell, group transformation director; chairman of Sunday brands, Trinity Mirror

"There’s no threat to creative agencies from what’s happening. The fact is that media owners of all kinds have been doing this kind of thing for years, whether it was Dave King’s Telegraph Media Group or at ITV, my former employer, where we devised creative solutions for clients – including product placement – that went beyond just advertising. The pressures on the print industry are unrelenting, so we’re always looking to work with clients and agencies on new media ideas. We’re just trying to pull in more business than our competitors. Creative agencies have nothing to fear from it."