Why Keeping a Human Focus is Key to In-Housing Success

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While any in-housing effort is designed to materially improve business operations and the customer experience, truly transformative ones rely on cultivating a stronger employee experience. “In-housing at its core is about people,” Evan Barocas, Senior Director of Digital Media at T-Mobile, told members of the ANA In-House Agency Committee. Joining Travis Groves, Media.Monks Senior Director of Media Operations, Barocas delivered a session about how this people-first philosophy was key to shaping a supportive, transparent in-house culture built for long-term gains.

T-Mobile is an ANA In-House Excellence Awards category winner for Best Media Plan, a Gold Campaign US Media Awards winner for Best Use of Digital/Programmatic, and an AdExchanger Awards finalist for Best In-House Media Operation. Their journey to build a best-in-class digital media team was designed to address gaps that the organization identified between lines of business and ways that T-Mobile engaged with agencies to support them.

From clearly delineating team goals to streamlining collaboration and more, Barocas and Groves both shared advice on how supporting employees is vital to designing a high-achieving in-house team. Below are insights from the ANA committee meeting, which client-side marketer members can find here.

Transparency and clear objectives set a foundation for success.

To help T-Mobile on its path to in-housing, Media.Monks developed a bridging strategy that focused on training employees, establishing processes for operational success and transferring those processes back to the in-house team once they were ready. This measured approach mitigated some of the risks that T-Mobile previously ran into while in-housing paid search, like internal competency gaps, process gaps and other challenges.

Initially, it was crucial for T-Mobile to set clear objectives for everyone on the team. These goals focused not only on what the team set out to achieve, but also the value those efforts provided to the enterprise. This helped prioritize T-Mobile’s key in-housing efforts while also keeping everyone focused on the team’s purpose.

Barocas compared the lack of role clarity to children playing soccer, “where the ball gets kicked and a gaggle of kids follow.” An example that may feel more familiar: directionless calls or meetings that everyone attends, whether it’s relevant to their role or not. By creating transparency for every role in the team—their competencies, areas of ownership, the mechanisms in which each connects to one another—the T-Mobile team was able to build pathways for better, more efficient communication and collaboration. Adding onto the soccer analogy, Barocas noted, “I’m playing defense, and I know how I’m going to interact with midfield and the goalie.”

Fuel transformation by remembering the person behind the role.

Ensuring everyone was on the same page is one example of how the T-Mobile team sought to support each individual member. “The focus on people is the differentiator between really good in-house programs and programs that I’ve seen struggle,” Barocas says, noting the importance of setting people up for success and making them feel rewarded for the effort they put in each day.

This is important for morale when an organization takes on entirely new capabilities that were once handled by an external partner. “You’re asking a group of individual people to take on a function for an enterprise that comes with extreme liabilities,” said Barocas. “If you don’t see the person behind the role that you’re asking them to play, you’re missing the point.”

Empowering the team had another benefit: it gave everyone the sense of ownership needed to solve challenges in operations and processes as they became apparent. Again, in-housing is all about the people: “In-housing is less about capacity management, resourcing and operation success. It has to do with how you are reorienting the people on your team and setting them up for success,” Barocas said, noting how his team can proactively solve problems now that processes are clearly defined.

Build with flexibility.

Speaking of operational challenges, it’s important that any in-house team is built for flexibility as new lines of business plug in or the organization’s needs change. In the case of T-Mobile, we built a model that remained malleable as scope widened. This led us to extend beyond our initial handoff goal at the end of 2021 to further support T-Mobile’s emerging needs.

“As things have evolved and changed, our scope of work extended to go into more in-depth support, like a MAPS assessment,” which is a robust audit of various aspects of a brand’s digital marketing operations, said Groves. “What is working, where are the gaps, where does future work need to be done for long-term success? As these engagements evolve, we’re able to adapt.”

Flexibility and efficiency are key to building a best-in-class in-house team. T-Mobile was able to achieve this and more by focusing on the foundation of the business—its people—and empowering them to flourish. Want to learn more about how the employee experience translates to better business impact? ANA client-side marketer members can learn more by checking out the session in full here.

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