Posted 25 June 2024

What does it mean to work for an in-house creative team?

The familiar ‘Should’ve gone to Specsavers’ playing on your TV, Bumble’s new ‘We’ve Changed’ slogan on billboards, an Innocent Drinks poster at a bus stop – can you name what links the three? Rather than the work of an advertising agency, all these campaigns were created by in-house creative teams at the brands themselves. With the number of companies opting for in-house creatives on the rise, we ask what it really means to work this way, with insight from the Inside Out community – an independent hub for in-house teams.

🤔 What is an in-house creative team?

Members of in-house creative teams are directly employed to work within a brand or organisation and handle the company’s creative needs. From graphic design and video production to copywriting and branding, these specialists work across a range of internal projects.

For example, Specsavers Creative (the eyewear company's in-house team) includes over 100 people working solely on Specsavers briefs. The team includes producers, strategists, artworkers, conceptors, account handlers and designers, and according to managing director Nicola Wardell, these creatives are “100% single-mindedly focused on what’s the right thing for that brand”.

🗣️ What companies have in-house creative teams?

When considering what types of creative company you want to work with, banks and supermarkets might not initially spring to mind. However, multiple big brands and organisations all have in-house creative operations.

Some examples of in-house creative teams include:

Example of work from Specsavers in-house team, Specsavers Creative

🤷 If not in-house then what?

Companies often rely on agencies to produce their creative services or advertising campaigns (e.g. advertising, design, creative, digital marketing or content creation agencies). This involves an external creative team working on a project-by-project basis. They're usually hired by a brand short-term for a specific brief.

Say, for example, a clothing company wants to do a marketing campaign to advertise a new product. Without an in-house team, the brand will reach out to multiple agencies they think would be good to create the campaign.

After these multiple agencies have pitched their marketing ideas to the brand, the winning idea will earn a contract with the agency for that specific project.

🤷 Are in-house teams common?

Let’s look at some stats to answer this one… According to a 2023 report, while the US has historically led in the number of companies using in-house agencies, the UK is now coming a close second. Of companies the same report surveyed, 82% in the US had in-house creative teams, 76% in Mainland Europe and 65% in the UK.

According to industry expert Emma Sexton – founder of the UK and Europe’s only awards for in-house creative teams: Inside Out – organisations are looking for creatives who are “quicker to respond and closer to the business” as they've “had to become more agile, digitally savvy, flexible, performance-driven and quality-focused than ever before.” This is one of the reasons for the rising number of in-house creative teams in the UK.

Day-to-day, many in-house teams like M&S and BBC Creative still work alongside external agencies. And while both in-house teams and agencies are firmly here to stay, the number of in-house teams are definitely on the rise, and could offer you some different experiences or opportunities.

📂 What roles exist and what are they working on?

Across the UK and Europe, the IHAC report also found social media, project management, data analysis and graphic and digital designers as top roles within an in-house agency.

Some other roles you might expect to see are:

  • Creative Director

  • Copywriter

  • Art Director

  • Content Creator

  • Digital Marketer

  • UX/UI Designer

So, what are they working on? Dave Breckon, Creative Lead at Carta, explains that in the past, in-house work has often been thought of as less interesting or creative. He thinks the opposite is true, as a deep understanding of the business means you can tackle the “knotty problems”. With a focus on a single problem, “more time and resource to solve it leads to a more satisfying creative process”.

Sabrina Godden-Tuma, Global Creative Director at Vodafone, agrees, "Being at the core of the brand allows you to navigate its parameters with a deeper understanding, enabling teams to push boundaries effectively without overstepping."

Emma Sexton adds that with companies looking to outsource production or more repetitive tasks, in-house teams are being freed up to lead on the work, agencies they want to partner with and the creative goals in general. In theory, in-house teams should only be getting more creative and more involved in creating brand experience, especially as AI speeds up other processes.

Bumble advert in house advice creative lives in progress june 2024

Part of Bumble's 'We've Changed So You Don't Have To' campaign

Bumble Weve Changed So You Dont Have to creative lives in progress june 2024

The new app identity part of Bumble's campaign

👀 Where have I seen the work before?

Recent examples of projects by in-house creative teams include:

Bumble's ‘We've Changed So You Don't Have To’
This campaign introduced Bumble's Opening Moves feature, giving women the option to set a question for their matches to answer on the dating app. A refreshed visual identity and a new global campaign were all created in-house.

Read more about Bumble's campaign

Shelter's ‘Made in Social Housing’
The housing and homelessness charity launched this TV and online campaign in May. Created in-house, the work features celebrities who have experienced social housing to highlight more than 1.3 million households stuck on waiting lists in England.

See more of Shelter's campaign

One of Shelter's 'Made in Social Housing' adverts

🧫 What are in-house culture and hours like?

When comparing the experience of working in-house versus at an agency, the differences will always depend on the specific companies. We asked Sabrina Godden-Tuma and Dave Breckon for their thoughts to help you consider which environment might suit you:

🎂 In-house vibe check?
While there has been an idea that all agencies are “hip and cool,” larger corporations often have more capacity to offer benefits and flexible programmes and put resources into a positive company culture. But do bear in mind that this will vary from company to company.

⏰ Time is money...
At an agency, money and time will always be closely tied. For example, if the brand's brief changes or the amount of agreed-upon changes has been overstepped, work might stop until the brand and the agency reach a new monetary agreement.

In-house, this isn’t the case. Since creative teams have more direct contact with the business's CEO or founder, there can be potential for late nights and a lot of pressure.

Multiple rounds of amends and project restarts can be an issue within in-house teams, so it’s important to have creative ‘managers’ and similar roles on the team to protect the designers for a healthy environment where the creative team is respected and valued.

🕵️ Should I look for an in-house role when I’m starting out?

🌿 Internships and placements
As in-house teams are often part of bigger brands, with bigger budgets, the majority of them have internship programmes to nurture young talent.

📈 It’s giving... Growth
In-house positions can also offer more growth potential, especially at the start of your career. Large corporations tend to have more structured training plans, often offering the chance to upskill with development schemes, and more easy career direction changes without having to leave the company entirely.

However, the corporate layer of in-house teams can sometimes slow down direct advancement. Stepping up into a higher position can be quite slow and hard.

💰What will I be paid?
That all depends on your role, the market you’re working in, your experience and how much a company can pay you, but it’s worth simply researching advertised roles at companies you’re interested in, to get a sense.

Want to know more about the in-house experience?


Want to know more about working in-house? See more from Inside Out here, including their new podcast.