Turning an In-House Agency Best-in-Class

October 18, 2017

By Meredith Verdone



With marketing channels and content proliferating at an unprecedented pace, in-house agencies have proven to be cost-effective, nimble, and able to deliver a strong understanding of the brand and the strategic imperatives of the business. But there have also been concerns about the quality of talent an in-house agency can attract, the culture companies can create to foster the right level of creativity, and the echo chamber of inside thinking that must be balanced with outside perspective.

At Bank of America, we pride ourselves on the lead agency model, where all voices from each of our agencies are heard and collaborate effectively under one unifying brand voice. This includes our own in-house agency, Enterprise Creative Solutions (ECS), which has gone from a low-cost, single-service provider to a strategic, creative, cost-efficient brand champion in 10 years.

Bank of America acquired ECS when we purchased MBNA. At the time, ECS was an internal department with one core competency: selling affinity credit cards via direct mail, efficiently. One of my first steps was to assess the department to determine if it was viable and worth keeping. Ultimately, we decided that it was, and we had the opportunity to modernize the team to become a credible and valuable creative agency, which could nimbly support all our lines of business and channels. Getting there took a few steps:

  • Rethinking the talent mix. I hired a leader from the outside with years of agency experience to help shape the culture. We looked at other in-house agency models and began to organize for success. We knew to be successful we needed top talent who believed we could be a world-class agency. So we reorganized and created a flexible workforce model, enabling us to scale quickly up and down, bring on people with specialized skills, and maintain a healthy mix of diverse talent to fit changing demand over time.
  • Defining our mission. We wanted to be the go-to agency resource with creative and strategy that was on par with, or better than, the outside agency partners. This provided our North Star. We set out to live the mission and create an agency culture that celebrated creativity. We also made the physical surroundings unique and created an agency logo, identity, and culture.
  • Identifying core competencies. These included knowledge of the bank's brand, products, systems, and owned channels like ATMs, customer communications, and the website. Once we identified these, we set the team up for success by building the processes and tools they needed to learn their core capabilities.
  • Prioritizing communication and education. We launched a wiki tool to manage an orientation curriculum and continuing education process. As we deepened our business acumen and broadened our capabilities, we managed the wiki to transfer knowledge across the team. The new leadership created a blog to keep people engaged and reinforce our mission and culture.

Then, we treated ECS just like any other agency. The team had a seat at the table with our other agencies and won or lost business based on their answer to a brief. This signaled a change and ensured we balanced internal thinking with outside perspective.

Today, ECS mirrors a traditional agency with account, creative, production, and other agency-like teams. Its scope of work has grown with its reputation for great creative and business acumen, and the agency maintains a steady annual job volume of more than 19,000 projects, working for every line of business in nearly every channel.

Our success with ECS proves that when done right, you can have the best of both worlds — an in-house agency that provides a cost-effective, nimble, deep understanding of your brand and the right level of talent, creativity, and outside perspective.


Meredith Verdone is the CMO at Bank of America. To learn more about the impact of ECS on the company and some of the key lessons learned from its transformation, download the ANA CMO Talent Challenge Playbook. The playbook features case studies from more than two dozen CMOs from the ANA Masters Circle who are redefining the rules of what it takes to be a great CMO. Learn more about the ANA Masters Circle.

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