This week on the Boagworld show we ask whether the digital agency is on the decline as more organisations build their own in-house teams.
Paul: Hello and welcome to the Boagworld show the podcast for all aspects of digital design, development and strategy. My name is Paul Boag and joining me on this week’s show is Andy Clark, Drew McLellan, Sam Barnes and Marcus Lillington. And lots of alcohol! Because it was… Drew, it was you who made the mistake of saying you had a gin and T, gin and Tea?! G and T.
Paul: And then we all went off and got a drink. It’s Friday afternoon and we are all tired.
Andy: You see I’ve got a cup of coffee. And it’s decaf! And I’m looking over at my wife’s desk and she has a bottle of sloe gin on it.
Paul: That’s not surprising she has to live with you. (Laughter)
Andy: It the only way she gets through the day.
Paul: Gore, Ahh that’s good!
Marcus: Clanking ice cubes, there you go. Very nice.
Paul: What have you got Marcus?
Marcus: I’ve got a G and T as well.
Paul: Ahh, you see I couldn’t do a G&T quick enough so I’ve just got wine.
Marcus: Drew, so gin comparison? What have you got in yours?
Drew: I think I’ve got “the botanist”
Marcus: Very posh.
Andy: Ahh, very nice.
Marcus: Hmm, lovely.
Drew: …and fever tree tonic.
Marcus: I’ve got a fever tree tonic and Tanqueray.
Drew: Very nice.
Paul: We’ve got this kind of… I don’t know, late evening vibe going. It’s just kind of reached the point in the evening where we are just chilling out.
Sam: In the study. I’m in my smoking jacket
Paul: Yeah, yeah, by a roaring fire.
Marcus: I could put some music, some sort of gentle jazzy tunes behind us.
Paul: That’s what we need!
Sam: And the fire going right?
Drew: It’s the crackling background.
Paul: It’s the crackling background noise, that would be perfect. I miss having an open fire. That’s what happens when you live in a 1970s shithole. (Laughter)
Sam: Hey, I’m from Slough here, not you.
Paul: No, seriously, people have got… It’s funny, I don’t know about you but I have certain mental images about where people live. It’s like when I went to see, you know we went to see John Hicks, Andy, we went up there. That was the first time I had been to his place and it wasn’t at all like I thought it was. And people never imagine where I live because everybody thinks “oh Paul lives out in the country”. Which I do. But I live in an end of terrace 1970s house with white plastic cladding on the front of it.
Paul: It’s disgusting.
Drew: Is it asbestos lined?
Paul: Yes. Which is why it hasn’t been taken off.
Andy: I’m surprised that you still have the house and that you don’t just travel around the country in your motorhome.
Paul: Well, we’ve considered it but I don’t think my teenage son would ever forgive me. Mainly because he would be completely lacking decent Internet connectivity. Which would make him cry like a girl. So there you go.
Andy: Do girls cry particularly hard? When they have no Internet?
Paul: Well, apparently… Judging by my wife then yes! I tell you, whenever the Internet… Because I’ve been rewiring my office and I have got this dodgy cable that runs from the router in the office to the lounge where the Wi-Fi is. And every time I knock this router the Wi-Fi goes down and it’s like I’ve murdered a kitten in front of them. It is just horrendous they can’t survive without it. (Transcribers notes; Hi, I am “the wife” and I do not cry like a girl when the Internet is down, just to let you know!)
Marcus: I reckon Andy lives in a castle. A Welsh castle.
Paul: No, he lives in a, don’t you live in some kind of falling down cottage, you know, Barn-y thing?
Andy: Well, it doesn’t full down any more! but no, we live in what used to be four quarry workers cottages dating back about 300 years and…
Paul: Four of them that’s a bit greedy!
Andy: No because just they were just like one up, one down. Back in the time when all you had was 18 children and the sheep. In your welsh cottage. Nothing much changes! And then turn-of the 20th-century they knocked all of it together into one house. We’ve been slowly doing it up over the last 20 years.
Paul: But please tell me your’e at the end of a dirt track road, where sheep wander through your garden regularly.
Andy: No, I have had a cow in our front garden of course. No word of a lie. And we have had horses kind of parked outside. But no, we live opposite a pub at the end of a lane in a village so it’s not that remote, no.
Paul: But the opposite a pub bit sounds good.
Andy: But we never go in! No,
Andy: No, we never go in. It’s not… Shouldn’t really slag off the local pub on a podcast listened to by millions!
Paul: You… Yeah, but you’re talking about a community in North Wales. The chance of them listening to this podcast I imagine is fairly slim.
Drew: But one of them is on it!
Paul: That’s true. Yeah.
Andy: Yes, well now, you see you do yourself an injustice Paul. You forget how wide your reputation has spread. I can remember, and this is going back about 10 years now, me and you and a bunch of other people maybe even Drew, being on a tube train in in London.
Paul: It was John Hicks. Was the other person.
Andy: Oh, was it? And we were on a tube train in London, and you were just gassing, as is your normal want, and some random bloke got up and said “excuse me, you’re not Paul Boag are you?” And he had recognised your voice on the tube.
Paul: I remember it very well because first of all he goes excuse me and I thought it was somebody begging on the tube. Then he says “are you Paul Boag” and I think where has he read that on my clothes? Because obviously my wife sews my name into all my clothes, for when I lose them! Yeah, it did happen. The funniest one mind…
Marcus: He was begging you though to stop talking probably!
Paul: Yeah probably. I had that once on a train. A woman came up to me and said “this is supposed to be the quiet carriage.” I was just having a normal conversation, for me. And also once somebody came up to me outside Thorpe Park. I was taking my youth group to Thorpe Park and a guy came up to me and said “oh, you are Paul Boag aren’t you?” My youth group pissed themselves with laughter, they thought that was the funniest thing in the world. So there you go.
Marcus: Internet famous Paul Boag.
Paul: Yeah, but not as famous as you Marcus.
Marcus: I’m not Internet famous. You’re Internet famous.
Paul: Well, yeah, Hmm may be. No.
Marcus: Oncee I did get, I remember, once many, many years ago, decades ago, we had done a breakfast TV show in America, I think it was New York, and we were walking back to our hotel and a bus full of schoolkids went past all hanging out the window going “your’e breath man!” Which was kind of… One of those things.
Paul: But surely that must have happened quite a lot?
Marcus: It did out there, but not over here. Didn’t get recognised much here.
Paul: Drew, are you recognised a lot? Are you recognised, you know, for your Internet fame?
Drew: No, well… Only, no. Rachel is more than I am.
Paul: Well yes that’s true.
Drew: She is sometimes approached in shopping centres and the like by random…
Paul: But don’t you think we’ve kind of reached the point where we are the “has been” generation of web designers, that everybody is quietly forgetting?
Drew: Oh, I hope so. Yeah, I definitely hope so. It would be terrible if it was just always the same people for 10/15 years and there’s nobody knew coming up and doing new and exciting things. I’m done doing new and exciting things. I want to do the same old things I’ve always done and be very un-excited by it!
Paul: Yeah, I’m not somebody with any ambition really!
Sam: This is so inspiring! (Laughter)
Paul: I’m just thinking, really, I’ve got a plan. I’ve just had a plan, just sitting here with the jazz playing in the background and the roaring fire. I’m thinking we need an old peoples home for retired web designers.
Marcus: A benevolent fund.
Paul: Yeah, we could all just retire to a big stately home somewhere.
Andy: Before it got dangerous I used to think about… I used to dream about sort of retiring to North Africa and being one of those old colonial men that would just spend their time… Have a manservant and I’d live in a little place above a market and I’d be an alcoholic obviously and I’d sit there drinking, I don’t know what alcoholics drink…
Paul: We could all move to India, that’s the thing to do isn’t it. You retire to India. And I have to say after going there I can imagine that. You know, just getting a nice house and getting a load of people to look after me. It’s great.
Drew: Feed you grapes, that sort of thing.
Paul: Yeah, I mean, Marcus, you must be planning this now your only a couple of years away aren’t you?
Marcus: Well that would mean that Andy’s a year ahead of me obviously. I have to make that point.
Andy: Oh, we’re not going to talk about being old again. I was in a workshop with Mr Joe Leach doing a Psychology for Web Designers workshop yesterday and every time he talked about over 50s life insurance he looked at me. (Laughter)
Paul: Well yeah, he’s a… He’s what, five?
Andy: In comparison, yes. In Internet years, yes.
Marcus: But with a lot of things Paul, I’ve kind of realised that there’s no point in thinking about retirement and what you might want to do because basically I’ve got at least 10 probably 15 more years working because that’s just how it is. Get on with it. Five years ago it seemed to be a thing. “Oh, we’re 45 years old, we should be thinking about the future and what I might want to do when I retire” but it’s kind of like, I don’t think about it now..
Paul: We’ve all accepted that none of us are ever going to retire.
Marcus: Yes, basically.
Sam: Thinking about the future is pretty depressing at the moment.
Marcus: Oh, here we go.
Sam: Let’s just think about the past. Through rose tinted glasses.
Marcus: The golden age.
Paul: Exactly, has anybody got any Werther’s?
Sam: One at the bottom of my pocket I think.
Paul: Yeah, that’s good.
Andy: You know what I’ve been disappointed by recently recently? Do you remember those sweet peanuts that you used to get when you were a kid?
Marcus: Yeah, yeah.
Andy: They used to be like sweets and are shaped like monkey nuts. And they used to have little bits of ground up peanut on the inside. Not any more they don’t! Not anymore.
Drew: It’s an outrage!
Andy: They are still shaped like peanuts but there’s no peanuts on the inside on the inside of the sweet peanuts.
Paul: Have you seen what they have done to the Toblerone.
Sam: Yes, that extra gap.
Paul: It’s a travesty!
Marcus: I don’t eat Toblerone so I kind of don’t care.
Sam: What about chocolate orange though? They have taken a little chunk out of each slice now and it’s just not the same!
Andy: What a fascinating podcast this is!
Sam: Isn’t it just!
Marcus: Whoa whoa whoa, I didn’t know about the chocolate orange!
Sam: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to break it to you like that.
Marcus: I am hurt now.
Paul: Hang on, how does that work? Because surely then it’s not…
Sam: It’s like it’s indented on the outside, the final layer around the outside is the same but everything else is on one side of the slice, is like indented. Trust me, go and buy one and be disappointed.
Drew: I’m surprised how anybody has figured this out yet because it’s not yet Christmas day. Which is the only time it is legitimate to eat a chocolate orange.
Sam: No way. It’s a staple for me.
Marcus: Yes, it’s one of your five a day, hey Sam!
Paul: I love the idea that Sam lives off of chocolate oranges.
Sam: I don’t drink too much but boy do I eat a lot of chocolate. (Laughter)
Paul: Does it go well with G and T, that’s the question. Right, so there we go then, we going to retire to India or North Africa and have man servants look after us.
Sam: Just give up on everything. This is what you’ve got to look forward to people.
Paul: It’s all hopeless. (Laughter) So there we go. So shall we talk about our first sponsor?
Andy: Who is our first sponsor this week Paul?!
Paul: Okay, no, I can’t even be bothered to get enthusiastic about this. No, it’s video blocks.
Andy:oh, great. Tell us about videoblocks Paul.
Paul: Oh, piss off Andy. (Laughter) Videoblocks are paying for my retirement, that’s all you need to know about them. So there we go. No, they are an affordable subscription-based stock media site. What does that mean? That means that they have loads of video footage basically. So what you can do is you sign up for a monthly fee and you pay every month but then you get access to as much video stock footage as you want. So all the kind of stuff that can be used to make videos that you produce to go on the website et cetera a lot more interesting. Saves so much time you have no idea. As someone who uses them quite a lot they are a very useful. They have got a sister site called audioblocks as well which is great for basically giving you the stock audio sounds that you need for, well, podcasts and things like this. If you don’t have a Marcus, and we don’t all have an ageing popstar to provide music for us. Then audioblocks is the answer for you. You get unlimited downloads a month, a great selection, over 115,000 videos and 130,000 audio files. When I say hundred and 15,000 video files, were not talking about feature length movies here were talking about little clips that you can put into stuff. The average subscriber ends up paying less than a dollar per download over a year because you download so much stuff. You can download as much as you want, you can try it, see if it fits if it works, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. There’s a great variety of high quality video and audio to check out and they’re always adding new stuff. You’ve got unrestricted use to use it as much as you want. Videoblocks is offering listeners of this show a years subscription to both videoblocks and audioblocks combined for only $149 for a year. That is about hundred dollars discount over the usual pricetag so it’s definitely worth checking out if you do any kind of video or audio work then it’s a really useful little tool. So it’s [http://videoblocks.com/Boagworld 2016](http://videoblocks.com/Boagworld 2016).
Round Table Discussion
Now, as we’ve already established I am retiring, so really this whole discussion section is all down to Sam. Because it was your idea to talk about this Sam. You came up with an extensive list of questions so I’m now sitting back and handing the show over to you.
Sam: Oh great, cheers!
Paul: Are you all right with that, is that okay?
Sam: Yes, no problem at all.
Paul: So, tell everybody what your idea was.
Sam: So, I mean it’s related to a really common question I get. I think we talked about it briefly before. But it’s always “What is it like to work somewhere else” ranging from digital agency size, type, small, medium, large. Also, what’s it like to be on the agency side or the supplier side. Another common one I get, and I think it is coming a little bit more prevalent these days, and the primary topic, is the differences, really, between in-house digital teams and digital agencies. So, really how… anything from working at them to how it’s affected business owners, to what it is like to work with companies that now have an in-house team? I know Paul you’ve got experience kind of getting transformations going within companies. There is just so much around this, from hiring, is there less work out there for business owners? Has it affected anyone from Marcus maybe?. Has it affected the ability to grow projects into accounts because that need for an agency isn’t so much there? What do we think about… Is it a good idea to have in-house agencies? What are we losing or gaining by that versus using an agency? I’ve got a ton more questions about it but I’m really looking for anyone to get kicked off because the truth is I’ve not really worked at an agency with clients for really five or more years now. So I kind of knew what it was like back then, I don’t think it was too impactful but in the last 5/6 years I’ve seen an awful lot of companies just sort of ditching all, if not most, of their suppliers because they’re building their own in-house team. So who wants to kick us off with that one?
Paul: Go on Marcus, you must have something to say on this issue. Running an agency as you do.
Marcus: Well in my experience all in-house teams should be scrapped, basically.
Paul: Are shipped.
Marcus: (laughter) No, I’m joking! I’m joking.
Paul: He doesn’t mean it.
Marcus: I think that the honest truth, just to kind of go back to the question about work and is it affecting agencies, is yes, it is affecting agencies and therefore there isn’t as much work out there for agencies. So that’s my kind of starting point. That said, it doesn’t seem to be affecting us to the point that it is a problem at the moment. I think I mentioned it last week, two years ago we had a really bad year and at the time it was kind of like, well this is because all the work we do is going in-house and also at the time I kept thinking, I always feel awkward saying this, we were just continually being unlucky during that year. We kept losing, kept coming second on pitches and all this kind of thing. And I was thinking maybe it isn’t the fact that work is going in-house the fact that we, Headscape had just had a bad year because we just kind of… luck wasn’t riding with us. That has been borne out by this year where it seems that every corner we turn people just say “Oh, can you do this for us, can you do that for us”. Whereas I don’t expect that to keep going but I think that my feeling is that that particularly bad year was down to bad luck because it has almost kind of bounced back on us this year in the opposite way. My experience with working with in-house teams is that, for the most part, and I think this is because of the size of Headscape, we don’t work with huge companies. There are a few exceptions to that, we work for Nestlé for example who are obviously a very huge company but they are kind of divided up into lots of different departments. Even though they have internal teams they tend not to have teams that do design or coding. And they like to outsource that. But it seems the level that we are at that in-house teams, even though they are growing, they tend to be growing more towards content people, marketing people rather than design and coding type people. So, as I say, at the mid-level, if you like, that we tend to work at it is not affected us badly yet. It seems that we are still required. There is still a requirement for the expertise that we can bring to bolster internal teams. Rather than us going “Well, we keep going for a particular type of business and we keep getting pushed away because it isn’t there”… that doesn’t make sense… Sorry, the Gin and tonic is kicking in now.! You know what I’m saying? That there are still plenty of opportunities out there for a company of our size that is aiming where we are aiming, kind of mid level.
Sam: So, when you had that bad year, I was just curious, what, was it just wrong instinct that you are attributing it to in-house teams getting the work or was it that you’ve had this strange situation that I’ve had in the past where I was pitching against an in-house team. I don’t know if you have had that one?
Sam: Pitching for work against an eternal team, very bizarre.
Marcus: Well, just to put a little bit more detail on that bad year that we had. We had two opportunities that we felt… Paul will remember them very well, that we felt were absolutely dead certs. We had been assured by the client that we were absolutely dead certs.
Paul: In one case we had been assured by the CEO of the company. You can’t get better than that.
Marcus: To add to that they were both… They were the biggest projects we would ever have won if we had won them. Both of them. So if they had both come in it would have been the best year we had ever had. But as it turns out neither came in and there was a certain expectation, obviously when you’re being told you’re going to win this work, that they were going to happen and when they didn’t it was kind of like, shit! How we going to feed everybody?
Paul: The fact that we had kind of reached that point where we were so reliant on those two big ones coming in, kind of does flag up whether there is an underlying issue there. Does that make sense?
Marcus: Yeah, totally. And I think what we did to make it so that it’s now not an issue is to now get smaller.
Paul: You fired me, basically.
Marcus: No, you left us in our hour of need Paul!
Paul: Oh, we are going with that story, fine! Sorry, I didn’t know what we were going with today. Yes, that’s fine. I walked away from you in your hour of need, yeah!
Marcus: But I think that even though I say, and it’s true, how much I am enjoying working at the moment with a smaller team and being much more involved in the projects. Although all of that is true, obviously we don’t have to bring in as much work as we used to.
Paul: Andy, sorry Marcus.
Marcus: No, no, carry on.
Paul: I was just interested in Andy. Because Andy, you were saying that you were having a worse time of it more recently. You were finding it harder at the moment to bring in work. I think you were saying that last week? And I haven’t just said something I shouldn’t have. Do you attribute that to the growth of in-house teams?
Andy: Umm, no I don’t think our bad year has necessarily been to do with the fact that work is going in-house. I think work is going in-house. I put our bad year down to a bunch of factors you that are probably in my control in terms of how we present things and my lack of enthusiasm, maybe even, for going out there and getting work this year, if I’m being honest. But things have changed over the last few years and I am absolutely convinced that there is less work out there generally for agencies because the clients, the larger, the discerning clients that we like to work with, they have more people in-house. And the jobbing web designers or agencies, would we still call people full-service? Would you describe Headscape as full-service? In terms of….
Marcus: I prefer head-case much more Andy! Yes and no is the answer to that. It depends what you mean by full-service. We don’t do print and stuff like that so from that point of view I guess we are not.
Andy: But you will do design and you do build and you’ll do UX and you’ll do all of that stuff. So I would consider that to be potentially kind of full service. So I’m convinced there is less work out there for larger companies or people doing that kind of thing because people are building in-house teams. And these things are cyclical, you know. We’ve seen this before and then all of a sudden people find that they’re not getting their creative inspiration of new blood, and all this kind of stuff. So, you know, it’s always, always cyclical. What’s been interesting, I think for me anyway, for over the last year or so, and this is something that I have been talking to our business adviser Chris about making into a thing. You know, actually presenting this in a way which hopefully people will say “Cool, I didn’t realise you did this”. Is I really like to work on creative and art direction, that kind of leadership stuff. That’s what I like to do best. What I have found over the last, even over the last year or so, is that when we talk about in-house teams they don’t tend to include that role. You will find that clients will see the value or they have seen the value, in bringing UX in-house. There will be development teams and there will probably be some, no disrespect to anybody intended, low level visual designers. Pixel pushers, you know doing grunt work, making interfaces that kind of thing. But what they lack is the overall creative vision that kind of matches up with what may be the marketing department or the branding people do. That kind of real high level, creative stuff. And that’s what I do. So I’ve been going into in-house teams over the last sort of year or so and adding that role, in fact people have hired me to come in and do that kind of stuff because there is a lack of people that are willing to go out there and do it. Whether that is kind of actually working with people in-house, going there like I did with clients this year and spending three days a week on site actually mentoring their designers and working with them, or doing consulting stuff. I mean, it was interesting when I was in Australia, did I mention, Paul, that I’d been in Australia!
Paul: Once or twice a. About much as I have mentioned that I’ve been to India recently.
Andy: And, you know, I got hired for a couple of consulting gigs to talk about design systems and style guides and that kind of thing for a couple of big companies. And when I went there it turned out that it wasn’t what most people would think of as a style guide or a pattern library that they really, really needed. What they really needed was a creative vision that binds everything together you know? Documenting a bunch of patterns, not enough! They needed something much more than that, and that’s what I kind of did. So I think there is an opportunity for people, hopefully for people like me, to work with in-house teams rather than competing with them. Because, you know, I do stuff that people aren’t hiring.
Sam: So in that company, Andy, did they not have a senior creative people who would do this when you were there? What was the gap, or the reason that they bought you in verses using in-house people?
Andy: Well this is really interesting. I was working with a big newspaper in Australia and on the print side of the floor they have creative directors, they have art directors, they put a lot of money and time into the way that the Sunday magazine still looks, in the normal way. But what I found really interesting was that at this particular company, and some of the others that I have visited, the website falls under the “product team”. And the product team is made up of UX people generally, project managers and product designers and to be honest they are all just a bit boring. And they do a different job. I shouldn’t be disrespectful to product people but you know, they do a different job, they have a different outlook on design than I do when it comes to high-level creative stuff. So the simple answer to your question is no, they don’t. They haven’t valued design before. They haven’t… They valued it in terms of UX, whatever that means, but they haven’t valued the sort of higher-level creative thinking and what does this actually mean to how we communicate, blah, blah, blah, until fairly recently. I think a lot of people are realising that the products that they make on the websites that they make are looking dull. We talked about this last week. And they need people like me to come in and help. That is a good thing.
Paul: I think a lot of it comes to the digital maturity of the organisation that you are talking about.
Sam: That’s what I was just thinking.
Paul: You know, I work with a lot of fairly large organisations that have in-house teams and they have in-house teams because there is ongoing digital work that needs doing. Ongoing digital touch points that users interact with, that they need to support. But all of those teams tend to be what I would consider the maintenance teams. That their job is to maintain what is already there. They’re resourced accordingly. So typically those kinds of teams consist of content people, developers, maybe one or two designer/UX-y people but not a huge amount to be honest. And that is it really. And the vision and the leadership comes from elsewhere in the organisation. And I say vision in the very loosest sense of the word. More of an ad hoc, you know, knee-jerk response to stuff. So yes, they have internal teams but these teams tend to be massively under resourced, they don’t have the authority they need to bring about real change and as a result they are never really doing much more than just firefighting and kind of day-to-day stuff. Which is a massively frustrating for the people who are working in these teams. So I think where value from people like Andy or indeed, myself, comes from is that we are almost brought in to do the “take a step back” kind of work. To look at the bigger picture. Because they don’t have time to do it themselves. And it’s not even they don’t have the capabilities to do it themselves they just do not have the time.
Sam: So is part of your remit ever to train these people, hopefully will have the time for that, so will not need someone like yourself in the future?
Paul: Yes, that is where you should get to but the truth is… They do need some training, absolutely, but they are knowledgeable people, they know their stuff to the most part. They tend to be a little bit behind because the organisation hasn’t invested in their training because they don’t really… They see digital and user experiences as a cost to the business rather than as a potential revenue generator. So they tend to under invest in it both in terms of staffing levels and also in terms of training. So they tend to be a little bit behind but they are knowledgeable, clever people. The problem they have got, and probably their weakest area is they are not able, they are not very good salespeople. They are not very good at selling digital, selling user experience, selling design into senior management. So often the biggest benefit that I personally provide, I think, is to convince senior management to invest more to building up their in-house team. Then that throws up interesting questions about well is that really the right way to go?
Sam: Exactly, yeah.
Paul: But first of all, Marcus, you look like you want to say something on the issue. Because I do want to get onto that. Is it the right thing to do?
Marcus: I was just going to add to that by saying that we still get hired, probably for the majority of projects, to basically get things done that the internal team already know what they need. We are hired as the expert.
Paul: And as the additional resource.
Paul: Because, you know, they are not resourced up with this idea of continual iteration and investment in a website. Their teams are resourced up really to do the bare minimum of kind of content maintenance, not evolution of the website, so the website decays and decays and decays over a number of years until somebody in senior management throws their toys out of the pram and they hire somebody like Headscape to come in and redesign it. Which must be immensely frustrating for the internal team.
Marcus: I don’t think, that doesn’t happen that often. It tends to be more how I just described it, that the internal team or the head of marketing or whoever that we are dealing with knows that something needs to happen but they need to have a group of people like us to make that happen. I suppose what I’m saying here is that one day we will be out of business, agencies, because everybody will eventually catch up. The only thing that I have got to hang onto as far as people still needing us is a) We are more likely to be ahead of the curve of an internal team because we are working with so many different clients and so many different issues come up that we are, as a team, we are more likely to be head of that particular curve. And also I think that some people like to outsource. But I think, is quite a depressing thought really, but I think at the moment the reason why I am kind of like saying things like I said earlier along the lines of that there is plenty of work out there is because it is a massive transition period at the moment where a lot of the people say they have got internal teams but they are not very well… They haven’t got the right people or they’ve got a lot of this particular type of skill but they haven’t got any of that, and we can kind of just fill in the gaps as well as making things happen.
Paul: There is also, don’t forget, there’s going to be the element where internal teams are always going to need specialists in very particular areas that you can’t justify having a full-time person for. So there will be that kind of work and there will always be the “we’ve only got so much work we can take on as a team” and so they may need additional resources from time to time. Whether they go to agencies for that kind of work or go to individual freelances is up for debate. Andy you look like you want to say something?
Andy: I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve done a bit of speaking here and there and I’ve written a couple of books, but I do find that when I get brought in to work with teams quite often I’m there as some sort of authority, in a way, to help them fight battles that they can’t quite fight themselves. The fact that I can come in and I can say something which maybe they wouldn’t dare to say to their boss or their management themselves. I can be quite blunt about something which is lacking or not being done correctly or whatever. And I think people find that external authority quite useful sometimes. The trick is, I think, and what I like to try to do, is to build people up so that they are confident to be able to do that kind of thing themselves.
Andy: I mean the whole idea behind doing what we do I suppose, is to make ourselves redundant ultimately. But that is kind of part of the fun. Because we are moving on to something else so I wouldn’t worry about that too much.
Sam: Andy, do you find yourself in those roles that you’re spending your time… You talk about giving the… I guess the credibility, or whatever it is, that they are lacking to have progress. But do you find yourself sort of guiding those teams on how to communicate with non-technical, non-creative, Nondigital people. Because I find myself doing at an awful lot.
Paul: Thats the biggest part of my job. I don’t know about you Andy?
Andy: Yeah pretty much all the time. And to be honest that’s the bit that I kind of like the most. I kind of like teaching and I like work-shopping and doing all of that kind of stuff. Actually helping people to do that is part of the best bit.
Sam: Agreed, agreed.
Paul: Before we get into… I do want to get into this issue of whether or not an in-house team is actually a good idea. Because I have got my opinions but I’ve had some very good counterarguments that have been quite impressive. But before we get into that I am quite interested, Drew, you’ve probably got a better overview of the industry than almost we have. Because you have these clients, you have a lot of different clients coming to you in a lot of different situations. And just from the sales of Perch licences alone you must get a sense of whether they are mainly being bought by agencies these days or in-house teams or how agencies are doing. What are you seeing?
Drew: Yes, we definitely see a mix of agencies and in-house teams. Probably predominantly agencies. But certainly from a sort of tech support point of view there’s a very clear trend that we see when people are using the software in-house. In that there is often very little continuity between the staff members. So we frequently have people coming and asking questions. They’ve not used our system before and they are new to a job and they need to understand how to do things. And none of the knowledge has been passed across. Particularly I think that at the smaller scale of the market where you are sort of thinking of, rather than web teams of eight or 12 or 16 or whatever, you’ve got web teams that are maybe one or two people may be a manager and then somebody that they have hired straight out of university. Perhaps the business has looked at what they are spending with an agency every year and have thought, “Well, for that we can hire a graduate to be with us full time. He could just do this stuff non-stop.” But what you tend to get in that scenario is that you get people who are, if they are in the early stages of their career, they come into a job they do some stuff they learn some skills and then they want to move onto the next step. So you get a lot of change over. So we find that we get people who are having to maintain a site and all the knowledge that was built up while that site was being implemented has been completely lost. And I don’t think that is a problem that you get so much with an agency. Of course you get turnover of staff within an agency but you will also have more continuity as a company and you have the agency working on lots of different projects often using similar solutions like they’ll standardise on a framework or a CMS or what have you. So if you, as a business, you are going back to that agency they are going to have people on staff who know what system that you are running. You are going to get more continuity. It is certainly something that we saw when we were doing client work we had one particular client where as an external agency for them we had been there longer than any of their staff. We knew more really about certain parts of their business then anybody on staff did. Just because they were using us as an external resource. We were there and we had that built up knowledge. So yeah… It is certainly a factor and I guess there are ways to solve that but what you tend to have in these smaller teams with people who are early on in their career is that lack of experience to know that they need to make sure that everything is documented and that they have handover processes to go between whoever comes along next. Because why should they know? They’ve not done that before unless they’ve got a manager telling them exactly you must do this.
Paul: But also even if they do know, often times they don’t have the time to document stuff. They are constantly being pushed to do evermore things with ever limited resources.
Drew: I’ve been in that scenario myself in fact when I started off, my very first job, I was kind of the web guy stop the web master! Within a software company. As basically I would spend Monday running Perl scripts to analyse web logs to produce a weekly report of analytics. Then Tuesday I would implement what the marketing department wanted. And you would fall into that maintenance role. And I think particularly, we were talking about having agencies come in with external expertise to teach or to apply. But I think another crucial thing that agencies bring is external perspective. Because when you are within a business working on the same things day in, day out. Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees. It is the reason that all sorts, all types of business managers and business consultants who come in, it’s not that they don’t know how to manage their business it’s just they are so deep into it that they need somebody with an external perspective to say “Look, this thing you’re doing is wrong you should be doing that”
Sam: Which I guess leads us into in-house teams or not? Because one of the benefits is kind of similar to what you’ve just mentioned. So the external view is always good but one of the advantages of having an in-house team is that they know your business, your brand, your values, everything that goes into providing a solution. That is one benefit but Paul you talked about some opinions of yourself. Maybe not such a good idea.
Paul: It’s interesting because I almost always recommend it. When I talk to organisations I say “Look, increasingly digital is becoming business critical to organisations and you wouldn’t take another business critical components and outsource it to a 3rd party organisation. It is inherently risky to do that because the outside organisation may go away and there are all kinds of potential risks associated with taking something that is business critical and outsourcing it. So my kind of default position is being ”Yeah alright you need to build up an in-house team“ but there are some concerns that go along with it and Drew has hit one on the head I think very much with this idea that you can’t see the wood for the trees. Now I talk a lot about people becoming institutionalised. That because user experience and digital is still relatively new within the lifetime of some organisations it gets bolted onto existing processes and existing thinking. So people end up self censoring themselves. They end up saying ”Oh we don’t do things that way here“. And that’s a dangerous road to go down when the whole landscape has changed around you, when the business environment has changed around you, to suddenly turn round and say ”Well we don’t do things like that." Is very dangerous. And actually what you need to implement a culture that is user centric and is digital by default is people that are going to be disruptive, is people who are going to cause trouble. And it’s a lot easier to cause trouble from the outside than it is from the inside, if that makes sense.
Sam: Do you think that is because… In my experience, yes the culture needs work but the people especially in bigger companies, who’ve been there 20 years or whatever they still tend to think of digital, as let’s say, computers. Is that as prevalent as I imagine?
Paul: Yeah, absolutely. You know, the example that I always talk about, which I think seems to click with a lot of people, is that I talk about how ubiquitous electricity is. And I say in the early days of electricity, when electricity first came along, people had chief electricity officers. Right! You would go to someone to get permission to use electricity. And everybody goes “Ah, that’s ridiculous, how silly!” And they all sneer like you just did. And yet that is the reality that we are living in today, that there is this kind of digital team, these techies, who do techie things with digital and you have to go to the techie team and you have to ask them to do something digitally. But I think that in time is going to change so that digital is ubiquitous. And to outsource that is very hard to do because then there is always a distance, there is always a barrier between it. But the flip-side of that, something that I… Rob Borley who’s been on this show, said to me once, which I thought was very interesting, is that yes, that is all well and good theoretically, in the future in this lovely new utopia, but right here and now the reality is that most people, most organisations, don’t know how to manage digital, don’t know how to create a good user experience and most importantly of all, don’t know how to run good digital teams and look after good digital people. So as a result when people do build internal teams they are often frustrated and constrained by politics and bureaucracy and that kind of stuff. So actually maybe having a separate organisation with their own structures and their own ways of working that acts as your digital team may be the better way to go.
Sam: I’ve seen that done a few times. It was really effective in some places, not in others. I mean, with the successes you’ve had in that role what do you think… I’m really fascinated as to how you changed people’s opinion of digital, how you got them to buy into what we know is a good way of working but what is so alien to other people.
Paul: I mean the way, I know, look, there’s Andy and Marcus here who have both got their hands up, they are waiting patiently but I don’t give a shit it’s my show!
Sam: I thought it was my show today!?
Paul: Oh yes that’s true. That and also it is Marcus’ I guess too.
Marcus: It’s my show too!
Paul: Yeah. Go on then Marcus, you say what you want to and will come back to that point in a minute. You had your hand raised the longest. You’ve been a very good boy.
Marcus: It was, as a kind of extension of that really, in the fact that, we’ve said this before, if you are part of a team that is only working on one thing then that is likely to be less rewarding than if you’re working as part of a team where you are working on lots of different things. So, likely to! Not…
Paul: I don’t know, I don’t know whether I agree with that!
Marcus: Well, all right then you could say that some people want some things and other people and other things. I think I think, all right, I’m going to say… No offence meant at all but I am guessing, I am treading very carefully here!, that somebody who is at… somebody who is very good at what they do is more likely to want lots of challenges and therefore would prefer the agency model, possibly. But my concern there therefore is that if internal team may struggle to keep hold of people and therefore you can have lots of change and therefore it adds to all the things we were talking about earlier about it’s hard to manage a team especially if it’s all different people changing all the time because I think actually I want to be working for that fancy agency down the road where I can get experience of doing lots of different types of projects. I don’t know if that is necessarily true or not but I think it is a valid point.
Sam: I think that the counter that I have seen to that is that some people want to not worry about the repetition that comes with some client works. Depending on which agency you are at. I know for a fact that when I was working agencies and had the opportunity to go to a sort of one product or couple of product environment my biggest fear was repetition at the product company. How long can one or two products keep me interested? I was completely surprised to find that the variety of work that you had to do on that product was actually for me, more varied than the sort of agency life that I had had where we had been churning out similar end results.
Marcus: I am just referring to the utopia that is Headscape obviously. (Laughter)
Paul: Andy, you’re champing at the bit.
Andy: No, no. You are always saying that I am chomping at the bit. I’m sitting here quite patiently! I was thinking that possibly, I hope, that we would all agree that it is better to work alongside people. If you are an agency or a freelancer or a small company like mine it is best to work alongside people that you’re working with in terms of in-house teams and clients rather than being, rather than having one of these relationships which is very much kind of vendor/client. Where you just kind of throw stuff over the wall and go “Ta-Da” I’ve done my job.
Andy: The problem though is that the way that most clients, or a lot of clients, particularly when it comes to larger organisations or government or some institution or another. The way that they actually go about hiring an external source does not make it very easy to establish that kind of relationship. Because you have got bullshit tendering processes that are based on a point systems and all of that kind of stuff. Well maybe this is a topic for another day, I’m sure Marcus and I can talk for a long time.
Marcus: I was just about to say Andy that we could fill a whole podcast with this.
Andy: Well maybe what we should do is that we should talk in another episode about about how you can write a great brief, how you can commission people. We can… Maybe this is not a topic for today but I think that what is a good point is that we still need to, whether we are in agencies or not, foster good relationships with clients on the inside. And in-house teams. Because it is very difficult and it would be very easy for me to go into a client where they’ve got a couple of designers and some UX people and whatever and alienate them. You know if I’m being brought in as an authority then its very… You got to tread a very fine line. Between getting the job done in a way which is obviously going to produce the best work and making sure that you don’t alienate the people on the inside that have maybe been there for a while that may think “Well who are you coming in, we have been here two years we know the business much better than you do.”
Sam: Very good point.
Andy: So I think that’s one of the things that is difficult from my point of view.
Paul: Well the first thing I always do when I go into companies is I will sit, as soon as I possibly can, I will sit down with the internal web team and I will say “Okay, what have you been saying for three years and nobody has listened to?” And then I repeat that. Because I am the external consultants and because management can see my costs much more transparently therefore they value me more highly. Which is wrong, but it’s the reality. Then they do tend to listen to me over their own internal teams. Which is horribly depressing but it is the reality of it. But going back to the point that you were saying about procurement that kind of brings us back actually, believe it or not, to the question that Sam asked me which was how do you get around a lot of these problems. How do you establish a different culture. Because the culture has to touch everything all the way through to procurement and how you procure external digital experts. One of the things that I have found that works the best is actually to form, and call them this as well, to form an “Innovation team” within an organisation. A cross disciplinary team made up of marketing people, digital people, UX people, developers, everybody that you need. If you call them an innovation team it is code within larger organisations for we are ignoring all the rules. Right! So by creating an innovation team you are basically creating within the company a little start-up. And that start-up doesn’t have to wait three weeks for a printer because IT has to come and fit it. They don’t have to go through the normal procurement process. They don’t have to go through risk assessment in the same way because they are an innovation team they work differently. So they can then create this little bubble within the organisation that is of a different culture and a different way of working. That is agile, that is user centric, that is digital first et cetera et cetera. Then what you do is as they work on these things you bring into that team product owners, business specialists from across the organisation. So let’s say that you are working on product X and product X’s digital footprint. So what you do is you bring in someone from product X team and embed them in the innovation team, in that group of people that are going to deliver on the digital component of product X. And that product X representative is living and breathing and experiencing the culture of that little team. He is being inspired and excited by the potential of what can be done if you don’t do things the way that they have always been done. You are not constrained by procurement rules, you are not constrained by this, that and the other. And also they’re exposed to just how just how amazing agile can be, just how great it can be working from a user centric point of view. And then they go back to their departments and they take that culture with them. And you infect the rest of the organisation.
Sam: It’s a good word, I understand that.
Paul: Yeah, so it is, it is almost like a viral infection that the innovation team become this viral infection within the company that slowly spreads. I mean it is a marathon and not a sprint but it can work. And the key to it is having really a strong leader of that innovation team. Where I’ve seen it work in the past there has been someone who has got the authority, well not even the authority but just the gumption to say we are going to do things differently. We are going to ignore the procurement process, come after me if you’ve got a problem with that, you know! And it’s having people who are willing to do that that I think is so important. Anyway, we could… Sorry, we could carry on on this subject I cannot believe that we are at 55 minutes already and I feel like we have only touched on the surface of this.
Sam: There’s definitely more, yes.
Paul: Is there anything that anybody else wanted to really bring up before we wrap up today? We can always revisit this another week.
Andy: It would be interesting to find out what listeners think on this subject as well. Because small we are in a small little bubble here the five of us. So it would be very interesting to find out what people who are actually out there working on in-house teams are experiencing.
Paul: Yes, so definitely let us know either on the comments in the show notes or Twitter or whatever. I think this is a conversation worth continuing on. But we will wrap up for this week. If for no other reason than we need to do a different subject next week that Drew is able to join in on more. As the only person that doesn’t have to endure the agency or in-house life. You are a unique being in your own right Drew.
Drew: I like to think so.
Paul: Yeah! (Laughter)
All right, so let’s quickly just say a couple of words about our second sponsor which is Vivaldi.
Andy: Oh yes talk about Vivaldi Paul!
Paul: I’m not going to! They are going to talk about themselves and how great they are. Because Molly, you will have heard in last week’s show is one of the people behind Vivaldi and when we were talking about it I thought look, you guys talk about it instead. You tell us why Vivaldi is an interesting browser. So here is the stuff from the guys at Vivaldi.
Paul: So there you go there’s a bit about Vivaldi. You can find out more about them at http://boag.world/betterbrowser. So that about wraps it up for this week’s show. We would be really interested, as Andy said, to hear your opinions. Whether you are from the in-house side or the agency side. And by the way if you work in-house and want to send hate mail to Marcus it is [email protected] He really did mean to imply that you were less motivated and less inspired as a designer and developer.
Marcus: Oh dear! That is not what I was saying.
Paul: That was how I read it.
Marcus: Yeah, yeah
Paul: Certainly was. So where can people find out about you, and reach out to you in case they want to for some reason?
Marcus: Hire Headscape at http://headscape.co.uk
Paul: So hang on, you’ve just insulted internal teams and now you want them to hire you. You are right though, I think there are different personality types between people who tend to work at agencies and people who tend to work it in-house. It is like anything though isn’t it, it is not black and white. And you were saying it is not black-and-white. Of course you wern’t.
Marcus: No, I was not. Bad man!
Paul: I am a very bad man! I like to stir it. Andy, what about you, where can people find out about you?
Andy: Well people can hire me because I am much nicer and more collaborative than Marcus! (Laughter) At http://stuffandnonsense.co.uk or you can DM me @Malarkey.
Paul: Drew, where can people buy your stuff?
Drew: They can find me on Twitter @DrewM and they can buy my stuff at http://grabaperch.com
Paul: And Sam, you’ve got nothing to offer the world!
Sam: As I always say Percy pigs or you know anything like that I’m your man.
Paul: Or pictures of cats!
Sam: Yes, yes. Follow me on Twitter @theSamBarnes if you like cats. I wouldn’t bother if you don’t. That is pretty much all it is these days.
Paul: And I tell you, Instagram, your Instagram feed makes me nauseous. Every Friday you go into the cats home?
Sam: Every Saturday, every other Saturday at the moment. Yes. I did think about including a hashtag to allow people to mute but you know what, unfollow me. (Laughter)
Paul: But I don’t want to.
Sam: Exactly! I’m testing you. Are you my real friend or not?
Paul: I’m torn between the two. My hatred of cats and my love of Sam Barnes. It is very difficult.
Sam: And my website is http://TheSamBarnes.com
Paul: Are you still blogging much there Sam because you should be.
Sam: I should be and the honest truth is that I haven’t done much since I started speaking. Because it takes a lot out of me personally and it’s the kind of thing I say, right, no more talking I’ll get back to writing and then something comes along that sounds like something I want to be a part of. So, yep.
Paul: Sam I am here-by commanding you to blog more.
Sam: Okay, okay
Paul: Make it happen, you can even write something for Boagworld if you feel so inclined.
Sam: Never ending with you isn’t it, never-ending!
Paul: I am such a giver.
Paul: Getting you to write for me for free. All right, Marcus have you got a joke for us?
Marcus: I have. This is from the Boagworld slack channel. I had to dig back deep so is probably one I skipped over before. I am setting this up beautifully…
Paul: Yes, you’re really selling it!
Marcus: it from Anders Grenstadsback.
Paul: Is that a real name?
Andy: That’s a made up name.
Marcus: Grenstadsback. I don’t think he’s from England.
Paul: No shit!
Marcus: Here is the joke, “I hate elevators, I take steps to avoid them.”
Paul: That, that… That is… I quite like that one! It kind of appeals to me that one. Sam I thought you’d walked out on me then. You disappeared.
Sam: I did, something went wrong, I don’t know it reloaded? I got a rather scary warning message I tell you about in a minute but…
Paul: Oooo, that doesn’t sound good. I don’t like the sound of that at all. Okay, that’s it for this week’s show thank you very much for listening guys. Don’t forget to check out our Christmas appeal especially if you run an agency or if you’ve got clients basically if you send out Christmas cards to clients go to Boagworld.world/Xmas. You will find a good reason why you should. But until next week thank you very much for listening and goodbye.