Brands are increasingly abandoning ad agencies or acquiring them and forming in-house marketing and content creation departments in the name of efficiency and speed.

Pepsi is no exception. At last year’s Cannes Lions Festival, president Brad Jakeman energetically talked up its decision to form a new in-house content creation arm, Creators League Studio.

“Instead of five pieces of content a year, a brand like Pepsi needs about 5,000 pieces of content a year. Instead of taking six months to develop an ad, we have six hours or six days. And instead of it costing $2 million, it needs to cost $20,000,” he explained, further complaining about complicated procedures and the time and cost involved with any campaign. “There is no infrastructure to advertisers to be able to quickly produce that content. You have to patch it together. Certainly, the traditional agencies can’t do it.”

Maybe not, but Jakeman might be eating (or drinking) his words now. One thing every writer and marketer knows is that you need a second set of eyes. However, not just any second set will do. You need an outside perspective, one with no stake in the outcome other than looking for errors and trying to create excellence.

This is why every author needs and editor, every athlete needs a PR spokesman and an agent, and why every brand needs a consultant of some sort. When something is totally in house, many sets of eyes can miss exactly the same thing.

The Story of the Pubic Restrooms

No, that isn’t a typo. But this story is about one. It is about a sidewalk sign that went through internal review at a museum where I worked. The eyes on the original copy were not dumb: they belonged to a copy editor and writer, a proofreader, a former military officer and accountant who was meticulous, and a former banking professional who consistently showed extreme attention to detail.

Every person made comments too, most related to layout, logo, and color. Not one of five sets of eyes internally caught the mistake before it went to the printers. Or when it came back, and before it went out onto the sidewalk.

A tourist came in and asked me if our sign was a sick joke. A quick look showed me it was. Our proudly created sign boasting of museum tours and public restrooms did indeed contain a tragic typo that had we left it uncorrected would have delighted teenage boys for days.

We needed an outside opinion, and unfortunately, we didn’t get in until the sign was, well, outside.

Making it Public

Not only did we pull the sign quickly and put in a rush order for the new one, corrected to “public restrooms” of course, but we did without a sign for a couple of days.

Luckily the mistake was caught early in the day, and our “focus group” on the sidewalk was small. Could we have prevented the disaster in the first place? Probably. Was it fortunate only a few early birds saw it? Yes.

Which is exactly the point. With an internal marketing or content department, you need someone outside, not related to your product who you can’t really fire for speaking the truth, and bold enough to be honest. A small group even, maybe a test market before you take something national.

Was Pepsi’s ad so time sensitive that another twelve hours would have killed its timing? Nope. And showing it to a small group or even an outside consultant would have taken only that long or less. Twelve hours, maybe even for someone to screen the idea before video shooting even happened.

Instead, the responsive, nimble internal department Jakeman wanted pushed the ad national right away. Resulting in embarrassment, an apology, and possible boycotts and business repercussions for an indeterminant amount of time.

The Nimble Workforce

So the traditional agencies don’t cut it for you? True, ad agencies have their own issues and sometimes get it wrong too. Just because you hire one is no guarantee that you won’t have an issue.

Still, bringing everything in house creates its own issues. If the CEO or CFO comes up with an idea, it’s hard for an employee to look them in the eye and tell them it doesn’t work. Also, when you live, eat, breathe and sleep a brand, you get internal blinders and the feeling that you and your brand can do no wrong.

There are alternatives, of course. There are smaller, newer agencies who can create the amount and kind of content you need at an affordable price. There are those who are combining creative content and more traditional approaches into a single agency to provide full service in an innovative way.

There are also freelancers. Those who specialize in helping small brands who can’t afford an agency or who even create and review content for marketing firms who need some supplemental talent or, <gulp here Pepsi> another set of eyes.

You don’t have to bring them in, give them an office, or even a permanent position. You can pay them a relatively small fee just to look at something and tell you if it looks okay or not.

The Honesty Factor

A freelance content strategist gets exposed to a lot of things. They don’t typically work for only one website or company. A freelancer can look at your web content or your campaign from a fairly objective point of view.

Because they have seen many well-done websites and campaigns, they can give you an idea of what will work, what won’t, and why. Without the expense of an agency, they can at least provide outside consulting and feedback.

The other advantage is that since they don’t work for you except on a tangential or contract basis, you’re more likely to get straight feedback. Whether you like their advice or not and whether or not you tell them to go pound sand doesn’t matter as much to them. You don’t hold the keys to their 401K, PTO, or even next week’s paycheck.

Freelancers want steady clients they can count on as much as possible. But they also want good clients with good websites. Bad advice or advice not followed reflects poorly on them as much as it does your brand, but unlike large agencies, they don’t have the bandwidth to deal with and mitigate that negativity.

A Finger on the Pulse of the Industry

A successful freelancer will be a busy one. Not only will they be dealing with regular and add on clients, but they will also be constantly learning more about the industry and networking. You can bet they know what trends are hot, what is working and what isn’t, and how to get results and quickly demonstrate ROI.

Your internal department can easily become siloed from the direction the industry is headed and the trend of brands overall. Marketing is about more than just your competition. It is about social and political trends and the overall consumer climate.

Yes, an agency can give you the same things, but probably won’t be as nimble and responsive. A few newer agencies are exceptions, but they are definitely harder to find, and not surprisingly they are busy as well.

Hey, Pepsi! Mr. Jakeman? Are you listening now? Did you get the point? It takes more than one perspective and another objective set of eyes to determine if a campaign will work or not. Your internal department let you down, and maybe it is time to ask why they weren’t listening. No one wants to end up with a sign for a pubic restroom.

Would you like to learn more about content strategy for your business, or even hire me in some capacity? Get in touch, and let me know what you think Pepsi could have done better in the comments below.