I entered an idyllic garden with the warm sun shining on my weathered face. A slight nod to the gardener, hard at work, signified I appreciated all his efforts. It was hard to believe I wasn’t in an island paradise and instead on the 9th floor of a building next to Tottenham Court Road, specifically Google.
I was here to meet Andy Mihalop*, a man of vast experience on both sides of the fence. It’s fair to say that Andy really cut his teeth in agencies (despite working in-house initially) but as Head of Digital at MoneySupermarket, was also a pioneer in the trend of creating in-house digital teams.
I wanted to know why you would leave an agency once in a senior position, what’s attractive about moving in-house, how targets are measured and, once in-house, is it harder to drive change?
Andy was beginning to get itchy feet having risen to Head of Performance Media in a digital agency. Heading a team of over eighty people “it had became more about people management” than the thing he enjoyed, diving transformation and leading strategy. Andy’s satisfaction comes from coming up with a plan and seeing it delivered from point A to point B, normally with a good measure of success. Climbing the ranks in an agency may remove you from this, giving way instead to fire fighting, people management and politics.
The attractive thing about moving in-house for Andy, was re-acquiring some of the autonomy he had lost and this came in the form of the chance to build a digital team at the ambitious financial aggregator, MoneySupermarket. This company had made the decision to bring digital resource in-house in order to “retain IP and build a market leading position”. Andy built a full service digital team in-house, a good move because in his experience “agencies will struggle to have the same deep level of knowledge of a client’s business”. There are benefits, though, to using an agency in that the agency can be “better positioned to bring learnings from different sectors and can apply this across a range of client accounts”. It’s a balance and the decision on operating model is one every client has to make.
Now at Google and neither agency nor in-house, Andy seemed a good person to answer a question I had. I wanted to know the difference in KPIs in-house vs agency – my preconception being agencies are more money and target driven. The answer was pretty much the same for both sides of the fence, “it will always be about achieving the client targets and business metrics, but also about keeping the client happy via demonstrating digital leadership and creating value”.
In a previous interview in the series I learned it was much easier to drive change in-house but Andy had had a different experience. Whilst it is true at an agency that you have to go through the rigmarole of gaining client buy-in and investment to challenge the status quo, Andy says the same is true in-house. Just like agencies, in-house companies have stakeholders you need to convince, different departments are often siloed with their own agendas, and of course you’re still challenging the status quo.
This had been an interesting one. Andy clearly valued driving transformation as well as delivering strategic leadership and innovation, which had seen him journey to and from agencies and in-house companies, eventually landing at Google. The interesting part was that there seemed to be no real winner in the battle between in-house and agency because ultimately the challenges faced were very similar. For Andy it was more a case of taking advantage of exciting opportunities whichever side of the fence they fell on.
We had moved inside by the end of the interview – it had got a little chilly – but the gardener was still tending his lawn. The message here was find the the thing that makes you tick, and do it wherever it might be. Maybe.
*pronounced ‘mile up’ for the purpose of the pun in the title.