News & Views
08/03/17 / news

The battle for in-house talent – Q&A with Neil Middlemass

We are delighted to welcome to our latest Q&A series, leading in-house talent acquisition specialist Neil Middlemass, who talks to Ryan Kangisser about one of the most hotly debated topics in the industry, insourcing, and specifically the emergence of in-house programmatic trading desks. In this interview, Neil shares his unique perspective on how this trend has manifested, and some learnings from those who are on that journey

RK: In your experience, just how prevalent is the trend for brands to create their own in-house trading desks? 

NM: Programmatic in-housing is definitely something that’s talked about more often, but outside some of the more progressive verticals such as gambling, the trend has been more for brands to increase their expertise in programmatic, rather than build a dedicated executional capability.  For those brands who have in-housed programmatic, it has tended to evolve as an extension of their search team where there exists relevant and transferable expertise.

RK: Are there certain driving factors you would point to which explain this trend?

NM: Over the last few years, there has been a wider trend towards the in-housing of digital marketing, but the rise of programmatic in-housing is much more nuanced by broader industry issues around trust, transparency and data. As such, those brands who are bringing this capability in-house are doing so to install greater ownership and visibility across their marketing activities.

RK: Are there specific industry verticals you believe to be better equipped to this model?

NM: Theoretically in-housing of programmatic makes sense for any company that has their data ‘ducks in a row’ and wants to make better use of their first party data for more efficient media investments.  More than ‘ducks in a row’ is the breadth of data businesses have, and that’s why this approach can lend itself well to retail, insurance, gambling, online trading and travel verticals where there is an abundance of valuable data.  The dependency however is culture, which goes beyond vertical to whether a specific business is set up to take on a dramatically different way of working.

Another important dependency is expertise. I’ve seen a few companies struggle to scale programmatic in-house due to not being able to attract or retain the skill base required. For effective in-housing of programmatic, there needs to be strong investment towards talent underpinned by a solid training and development infrastructure.

RK: A common concern is capability and how brands both source & retain that talent into their business.  How much of a challenge is this and how is it overcome?

NM: It is a big challenge. Brands are not necessarily used to hiring this type of capability into their business, so knowing who to hire is crucial. For example, recruiting a programmatic Account Director (from an agency or a trading desk) to run an in-house trading desk is problematic if they have never executed the technology before. Conversely, hiring an executional specialist and expecting them to be strategic and manage a team is going to be challenging. Successful in-house models are determined by a combination of complementary skillsets, alongside good discipline and accountability. If brands are going to create their own in-house agencies, they need to behave like them.

In terms of sourcing talent, the biggest challenge is the scarcity of talent in the market which is leading to fast track promotions and inflated salaries.  It means that for many experienced candidates, moving in-house does not afford the same opportunities as working with an agency or technology vendor. My advice for brands is to invest in hiring and training graduates to fill this gap, rather than trying to compete with a highly competitive, and fluid talent market.

RK: The prevailing view is that insourcing is ‘all or nothing’, but with programmatic and all of its constituent parts, do you see most brands retaining aspects of their traditional agency relationship?

NM: I think we can see what the future looks like if we look at the PPC market, which continues to be characterised by a number of different models, from in-house to specialist to full service agencies. Essentially brands are seeking the model that provides them with the best capability according to their requirements.

Clearly those brands with the scale and budgets to justify bringing everything in, will continue to do so, but for everyone else, they will find the model which works for them.

There is still an important role for agencies in terms of automation, reporting tools, proprietary technology, private marketplace deals, as well as the role of planning which can’t necessarily be automated.

We’ll see more programmatic specialists in-house in the coming years, but I suspect their jobs will be less about managing in-house teams and more about evangelising within the businesses and stewarding the agencies who are supporting them.


As founder of Neil’s Recruitment Co., Neil has specialised in recruiting digital marketing specialists for over 10 years and has significant experience in helping brands to establish best-in-class performance marketing teams.

Stack I/O is a specialist consultancy enabling brands to accelerate the performance of their data-driven, technology enabled marketing activities. For support designing the optimal model for programmatic, please contact