Inside MightyHive, the agency helping brands create in-house agencies

“Our job is to ultimately replace ourselves.” That’s how MightyHive CEO Pete Kim describes the role his company plays in the ongoing tug of war between brands and agencies as the in-house agency movement continues to gain traction.

MightyHive has quietly become the preferred agency for brands, including Bayer, Sprint and Nationwide, to hire as they start taking capabilities in-house and away from advertising agencies. The company thinks of what it does as helping “brands and agencies take control of their digital futures,” but what it really does is work with big brands to give them the expertise and training needed to ultimately become self-sufficient with their own digital media buying and planning. MightyHive acts as a coach to train clients across programmatic display, video, audio, social, search and, in the future, connected TV with the strategy and training to back it up.

MightyHive is filling a void in the current ecosystem. The path to creating an in-house agency isn’t always smooth. For most, it’s a spectrum: Brands usually begin by taking some small part of the process in-house, usually production. Then, it’s some part of media buying, usually search or anything auction-based. From there, it can keep growing, by hiring more people and developing more capabilities. In some cases, brands like Vodafone have gone back on their in-house promises, going back to agencies because it can be difficult to get the right talent or otherwise hard to create these capabilities. “In-housing is kind of a linear thing,” said Greg Paull, principal at brand consultancy R3, who said that he sees more and more of his clients beginning to work on in-house agencies — and that they need help in making it happen.

A recent survey by the ANA found that 78 percent of brands are creating some kind of internal structure, versus 58 percent in 2013.

Having the ability to let go has already earned the company the business of a dozen large companies like Bayer, Sprint and Nationwide in their efforts to move all of their digital media buying and planning in-house, and around 30 other companies, bringing parts of it in-house, according to Kim. There have been reports that S4 Capital, Martin Sorrell’s new company, is reportedly interested in acquiring MightyHive.

“We wanted to work with MightyHive because of their experience with getting people to self-sufficiency,” said Josh Palau, vp of digital strategy and platforms at pharmaceutical company Bayer, the latest company to announce plans to move all digital media in-house, using MightyHive to get there.

Kim said companies are in need of flexibility when it comes to moving media in-house and, therefore, the company doesn’t have one way it works with clients. Deals are constructed on a case-to-case basis, and offerings vary from strategy consulting to media buying execution to training. MightyHive has what it calls MightySchool, a formal training offering for companies that are having a difficult time with finding the talent they need to move in-house. MightySchool starts with a six-week biddable media buying training program and then trainees mirror employees to learn new tools and terminology until they are ready to start.

Kim said most partnerships last anywhere from six months to two years, but is not concerned with companies coming back. “Even when the in-housing is done, we think clients will come back to us for their consulting needs,” he said. “We hear from clients that they are worried in-housing will put them on an island. With us, we know their business and the pace of change is only accelerating.”

Bayer is choosing to work with MightyHive for a year to execute digital media buys and train incoming employees, before it brings execution in-house on its two-year plan to go in-house. Sprint, on the other hand, has been working with MightyHive for the entirety of its time moving in-house and plans to further consult with the company after everything is completed.

Kim co-founded MightyHive in 2012 with Christopher Martin, now COO, with the original purpose of creating a company that sold first-party data software. Kim said they were too early to the game and so transformed the company into a programmatic firm. It wasn’t until the company began noticing the rise of the in-house movement that it began offering training and execution services.

The company now has 200 employees across its headquarters in San Francisco, and offices in New York, London, Sydney, Singapore, Tokyo, Toronto and an upcoming office in Stockholm. And rather than focusing on employees’ creative backgrounds, Kim stresses the company’s need to have technical expertise.

“We are from the guts of ad tech,” said Kim, who was previously the head of business development at Google and head of sales at Google’s Teracent before founding MightyHive.

As a private company, MightyHive does not reveal its revenue or pricing models. Kim said the company will either charge by the amount of media being bought or by the time an entire partnership might take or a combination of the two. Sprint, for instance, is paying both on a per-media basis as well as by time for strategy.

The promise of eventually becoming self-sufficient is what drew Sprint to MightyHive about 16 months before it announced in September 2017 that it would build an in-house digital agency. It has since hired 15 employees in-house and has run “hundreds” of campaigns using its in-house agency, according to Rob Roy, chief digital officer at Sprint. Roy said Sprint only needs to hire seven more employees before it will be ready to bring everything in-house by March.

It still works with Horizon Media on display media buying, but it manages its own programmatic, search and social buys in-house thanks to the help of MightyHive. Roy said the process has been rewarding almost from day one. Although Roy would not reveal exact numbers, he said Sprint has seen its costs decrease by double digits and click-through rates of its ads double, and it now has the ability to get an ad out to the market in a day or less.

“We’ve seen results better than expected, and those have continued to grow,” Roy said. “It’s almost like jumping off the high dive—you’re a little bit nervous, but you know when you land, it’s not going to hurt. They gave us the right to move quicker than we thought we would be ready for. That’s been the ultimate luxury for us.”

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