Many brands struggle to give their teams the creative freedom to innovate. They may turn to third-party media and branding agencies that focus solely on delivering exceptional advertising and media campaigns. The in-house agency model is much rarer but offers true creative control.

TripAdvisor has brought the agency model in-house with its new creative studio, Wanderlab. Wanderlab is built to overcome blockers to innovation and to create end-to-end brand strategies for its partner destinations. It gives Wanderlab’s team the independence they need to flourish, whilst supporting their work through first-party data and strategic insights.

Rachel Vardon, EMEA Lead at Wanderlab, describes the journey TripAdvisor has been on to create its in-house studio, and how it is putting TripAdvisor’s creative agency on the map.

How TripAdvisor’s in-house agency is incubating innovation
How TripAdvisor’s in-house agency is incubating innovation

Why an in-house agency adds value to customers

Creating an in-house digital agency is far from straightforward. Wanderlab was in the works even before the pandemic as TripAdvisor considered how it could create innovative campaigns for its destination partners.

Travel restrictions over the past three years have only increased the need for innovation and showed TripAdvisor it was on the right path. Inspiring people to travel when travel is not possible is no mean feat.

Running Wanderlab as an in-house agency allows it to benefit from TripAdvisor’s talent and data insights whilst giving it a clear brand identity. TripAdvisor attractively packaged the full branding exercise it offers its customers under one roof. This added value compared with its previous approach by:

  • Giving Wanderlab employees the opportunity to focus on clients and specialize
  • Giving them the space, platform, and resources for innovative conversations
  • Creating a much-needed brand identity to improve recognizability amongst customers

Tapping into TripAdvisor’s talent

Using this model has freed up TripAdvisor’s talent and given them creative control in the process. Building an in-house agency requires substantial talent, but it rewards this investment by freeing up team members to focus on innovation.

As Vardon explains, “it takes a village.” Indeed, Wanderlab identified talent from TripAdvisor’s 5000-person-strong workforce:

“One of the goals of this agency was to tap into the remarkable talent we already have across TripAdvisor. From strategists to producers, to video specialists, we treat it as a full-service agency.”

This allowed talent at each stage of the marketing journey to focus exclusively on creating powerful campaigns for TripAdvisor’s partners.

Connecting talent to first-party data resources

Wanderlab is also set up to tap into TripAdvisor’s rich flow of first-party data. As the world’s largest travel website, TripAdvisor has a wealth of first-party data from its wanderlust-filled users.

“We have the infrastructure in place to stay connected to TripAdvisor’s first-party data. We also have access to its sentiment analysis and other bespoke research that we run.”

“At the strategy stage, this keeps us in tune with what experiences customers are desiring. At the content stage, it helps us know what destinations we might want to include or other creative messages.”

Creating a clear brand identity

Vardon advocates for the agency model and the freedom it has given the team to focus on nothing but the customer. This focus has also brought a new-found brand identity into the picture. As TripAdvisor communicated with its 400 million global travelers, this diluted its messaging for destination partners.

“It has not been an overnight process but running as an agency gives us absolute clarity and purpose.

“TripAdvisor empowers people to see the world, but Wanderlab empowers brands to understand these people. That is the distinction this new in-house agency has given us.”

Whilst it runs in the same vein as TripAdvisor, it now has a clear message for destinations that consider a partnership: Wanderlab exists to serve clients, delight consumers, and create award-winning campaigns.

Mini case study: San Diego tourism

Wanderlab is already drumming up substantial return on investment for TripAdvisor. It marked the launch of its in-house creative agency by announcing a $1.5 million partnership with the San Diego Tourism Authority.

The partnership will focus on bringing to life the optimism associated with the city by blending physical and digital innovations. The innovation TripAdvisor has promised by building this in-house agency is already being delivered.

“It gave us the freedom to ask ‘What if? Through the insights funneled in from TripAdvisor, we knew that the city of San Diego is laidback and optimistic. So, we asked how we could reflect that across the board, from end-to-end in the brand strategy.”

“We landed on engaging some wonderful local street artists to create amazing murals and using street artists to do that. But we also wanted to amplify it online as well so everyone can enjoy that experience. So, we used AR to make the murals interactive and accessible to people online.”

“This is all backed up by editorial content on TripAdvisor too, so it’s a full-funnel approach both on and off the platform.”

The Wanderlab team is now able to think and function as an agency. It is no longer limited to media campaigns focused on click-based performance. Wanderlab can run full branding exercises for its customers.

As well as announcing its San Diego Tourism Authority partnership, it has also released a trailer for its first mini-documentary, entitled “Lost & Found”.

Looking ahead

Although Wanderlab was only officially launched on September 21st, 2022, the investment and subsequent feedback it has already received is proof in the proverbial pudding. Kerri Kapic, Chief Operating Officer at the San Diego Tourist Authority has praised the ability of Wanderlab to “get unexpected, unique creative in front of the right consumer, in the right markets and at the right time.”

Vardon also notes the “palpable buzz” the launch has already generated and explains that this is just the beginning.

“The beauty of the in-house agency model is that it helps us to innovate into new areas. Shortly, we will be launching our streaming series, for example.”

“Having the support of TripAdvisor as a publicly traded organization like TripAdvisor also gives us huge optimism for the future. Thanks to our amazing team we can consistently deliver innovation to TripAdvisor partners, and we know we have the full support we need from them. It’s win-win.”

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