Not all that long ago, in-house marketers for smaller brands knew precious little about what customers and prospects were thinking. That’s not a knock. Information was expensive, and by the time it became available, it was usually out of date.

Into this vacuum stepped the non-specialized regional advertising agency. Though its ears were not any closer to the ground, the regional agency could at least offer strategic insights based on more than one client instance.

But that value proposition has changed.

Today, thanks to frictionless social communication, in-house marketers are awash in feedback. Constantly learning. Up to date. And consequently, skeptical of the so-called expertise of anyone not on the inside.

This is just one of the many reasons non-specialized regional agencies have gone extinct. But their death has left a void.

Who now sets strategy?

While specialty agencies, particularly those in health care and higher education (oh, and pharma) are still doing okay, and while the number of social media marketing firms is growing, these generally smaller groups have even less big-picture perspective than their recently departed brethren.

So does that mean strategy moves in-house?

By all rights it should. The energy is there. As is the data. And also the smarts. But it is very hard for organizations to clearly see what’s going on from the inside. They may not need a big agency. But they need something.

Enter a new kind of freelancer.

According to a recent New York Times article, Making a Living, One Project at a Time, many experienced marketers are now roaming the landscape as kind of samurai strategists. These freelancers don’t take over marketing, but serve as creative catalysts. By working on specific projects – a brand refresh, a social website or something as simple as a new homepage layout – the skilled freelancer can help in-house teams arrive at consensus around comprehensive strategies, providing the firmer footing in-house experts need to manage the many design, production, media and social media resources that now, in a post-agency world, are under their direct control.