In-house vs. marketing agency: which way should your marketing go?

21 August 2020 - Last Updated: 13 September 2020 By: Jorge Martins 7 min read

Summary

If your marketing efforts demand constant work and high volume, you’ll be better setting up your in-house team.
For companies with difficulties finding and maintaining good talent, a digital marketing agency is the best choice.
For small and medium-sized businesses that need personalized services and extra agility, the boutique agency is the right solution.

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There’s one question that will eventually arise for most businesses, regardless of their size, industry, or moment in time: should I do my marketing in-house, or leave it to a digital marketing agency?

Marketing is pivotal to any organization. If your business is being set up and your top priority is making it grow, marketing and branding will be key for gaining awareness. If you’re already an established player, the right marketing efforts will keep your audience engaged and interested in your product, help you reach new leads, or increase your revenue.

Since marketing is so central to your overall business strategy, making any decision related to it can be painful. Should you put your resources on paid media or branding? Is it time for a social media presence, or long-form content? Am I neglecting email marketing? Or SEO?

Similarly, deciding between in-house vs. digital marketing agency is not simple—whether you’re a two-person startup or the manager of a 50-plus staff. For starters, it depends on your goals and where you see yourself taking your business in the near (or far) future. Having that cleared up, both approaches will show benefits and disadvantages.

Let’s take a look at the main characteristics of in-house and digital marketing agency marketing, casting light on their differences, and come up with an approach that may be better suited for your organization.

In-House Team

Doing in-house marketing means your company will have a dedicated team in the office, working exclusively in your marketing efforts. This team will be composed of a few individuals specialized in different aspects of marketing, such as paid media, SEO, design, copywriting, and so on. Depending on your goals, strategy, and budget, this team could include less obvious tasks, such as a video professional or even a full video crew.

Let’s see some pros and cons of having an in-house marketing team in your organization:

Everybody on the same boat

An in-house team is closer to your company’s culture. People are supposed to share the same goals, have the same vision and feel like they’re part of a bigger thing. This way, people tend to own their work—feeling more attached and responsible to it. This setup also makes people more knowledgeable about your brand identity and how to work with it. Finally, with time, an in-house team tends to gather knowledge about the business they’re in. This experience empowers your staff to make faster, better-informed decisions.

Full access to your marketing staff

Having your marketing team sitting right next to the rest of your company’s staff streamlines the whole marketing process. If there’s any approval to be done or base to be touched, your team can just walk a few steps or take a quick elevator ride to get it done with someone in another area. Besides, being on-site also means that your marketing managers and decision-makers will be closer to the team, so they can follow their work more intensely and have bigger control over their processes.

Talent can be expensive

It’s common to see creative workers—more used to the freer atmosphere of ad agencies—not willing to work inside ‘regular’ companies, feeling they may get bored, or stuck in corporate culture and a rigid structure where they won’t fit. In this case, you have two options for your in-house team: either you cash out and attract these people with good money, or you place your bets on a younger, less experienced staff that can be developed— but be warned, the learning curve can be long. And even if all goes well, the costs of salaries, health insurance, bonuses and other perks may just become too much to handle.

Be prepared for trade-offs

To have a well-oiled in-house marketing team, many crucial roles must be filled. You have to find your content writer, your SEO and analytics expert, your social media manager, your paid ads expert, your designer… not to mention a marketing manager to run the show. But do you have enough resources to fill all the slots with the right people? And when a key player leaves the company, will you be willing to start it all over again? So be warned: it’s likely that your in-house marketing will excel in some areas and let things slip in others.

Beware of office politics 

Very few organizations are free of having office politics undermine a dynamic, healthy work environment. So, in time, no matter how skilled and adherent to your company’s culture and goals your team is, petty grievances and open conflicts can lead to overall distraction and non-commitment. Sadly, this is natural for teams that work confined in the same space for a long time, and it takes clever, experienced managers to keep people on the right track.

Digital Marketing Agency

Trusting an agency with your marketing means your work will be done by hired experts, in their own office. Most agencies, as specialized as they may be in one aspect or another of the business, are staffed in key positions to deliver solid, comprehensive marketing work to any client—so they have a team of designers, content writers, lead generation specialists, SEO experts, and so on, that can fit any marketing job.

Let’s see some pros and cons of having a marketing agency working for your organization:

The right experience & skills

Marketing agencies are usually staffed with people who know their work. Most of these companies are composed of motivated, dynamic rookies and established, battle-scarred professionals—all industry leaders, in their own way. Besides, these people are typically resourceful and up-to-date with the best tools, trends and best practices in their industries. So you can count on your digital marketing agency not only to provide technically impeccable work (saving you the cost of software subscription fees, for example), but also to put their network to work on your favour (saving you the effort of building your network from scratch.)

An outside perspective

Outsourcing your marketing doesn’t mean your work will be handed over to someone who has no idea about your business or doesn’t care about your organization. In many cases, this relationship works the other way around: it’s your agency that will provide an outside perspective and fresh inputs for your strategy, free of misconceptions or prejudices that usually arise from established corporate cultures. Also, because most marketing agencies have diverse client portfolios that are not tied to one specific business or niche, every lesson they learn from other jobs can be potentially applied to your needs.

Easier pivoting & scalability

If you do your marketing in-house, scaling up or down your efforts means people will be made redundant or you’ll need to hire—two stressful, time-consuming processes in their own right. Besides, there are times when your marketing needs just can’t wait for your team to grow: for example, if you find out that your competition is working on some new eCommerce feature or app that is sure to put your business behind, you need to ramp up, and fast. In this case, urgent pivoting and scalability is faster and less painful when you rely on an agency. Agility and readiness to change gears must be routine for them.

Expect volatility

Having a digital marketing agency means that you’ll be working with an outside partner—a company with its own culture, structure, and peculiarities. In other words, you have minimal (if any) control over what goes on inside of it. One thing to be dealt with, for example, is the reasonably high employee turnover in marketing agencies. This may happen because of the restless nature of young workers, who are hungry for new experiences, or because some big clients may have left or arrived, so it’s suitable for the agency to restructure staff to meet their new needs. Either way, whenever you work with an agency, expect some volatility.

Longer learning curves

Your marketing agency probably won’t be as familiar with your business and corporate culture as an in-house team would. Learning about your company and its environment may take some time, so a little patience is needed to let your agency grow accustomed to the nature of your collaboration and match the rhythm and excellence you expect for deliveries. And remember: the learning process is likely to go back a few squares if you decide to move to another agency, or if any critical staff member leaves their job.

Coming up with the right solution

Common sense says that smaller, younger companies will resort to agencies to do their marketing, while bigger, more established organizations tend to build their in-house teams. That’s not necessarily true. For example, some startup CEOs will see marketing as their most sensitive line of strategy right after they’re open for business, so they will hire at least a few specialists to have greater control over their marketing work. On the other hand, some big organizations prefer to rely on the technical skills and flexibility of a partner agency, or focus on one or two critical marketing aspects and have them solved by some experts-for-hire.

As we said before, choosing between in-house vs. agency will depend on your goals, either for the near future or for the long run. But there is one solution that may be just right for your organization: the boutique agency.

The boutique agency

 

Boutique agencies are small operations run by a few talented experts and with a selected portfolio of clients. Some of them specialize in one aspect of marketing, such as SEO or paid media, and their main focus is to deliver great results to the maximum customer satisfaction possible—and in most cases, for a benefit-cost ratio that can’t be beaten.

Let’s see three reasons why a boutique agency might just be your marketing solution:

They care about their partners

There’s no feeling more at home than to be partners with a boutique agency. Relationships between companies can be cold, but boutique agencies are prone to approach you on a personal level. They are good listeners, and they care more than the regular marketing agency. Your conversations about strategy, marketing needs and goals will be more open and meaningful. And it’s all undeniable: the agency sees your business growth as an opportunity for them to grow too. This is why they want to build a bond that is stronger and more sincere than most partnerships.

They feel like a family

People working in smaller shops are generally more about getting the job done, instead of dealing with office politics or cultivating susceptibilities. These are experts who are eager to deliver excellency, show results and evolve professionally. Moreover, their leaner structures make boutique agencies feel more like a family, in which people spend more time together, share successes, and support one another to face harder tasks and longer shifts—and the togetherness adds up to the quality of their work. In other words: it’s one for all, all for one.

They are all about innovation

Boutique agencies are powerhouses of talent and creativity. Some of their staff can be energetic zoomers that provide the agency with an innovative, hyperconnected atmosphere. Others can be seasoned professionals who have worked in bigger shops before, and now all they want is to deal with selected customers in projects that demand deep knowledge and full focus. In all cases, experimenting, tweaking and working out the newest trends in the business are the boutique agency’s groundwork to provide creative marketing solutions with efficiency, and what’s more important: making your dollars worth.

Reassessing your needs

Now more than ever, businesses face bigger challenges every day. Social media, apps, eCommerce, gadgets: your world may crumble to pieces before you even notice it. That’s why having the finger on your business’ pulse is fundamental to make the right marketing decisions. The right option for today may turn out to be tomorrow’s headache. Constantly reassessing your goals and your needs, such as choosing between in-house marketing and an agency, is the safest way to avoid rigid solutions that can cost your precious time and money—and the best way to make your business thrive in the digital world.

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