Agency vs in-house marketing: Which one is right for your business?

Agency or in-house? In an age of jargon, buzz words and silver-tongued marketing talk, the question of whether to go with an in-house marketing team vs outsourcing to an agency or third-party contractors is one that is more pertinent than ever for the modern business owner.

In this article we weigh the pros and cons of each option, helping you to form a considered view of whether agency or in-house marketing is right for your business.

What is in-house marketing?

In-house marketing is the practice of employing a full-time team within your business dedicated to all marketing efforts undertaken by your business. While an in-house marketing team is technically “all working under the same roof” (i.e. company structure), they do not necessarily need to be in the same physical location, as technology and necessity have proven the effectiveness of remote working.

What are the roles of an in-house marketing team?

Marketing is much like construction—you wouldn’t ask a plumber to fix up your wiring, nor an electrician to unblock your drains. Although both are construction tradesmen, they are completely different jobs requiring specialised skills, knowledge and experience. The same goes for the many and varied roles that sit under the marketing umbrella.

While the shape and size of a marketing team can differ from business to business, the typical roles within a marketing team are:

The marketing leader

Often called a head of marketing or marketing manager (these titles are fairly interchangeable), the marketing leader is someone who has extensive experience in marketing roles and broad knowledge of marketing strategy. Occasionally, the marketing leader will be the business owner, or an individual with prior business ownership experience where they performed this marketing leader role. 

Marketing assistants or executives

Playing a crucial role in supporting the marketing operations of a business, these marketers are typically all-rounders with their remit covering a broad range, depending on the needs of the business. Their responsibilities may include campaign management, brand management, strategy ideation, marketing implementation, project management and the oversight of internal or third-party workstreams, market research, reporting, administrative tasks, event planning and delivery, as well as client or partner relationship management.

Marketing specialists

As a broad catch-all term for the many specialised roles that exist within the marketing world, marketing specialists give a business dedicated capability, resources, and expertise employed to collectively shape a brand’s image and support marketing activities. Marketing specialists create compelling and effective visuals, develop engaging content, optimise online visibility, moderate social media channels, and produce promotional material and events. 

Some of the most common in-house specialist roles include graphic designers, digital marketing specialists and producers/project managers, content creators and copywriters, SEO technicians and growth strategists, social media managers, photographers, web designers and developers, CRM specialists and event managers. 

Advantages of in-house marketing

There are certainly distinct advantages to keeping marketing in-house, but for many of these advantages, it takes time and sustained focus to reap the rewards. 

Here are some of the most often cited advantages of in-house marketing:

1. A sense of control

If you have an in-house marketing team, they are your people, giving you a greater degree of delegation, authority and the ability to move quickly – although hasty unchallenged decision-making and action can be a double-edged sword. With this control and ability to delegate as you see fit, there is also the potential for improved cost-effectiveness of delegated tasks.

2. Long-term investment

While there may be higher upfront costs to hiring and training an in-house team, it can be a valuable long-term investment. As the team grows with the company and builds valuable institutional knowledge—the downside to this approach is that every job is temporary and the loss of a key person with this knowledge can be a drastic setback for the business. 

3. Internal collaboration

When done correctly (which, it should be noted, is easier said than done), close interaction with other internal departments promotes better integration and synergy across the company, meaning everyone is working in unison to ensure consistency of experience. From the marketing collateral to the sales pitch to product or service design and delivery, to the way your customer service team interacts with existing clientele or new prospects over the phone, online chat or email. The result of this collaboration and an embedded approach can result in a stronger understanding of the business, its values and its objectives.

Disadvantages of in-house marketing

For every advantage listed for in-house marketing, there is an equal (often mirrored) disadvantage: 

1. More time managing staff

Greater control means more time managing staff and workflows, resulting in typically less time to focus on the bigger picture (and increased difficulty in doing so).

2. Isolated decision makers

With this isolated approach, there is an increased risk that internal decision makers may have views that are one-sided, emotionally driven, or promoting personal agendas. This can lead to marketing campaigns that are not aligned with the goals of the company and/or ineffective reach and engagement with the desired audience. 

3. The knowledge drought

The isolation caused by keeping all marketing activities completely in-house can also create a knowledge drought, where staff are only focused on their existing internal systems, processes and business nuances. This can have significant unforeseen consequences where marketing teams become outdated and lose pace with the constantly evolving digital marketing landscape, emerging trends, technologies and best practices. 

4. Resourcing woes

The cost of hiring, training and maintaining an in-house marketing team can be prohibitively high while managing resources so there is not too much work on, but enough to warrant the position can also prove troublesome. Both of these issues are particularly of concern for smaller businesses where budgets may be limited and there is the need for one person to fulfil all marketing roles and become what is often called, tongue-in-cheek, a marketing ‘unicorn’. 

These people may fill many if not all roles required without external support; leader, assistant, project manager, designer, writer, web developer, and so on. Not only does this place strain on resources and create unnecessary bottlenecks, it inevitably will turn an otherwise positive workplace into an unsustainable juggling act for your employees – even unicorns need to rest every now and then.

What is a marketing agency?

A marketing agency is an external organisation that businesses contract to manage and execute their marketing strategies. With their wide array of specialised skills, constant ‘live fire’ daily experience across other accounts, and knowledge of the latest marketing tools, technology and best practices, marketing agencies can be an attractive option for business owners, regardless of whether you are looking to achieve a positive project outcome or meet a long-term commercial target.

Advantages of hiring a marketing agency

As with in-house marketing, there are many reasons business owners opt for the marketing agency route, including:

Breadth of expertise and experience

Marketing agencies live and breathe marketing – it’s in the name. Any agency worth their salt will be working on multiple accounts at any given moment, with specialists employed or contracted to provide specialist services as and where they are needed. The constant ‘live fire’ environment provides those working within agencies to develop a richer sense of what works and what doesn’t, leading to greater clarity, more actionable insights, deeper strategy and (typically) better execution.

Best practice knowledge and innovation

By their very nature, marketing agencies have access to the latest marketing technology, tools and news. A good marketing agency will keep its people abreast of the latest trends, industry changes and best practices. They should be able to talk with you at ease about innovative and current tactics and strategies.

Cost-effectiveness

Unlike employees, where costs are fixed and it is difficult to remove a bad hire, marketing agencies can be incredibly cost-effective in comparison to the time, effort, and resourcing allocation to hire, manage and support a comparable in-house marketing team.

Third-party collaboration

While this is one of the most overlooked reasons for employing a marketing agency, it’s also one of the most impactful. The outsider’s perspective that a marketing agency can bring to your business is huge – able to challenge the status quo and improve systems, processes, content and strategy in a way that your in-house employees cannot.

Disadvantages of hiring a marketing agency

On the flip side, some marketing agencies have been known to burn bridges with their clients, cutting off the branch they’re sitting on or “biting the hand that feeds” as it is often referred to as. We set up Growth Partners in part to address this lack of genuine care and client service, having experienced the same ourselves and you very well may have had an experience along these lines.

Disadvantages of hiring a marketing agency may include:

Lack of understanding and curiosity

If a marketing agency doesn’t take the time to get to know you, your business, your ideal customers and your objectives, it’s a red flag and should be raised with the agency immediately. While the nature of marketing agencies requires those working within to split their focus over several accounts, your marketing agency should always make you feel important, heard, and understood. A good agency will show genuine curiosity by asking pertinent, thought-provoking questions and developing their understanding of your business over time, whereas a bad marketing agency will not.

Tempered control

Marketing agencies tend to be strategy-heavy, for good reason. It’s not to increase billable hours, but rather to ensure that all marketing efforts are interconnected and relate back to a core strategy, rather than exist independently of one another. The need to get the foundation right and make considered, strategic steps is crucial for marketing success, but for some business owners this guided direction and loss of absolute control can prove confronting, regardless of the positive intentions and outcomes. 

The risk of encountering a ‘bad actor’ agency

While there have been well-documented cases of ‘bad actor’ marketing agencies not paying attention to the detail of a company’s product or service, resulting in misrepresentation, this risk is minimal but still remains a question mark for many business owners. Bad actor marketing agencies often resort to overpromising during their sales pitches, painting an unrealistic picture of what they can deliver… These bad agencies struggle to meet their lofty promises, leaving clients/businesses disappointed and disillusioned. Those who have experienced such an agency may feel as though you have been given simple “lip service”, but no real action or duty of care. To mitigate this risk, business owners should always perform due diligence before engaging with an agency of any description, as they would with any professional services company.

What is the difference between in-house marketing and agency?

The key differences between in-house marketing vs outsourcing to an agency are in the structure, cost, expertise, flexibility, and control. 

While your choice depends on your business’s unique needs, budget and growth objectives, here at Growth Partners we recommend both options as a two-pronged approach, rather than just going with the one.

A good marketing agency will keep your marketing efforts current and focused on achieving industry-leading results by utilising best practices, experience, innovation and deploying specialist expertise where needed. In many cases, business owners will look to work with two or more marketing agencies at any given time, depending on what they bring to the table. An example of this is a web development agency working alongside both Google Ads/online advertising and SEO/digital marketing agencies.

A good in-house marketing team will lead the charge internally, ensuring there is consistency and collaboration throughout the business. By interfacing with the marketing agency to ensure there is clear alignment and no bottleneck on your side as the business owner, we help your marketing team build their knowledge base over time to become a valuable human resource asset for your business. If there is a definitive need for specialist roles then those can be filled in-house, provided there is sufficient resourcing to coordinate workloads and manage the additional personnel.

Quick tips when choosing between agency vs in-house

For business owners only looking to bring on “one or the other”, here are some practical strategies to consider while deciding between hiring a marketing agency and an in-house marketing team:

Evaluate your needs and budget

Understand your marketing needs and align them with your budget. If you require a wide range of skills and want to save on overhead costs, a marketing agency could be suitable, but if your budget and estimated marketing requirements are fixed then an in-house team may be the optimal choice.

Control vs best-practice collaboration

If you prefer full control over your marketing strategy, an in-house marketing team could be the way to go – but in doing so, you would be losing out on valuable best practice collaboration and the fresh perspectives a marketing agency can offer.

Consider your business growth objectives

If you’re focused on scaling your business, a marketing agency can offer the required flexibility and scalability given they will likely have the resources ready to accommodate your growth at any time. Otherwise, you will need to source, manage and coordinate with internal talent and contractors.

Understand the importance of expertise

Marketing agencies typically have a broader range of expertise and stay abreast with the latest marketing trends. If you are in a highly competitive market, the expertise a marketing agency brings to the table could give you the competitive advantage you are after.

Evaluate performance

Before deciding either way, assess the prospective performance (and therefore probable results) a marketing agency or in-house team could deliver. Performance should be the ultimate yardstick, but remember that marketing is not sales – it takes time to roll out a fully-fledged marketing plan.

Think about the long term

Sustainable growth should be the focus. A marketing agency like Growth Partners, with a track record of delivering continuous, sustainable growth, could be a strong choice for your long-term goals.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the marketing agency vs in-house marketing team debate. The answer is whatever best aligns with your business objectives, means and situation at the time. Whichever route you choose, whether it be agency, in-house or a combination thereof as we suggest, the goal should always be to drive continuous, sustainable growth to keep your business profitable and therefore viable, for many years to come.

Collaborative data-led digital transformation delivers continuous, sustainable growth

At Growth Partners, we have developed our proprietary DigitalArchitect SystemⓇ to remove the confusion that surrounds digital marketing and web design and replace it with data, clarity, purpose and an actionable growth plan.

DigitalArchitect uses the data gleaned from in-depth audience insights and customer behaviour analysis as the basis for an intentional website structure and a digital transformation roadmap. From there, we work with a select group of world-class strategic partners to produce your website, while collaborating with you and your team (whether they are in-house or external contractors) to craft engaging, targeted content designed to capture prospective customers at all stages of the buyer journey and drive continuous, sustainable growth. 

For an obligation-free chat on how we can help your business discover its online potential contact us today.

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