In the 10+ years I’ve worked in this industry, I’ve met thousands of business owners who admit to feeling perplexed by a key business decision: “Should I hire in-house marketers or work with a marketing agency?!”

And I get it. Whether you’re a part of a 2-person start-up or manage a growing organization with 50+ staff members, it’s not the simplest of questions to address. Just as there are benefits to working with a digital marketing agency, there are no doubt disadvantages as well.

So, at the risk of sounding cliché, I’ve always told business owners struggling with this in-house vs agency debate the same thing: one size does not fit all!

In-House Marketing vs Agency Marketing Debate

The key is defining your organization’s marketing goals and weighing them against your own team’s strengths and weaknesses. Now, I realize that truthfully assessing your own limitations isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time, but it’s a vital exercise to determining whether your marketing initiatives should stay in-house, or require assistance from outside experts.

Because if I’m being completely honest, I have to admit that even we – at WSI headquarters – have done both. We have a talented team of in-house marketers (my department!) as well as a network of external subject matter experts and agency teams to whom we outsource any time we need supplementary marketing execution.

So if you read the title of this blog and thought I was just going to sell you on all-the-reasons-you-need-to-oursource-your-marketing-to-a-local-WSI-agency, you thought wrong my friend!

What I am going do is lay it all out there so you can make the right decision for your business.

Let’s look at 10 key business factors to consider when comparing in-house marketing teams against outsourced marketing agencies.

Factor #1: Your Company Culture, Vision and Values

I’m going out on a limb here by assuming you’d prefer to work with marketers who align with your company’s culture, vision and values; most businesses do. And generally speaking, it’s easier to accomplish this by hiring from within. Naturally, a full-time internal employee is much more closely invested in a company’s success and growth than any external agency team would be. Given a marketing agency’s responsibilities to a number of different clients, it’s more difficult for external marketers to fully get a sense of a company’s day-to-day culture and values.

Factor #2: The Need for Wide-Ranging Skillsets

Depending on your company’s marketing strategies, your team might need access to several different skillsets, like web development, social selling expertise, email marketing, pay-per-click advertising – you get the point. And believe me when I say, building an in-house team packed with all this talent is no walk in the park. Naturally, agencies are already equipped with knowledgeable professionals who specialize in all areas of digital marketing. In other words, agency teams can be your one-stop-shop for all things marketing. Expect to dedicate time and patience if you plan to recruit, screen and hire a full-service in-house marketing team.

Factor #3: The Dreaded Workplace Politics

Rarely will you hear a professional admit to enjoying office politics. But it’s hard to avoid; conflicts arise, distractions happen, and – as humans – quality of work can suffer when office drama gets in the way. It’s just natural, especially when a talented group of people work in such close confines to each other day after day. But this is a non-factor when your marketing is managed by an outside agency. As third-party marketers, an agency team can focus on one thing and one thing only: your company’s marketing strategy.

Factor #4: Keeping a Competitive Edge with Industry Best Practices

You’ve heard us talk endlessly about the evolving landscape of digital marketing. Tactics and tools that once worked yesterday, won’t necessarily be effective tomorrow. Competition is tough, technologies change at lightening pace and if you’re caught singing the same old tune, your business will eventually get left behind. Luckily, staying on top of the latest and greatest digital marketing best practices is an agency’s bread and butter. Marketing agency teams often get first crack at the latest, ground-breaking technologies and educational marketing conferences – most of which simply aren’t within reach for in-house marketing teams.

Factor #5: How Quickly Do You Need to Ramp Up Marketing?

Depending on your situation, you might need to jump on your marketing right now. Let’s say, for example, you discover you’re losing sales because your closest competitor just launched an uber user-friendly eCommerce website and yours isn’t equipped to facilitate online purchases. Obviously, your website needs a speedy overhaul to improve your customers’ online experience. And the speediest way to do this is NOT by posting a job, reviewing resumes, conducting three rounds of interviews, calling references…you get the picture. Marketing agencies are designed to jump in quickly and efficiently so your team can adapt your marketing strategies sooner rather than later. Ultimately, urgencies that affect your bottom line are better handled by agency teams.

Factor #6: A (Much) Larger Network of Brainpower

In-House Marketing vs Agency Marketing Debate

This is similar to #2 above, but reachesfar beyond specialized skillsets of your marketing team: you’ll find that in-house marketers generally don’t have quite as robust a rolodex (yes, I realize I just aged myself) as a full-service agency will. So if you were ever in need of supplementary marketing services – think along the lines of customer service script writing, video production, traditional PR services – your best bet would be leveraging an agency. Due simply to an agency’s structure, they are more likely to have these supplementary sources and resources than in-house marketers.

Factor #7: Easy Communication

Open and efficient communication is vital to keeping any business’ marketing plan running smoothly. And with any in-house team, this is going to be relatively easy. Brainstorming sessions, content approvals and meetings can be executed or scheduled whenever the need arises. Agencies, on the other hand, aren’t able to be as immediately accessible; day-to-day communication will naturally be more sparse because of the number of clients and client needs. Typically, marketing agencies will stick to email or phone communication as needed while also facilitating weekly or monthly meetings to discuss results, projections, quarterly plans, etc. Both methods work – but success depends entirely on what you prefer.

Factor #8: Access to Tools and Platforms 

A decent marketing agency already comes with all the bells and whistles when it comes to the industry’s must-have technologies. Many will also test and invest thousands of dollars in annual subscription fees in order to equip clients with the best tools.  This is a time-consuming and expensive process that you don’t even have to think about if you work with an agency. Sure, the price is baked in, but the headache and the agony about which tools to use, are not.

In the end, the answer to the question of whether you should outsource your marketing or keep it in-house is entirely dependant on your situation. When you go over our 8 key business factors of the in-house marketing vs. marketing agency debate, do you find yourself, or your team, leaning one way or the other? That could be your answer.

If the list of pros and cons is equal on both sides, then you could be like the many businesses that do both. It never hurts to ask for help, especially in areas where you don’t have an expert on the team, or with new and trending tactics you’re trying to gain a competitive edge with.

Outsourcing and going it alone can both be the correct, cost-effective decision that generates the best results for your business. If you’re having trouble deciding which we to go, we’d love to discuss your marketing situation with you!

About the Author – Cheryl Baldwin

Cheryl Baldwin, Director of Marketing Communications at WSI, oversees WSI’s Marketing Department. She’s an integral part of the WSI’s global brand presence and corporate identity.

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