After my first 10 years working at ad agencies in Sioux City, Omaha and Chicago, I had the opportunity to become the client for the first time and be the in-house marketing lead for a company. It was a tough decision—agency life was comfortable for me—but I had never been “the client” and felt it would give me unique perspective if I ever came back to the agency side of the business again. And it certainly did.
The In-House Marketing vs. Agency Debate
We hear from clients and prospects all the time that they struggle with deciding whether to expand their in-house marketing department or expand their agency relationship. And while there is no one right answer, whenever I was asked this while on the client side (5 times in 11 years) I approached it from these 3 perspectives:
1. Can an agency grasp this task or area of our business quickly?
Good agencies excel at becoming experts on their clients’ business. We have the luxury of being “outsiders” who may look at things differently than you.
There are times, however, when something is so technical or niche that it makes sense to manage it with internal expertise … provided the next two points don’t override that instinct. In those times, hiring an in-house marketing expert can be the right decision.
2. Do we need a broad range of expertise, opinions or ideas?
Companies hire agencies to get a broader range of opinions, perspective and expertise on their marketing. If you believe that managing this aspect of your marketing internally will limit your ability to maximize it, go to an outside agency.
On the flip side, if you feel you have unique perspective that outsiders wouldn’t be able to absorb easily, it may be best to keep it in house. But don’t sell your agency short. Agencies are great at grasping products and ideas they’ve never used before. That’s why we do what we do.
Agencies also work on marketing for multiple companies in varying industries. I can’t tell you how many times something we’re doing for a national underwear brand provides insight into a way to boost awareness for a local restaurant.
[quote style=”boxed”]…no option is strictly better than either of the others. It all depends on what your goals are, how your business operates, what you’re willing to spend, and how you’d prefer to interact. – CIO Magazine[/quote]
3. Will this create administrative complexity down the road?
This question was often the deciding factor in going with an agency or keeping something in-house.
There were two primary areas I evaluated:
Cost: It never made sense to hire a full-time person to do something I needed 10 hours a week of agency time to do. Even if the cost were more, I’d have someone on staff that I’d either have to task with other work outside their expertise or pile busy-work on. Neither of which are enjoyable.
Creative Depth: Most of what happens in marketing requires creativity. Even planning a sale or promotional pricing. Twice I was asked to hire my own creative department internally. And twice I said no for one main reason: If I have 2 writers and 2 designers on staff, I’m limited to the ideas and styles of those 4 people. If it isn’t working for the business, I will have to hire someone new (and likely fire someone) to make a change.
With an agency, if nothing is resonating, you can ask for another creative team. In the end, the depth of creative talent is on them—and they have access to plenty of it internally and through freelancers. You can often get better ideas and broader creative than you can internally.
We know that not every client or every project is the right fit for an agency. We’re happy to talk with you about your business and determine where we can add value and where you may need internal expertise. An initial conversation is always free.