So, before you skip to the end for the silver bullet… (spoiler alert!) there isn’t one. As with so many business decisions, the answer as to whether to in-source or out-source depends on you, and your business at a particular phase of time.
In my Multi-Channel Retail days, I’ve worked in environments where the business focused on what it was best at and outsourced the rest; and others where they felt that the “holder of the pen owns the message” and kept everything in house. More commonly, there is a hybrid model, where the business buys in expertise in strategic, highly creative, technical or fast moving areas where someone who knows the broader market well can often add a wider perspective or skillset than someone internally business focused.
What questions are we often asked?
Q : “What can an Agency do that we can’t achieve in house?”
A : From a task perspective, you can easily buy in resources who have experience in any specific area of marketing. However, an agency will have run that task for many other companies, and will have well-oiled workflows, and possibly access to supporting software that smaller in-house teams often can’t afford.
Q : “At what size should I In-source?”
A : Even Fortune 500 companies usually outsource. They rely on Ad Agencies, UX experts, Design firms, SEO strategists etc, as and when needed, to supplement the internal team. The internal team focuses on directing the work and making sure the stakeholder objectives are met.
Q : “How can someone external understand our tone of voice?”
A : A good content marketer not only follows your Brand Guidelines, they also research the topic and the persona the client is trying to reach, plus they understand how to weave the content they create to drive SEO results.
Q : “Should we run our own Social Media?”
A : If you sell physical products, you are likely to have images and rich product data held in your internal systems, so creating your own Social Media probably makes sense. Similarly, if your products or services fluctuate, or are fast moving or weather dependent, you’ll need your ear to the ground to hear the quick response messages from the internal trading team. However, Social Media isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, and some business owners just want someone to take it away and do it all, which is fine. The important question to ask is whether you need help with your Social Media strategy, and how you are measuring performance so that you know whether you are meeting your goals.
What questions should you be asking yourself?
1. How closely can an Agency align with our Culture, Vision and Values?
There are many agencies to choose from, and finding one that is a great team fit, may be harder work than recruiting an employee, who will naturally be more closely invested. An agency needs to align with a number of clients, so look for broad, rather than narrow, attributes that tell you that a particular agency is the right one for you.
2. What range of skills do we require?
There are many disciplines that live under the banner of “Marketing”. There may be some of these skills that you consider to be core to your offer (e.g. PPC Advertising), others you want to buy in as you need them (e.g. Website Design) and others which you don’t consider relevant at the current moment in time, but that you want to be kept abreast of. If you want to try something new, you believe an activity can be made more productive or efficient, or the change you want requires skills very different to those that you have, you should consider an Agency.
3. Can I bear office politics?
The thing I love most about owning an Agency is that we get to focus on developing and delivering our clients’ marketing strategies without getting drawn into the day to day. Enough said.
4. How closely do we align with industry best practise?
Digital Marketing is a lightening paced business, which takes time and effort to stay on top of. Did you know that a WSI agency is encouraged to spend 20% of it’s time in self development and learning? Agencies often get to trial new technologies, and often get first spots at educational marketing conferences – both simply beyond the reach of most marketing teams.
5. Do we need to ramp up quickly?
Change happens, and sometimes needs a speedy response. Few businesses can afford to have a team sitting on standby, so when you need a change implemented quickly, finding an agency is quicker than recruiting a team.
6. Do we have the right tools?
It’s very easy to become susceptible to “shiny toy syndrome”. Similarly, it’s easy to never change the status quo because you can’t make the argument for the budget. Agencies have access to software which can help you with automation, research and reporting – all built in to the cost you are charged, minimising the headache of renewals and upgrades for you.
7. Are we clear where to start?
Many of our clients took us on to help them build a Digital Strategy. Some of those clients then asked us to deliver ongoing services, and others used the work to direct their in house teams. We’re happy either way!
The answer as to whether it’s better to insource or outsource is different for each business at each point in time – As WSI’s CMO, Cheryl Baldwin says “One size does not fit all”. Most companies do a mixture of the two, leveraging their in house expertise and using their internal teams to direct activity, keeping everything to time and on brand, whilst leaning on Agencies for advice, guidance and specific technical know-how to keep them ahead of their competition.
If you’re having trouble deciding on the answer, we’d be happy to help you bounce some ideas around on a no commitment basis.