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Agency vs in-house: Which is best for your digital marketing strategy?

Are you wondering whether you should create a marketing strategy in-house or outsource to an agency?

You’re in the right place. Read on to find out more. 

The world is increasingly digital. Is your business?

The impact of COVID-19 has accelerated the already rampant demand for digital transformation across all businesses and sectors, amplifying the need for a robust and refined digital strategy. 

We’re seeing digital marketing continue to ascend, with UK companies increasing their digital marketing budgets in the face of an overall reduction in marketing spending and rising digital advertisement spending to help target the 4.33 billion people who actively use the internet.  

With that in mind, the need for a dedicated digital function to support your business is clear. 

The real question is whether your company should keep this work in-house or outsource it to a specialist agency. Each has its benefits and challenges, but which is right for you?

The argument for an in-house digital marketing function

For many businesses, bringing the digital function in-house makes sense. 

With its focus on interacting with consumers online, digital marketing is a multi-pronged function encompassing a broad range of platforms and channels. It is often much more results-based and data-driven than traditional marketing approaches. 

An in-house team can own the end-to-end digital process, using owned data to determine strategies to create Google Display ads, blogs, whitepapers, Facebook campaigns, and email shots, then analyse all of this activity in real-time and at key stages after launch. 

This level of autonomy and ownership can be hard to achieve with agencies, who may need access to all your company data and are often only implemented to complete select parts of the digital process rather than the entire digital scope.

Living and breathing your company values and visions daily, an in-house team can feel more cohesive and aligned with your overall business strategy, with more streamlined communication channels and greater creative control over the end-to-end digital process. What’s more, they may be happier and more efficient workers. 

Last year, we saw a significant shift towards bringing digital marketing functions in-house. Association of National Advertisers CEO Bob Liodice said, “Traditional agencies are becoming increasingly challenged as marketers move more work in-house while encouraging their external agencies to provide differentiated services and increased value. 

With accelerated client movement to in-house agencies, we expect the current trends to continue."

Cost

According to a survey by the Association of National Advertisers, cost is one of the main factors in moving digital marketing functions in-house. 

In-house teams allow for more freedom and flexibility without additional costs; you can re-strategise, adopt new tactics and try out ideas without incurring any extra costs. 

For example, an in-house Performance Marketer may react more quickly to business strategy changes and tinker with ads daily. In contrast, agencies can be more rigid and less reactive.

Control

An in-house digital marketing function allows stakeholders to oversee work in real-time. Whether this means viewing the copy for a PPC campaign before the promotion begins or ensuring an SEO update on your website is in line with your overall strategy, this level of control and collaboration can take time to come by when working with agencies.

Culture

The greatest advantage of keeping your digital marketing in-house is your employees' familiarity with your company culture, vision and goals. 

In-house teams likely have a deeper understanding of your company's products and services and may be more personally invested in seeing them succeed. 

What’s more, they’re typically more aligned with the sales function and key business stakeholders, allowing for freer collaboration.

The argument for outsourcing to an agency 

There are thousands of digital agencies across the UK specialising in every industry area you can imagine, including content marketing, SEO, PPC, analytics and social media. 

Agencies can be more creative, have access to more technology and software and typically have larger teams with a broader skillset. They can hit the ground running and be immediately effective, as opposed to an employee who takes time to be trained.

Cost

One of the main reasons organisations take on agencies is to fill a resourcing gap that may need to be bigger for a dedicated in-house function. While agency spending can be significantly higher than in-house salaries if you use agencies year-round for multiple projects, they can be more cost-effective when utilised selectively. 

Agencies also don’t require investment into recruiting and training new staff and often have access to more advanced, costly technologies, saving your company from investing in the latest software programs.

Creativity

An outsourced digital team can offer a fresh approach and perspectives untainted by office politics or a tried-and-tested approach. 

Agencies may be more inclined to push the limits and think outside the box when it comes to tasks like building campaigns and writing web copy, applying insights they’ve gained from being entrenched in the industry and ideas they’ve picked up from other clients. This can result in enhanced creativity and potentially more impactful marketing strategies.

Credibility

Digital agencies operate in an ever-evolving, fast-paced environment, with multiple clients and a broad range of experts employed to provide different services. This can mean agencies better understand digital trends and offer a wider range of skillsets than the funnelled knowledge that can exist in in-house functions. 

For example, an agency can support you with conceptualising and executing specific campaigns or your overall marketing strategy, including PPC and SEO approaches, email campaigns, content marketing and automation. In-house teams may need more skill sets and resources to do all this simultaneously.

The best of both worlds

With benefits to in-house and outsourced digital offerings, some organisations see merit in incorporating both into their business. One of these is the AA, with Head of Digital Sales, Marketing and Analytics Duncan Parry commenting:

“We’ve moved to a hybrid model, combining an enlarged in-house team and a partner agency to augment in-house capabilities. For us, it’s all about agility and knowledge. We are seeing a measurable upside, with the team able to respond to internal requests more quickly and be more proactive. 

We’ve cut down time spent achieving sign-off as we can nimbly change priorities and diaries internally, and are building up in-depth knowledge of our technologies, processes and products in the channel experts that informs their thinking to be more customer and commercially aware than an external team might be.”

As for companies moving away from an agency and bringing their digital marketing in-house, many are consulting the help of an interim.

Employing an interim for the switch between agency and in-house

Interims immediately bring about change, taking a plan, sense-checking it, and then rolling out the strategy. 

Tony Barker, founding director of eEnablement, has spent the last 12 years as a digital interim, helping companies accelerate their digital marketing maturity and performance. He regularly speaks out about the benefits of using a digital interim, stating that:

"Overall, they provide an agency's agility, credibility and objectivity with the cost, control and cultural benefits of in-house. They help businesses define their digital marketing strategy, roadmap, product backlog and delivery capabilities. 

All of which help clients become more informed buyers of digital agency services or define what digital marketing roles they require in-house. 

They are often involved in helping a client recruit or strengthen their digital marketing team, or find and onboard suitable digital agencies, making for a smooth transition."

Here are the benefits of engaging an interim when making the switch between agency and in-house:

Speed and agility

Interims are like having a team of reserves sitting on your bench. Experienced in specific areas such as digital marketing or digital transformation, they can be called upon at short notice to bring this experience. 

Typically, an interim can be selected and onboarded within 2-4 weeks without the normal notice periods associated with recruiting permanent candidates. 

Their experience working with many other businesses makes them adept at assessing an organisation’s digital strategy and picking out what will work and what won’t.

Knowledge transfer

Based upon their functional or sector expertise, interims help organisations improve their digital knowledge and set knowledge sharing into motion before a handover is complete at the end of an assignment. 

The objective of an interim should be to make themselves redundant and leave the client with a stronger digital marketing capability and performance than when they started.

Independence and objectivity

As interims are not employees of an organisation, their whole focus is on helping that organisation. Their focus isn’t on promotions or bonuses but on delivering against a set of objectives, deliverables or statements of work.

The bottom line

Whether you opt for a dedicated in-house digital team or outsource to an agency depends on your business requirements, but each will come with opportunities and challenges. Agencies can provide a short-term temporary solution or a much-needed boost of creativity. 

In contrast, in-house teams understand your business more intimately and can be a lower-cost, more controlled approach to your digital strategy. One thing is for sure, however: The digital revolution is ongoing, and businesses that don’t have a dedicated digital approach will be left behind.

If you’re looking for digital support for your business, we’d love to help. We have a dedicated digital marketing recruitment team on hand to source the best resource solution for your organisation. Contact our digital team today to start a conversation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between an agency and an in-house brand?

Agency: An agency is an external organisation or company hired to provide specialised services, such as marketing, advertising, or design, to other businesses. Agencies work with multiple clients, offering diverse expertise and experience.

In-house: In-house refers to operations performed within a company by its employees. In marketing and creative work, having an in-house team means the company has dedicated staff for tasks like graphic design and advertising who work exclusively for that company.

What does "agency" or "in-house" mean?

Agency: In the business context, an agency is an external entity hired to perform specific tasks or provide services for another company. 

In marketing, agencies are commonly engaged for their campaign creation and strategy expertise.

In-house: In-house denotes activities performed within a company by its employees rather than being outsourced. 

In marketing, an in-house team comprises staff directly employed by the company, handling tasks like content creation and design exclusively for that company.



 

 

 

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