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


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 spend, and digital advertisement spend rising 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 their benefits and challenges, but which is right for you?

Digital marketing

The argument for an in-house digital marketing function

For many businesses, bringing the digital function in-house just makes sense. With its focus on interacting with consumers online, digital marketing is a multi-pronged function that encompasses a broad range of platforms and channels, and 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 analysing 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 not have 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 every day, an in-house team can also 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. Our own 2019 Market Report shows that agency professionals work longer hours than in-house teams and are less likely to review pay rises and bonuses, with lower career satisfaction than marketing employees you take on internally.
Last year we saw a significant shift towards bringing digital marketing functions in-house, with Association of National Advertisers CEO Bob Liodice saying, “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. We expect the current trends to continue, with accelerated client movement to in-house agencies."


Cost is one of the main factors in moving digital marketing functions in-house, according to an Association of National Advertisers survey. 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 be able to react more quickly to business strategy changes and tinker with ads on a daily basis, whereas agencies can be more rigid and less reactive.


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


Perhaps the greatest advantage of keeping your digital marketing in-house is the familiarity your employees have with your company culture, vision and goals. In-house teams likely have a deeper understanding of the products and services your company offers 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 to outsource to an agency 

There are thousands of digital agencies across the UK specialising in every area of the industry that 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 an overall broader skillset. They can hit the ground running and be immediately effective, as opposed to an employee that takes time to be trained.


One of the main reasons organisations take on agencies is to fill a resourcing gap that may not be big enough for a dedicated in-house function. While agency spend 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 programmes.


An outsourced digital team can offer a fresh approach and perspectives that are 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.


Digital agencies tend to 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 have a better understanding of digital trends and offer a wider range of skillsets than the funnelled knowledge that can exist in in-house functions. For example, an agency may be able to support 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 have limited skillsets and resources to do all of this at once.

The best of both worlds

With benefits to both in-house and outsourced digital offerings, some organisations are seeing 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 inhouse 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 step in and bring about change immediately, 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 to accelerate their digital marketing maturity and performance. He regularly speaks out about the benefits of using a digital interim, stating that:

"Overall, they provide the agility, credibility and objectivity of an agency 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 a more informed buyer of digital agency services or define what digital marketing roles they require in-house. They often involved 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, and without the normal notice periods associated with recruiting permanent candidates. Their experience of working with other 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 delivering against a set of objectives, deliverables or statement of work.

The bottom line

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




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