When we talk about In-house vs Outsourced Marketing, it’s an age-old debate…employ a marketing team and do your marketing in-house, outsource to an external marketing consultant or agency completely, or go for a combination of the two?
Without a doubt there are pros and cons to completely outsourcing or insourcing your marketing efforts. It’s why the most common outcome is a balance of the two. That being said, every business is unique and there will be different arguments for all of these options depending on your situation.
This article aims to give a balanced view on benefits and risks of both, and help you decide which route is right for your business.
The realities of modern marketing
Marketing has changed rapidly in the past decade, there’s no doubt about it. Advancements in technology have caused an explosion of marketing technologies being launched (According to one of the latest blogs, there are now over 8,000 MarTech solutions. Whilst the overall innovation of these products is without doubt, they are also increasingly caused marketers challenges in knowing where to focus their time and budgets. As such, successful marketing increasingly requires a range of individuals who are specialists in their chosen field.
When you think of the range of skills involved in the marketing of a typical business, it’s no wonder companies struggle knowing where to begin. Just think of the different skills required for graphic design, branding, copywriting, web design, social media, SEO, email marketing, events, PR, Google Ads, and Content Marketing. Yet lots of business want demonstrable experience in all of these when hiring for a single new employee.
Marketing can quite literally be the difference between the success and failure of your business. It has the ability to differentiate your brand and drive demand for your product or service, but due consideration has to be made as to the best route to achieve these positions.
But where do you start?
The definitions of In-house and Outsourced Marketing
In-house Marketing is the process of having an employee or marketing team within your business on an ongoing basis to carry out your marketing activity.
Outsourced Marketing involves working with an external marketing consultant or agency who will undertake marketing activity on your behalf.
The hybrid model: A combination of the two models is perhaps the most common approach for businesses of over 30 employees. It is popular, as it enables the day-to-day marketing to be carried out internally, utilising an external marketing consultant or agency to undertake the most specialist aspects.
The Pros and Cons of both marketing frameworks
Let’s start with the benefits of outsourcing your marketing entirely:
Outsourced Marketing Benefits:
You get access to expertise that may be cost-prohibitive if you were to try and recruit for the role. It should mean that you get access to people who have tried and tested things and know what works and what won’t.
You can use specialists for one-off projects or irregular marketing requirements such as a new website or re-brand. Whilst you may not need these skills permanently in your business, paying for a one-off project means you can get access to brilliant people for a fraction of the price of a permanent employee.
It’s in the marketing consultant or marketing agency’s best interests to deliver success for your business. They should have a track record of delivering growth for other companies.
One of the most significant benefits is that you’ll find these people have worked with businesses of all shapes and sizes and will be able to bring new ideas. They’ll be able to take previous learnings and apply them to your company which gives a greater chance of success.
For small businesses and start-ups, outsourcing presents a cost-effective option to access talented people with a short-term commitment. Rather than needing to worry about salaries, benefits, equipment desk space, and holidays/sickness, you can focus your efforts on running and growing your business.
Outsourcing your marketing will generally free up your time to focus on what’s most important – growing your business. Whilst an external consultant or agency will benefit from your industry expertise and insight, they will be at their best when they know an end goal or outcome you want to achieve, and then have the shackles removed to find the best way of achieving it.
Outsourcing your marketing gives you much more flexibility than employing a marketing team. Agreements with outsourced marketing partners will typically have fairly short break clauses included which allow you to scale up and down as your business requires.
Outsourced Marketing Risks:
Not as close to the business
One of the negatives can be who you use to outsource will unlikely know the in’s and out’s of your business and what is happening on a day-to-day basis. Whilst this can allow them to focus on the bigger picture and goals, it is important to find a way to give the consultant or agency as much background info about your company and the products/services you offer.
Potentially less responsive
The marketing consultant or marketing agency will likely have other clients that they work with as well as yourself. They typically schedule people’s time at least a week in advance to keep people busy. As such, last-minute requests may be more difficult to fit in than if you had your own marketing team in-house.
Little or Large?
Large marketing agencies and consultancies will usually want a significant commitment of spend to justify allocating their team to your project(s). They will have expertise in depth across the business, but this may be out of reach for small businesses and start-ups with more modest budgets.
If you work with a smaller agency or consultant, they may lack the depth of talent, but you will be a more significant proportion of their revenue and should get more attention and time for your money.
Difficult for large, complex organisations
Outsourcing marketing entirely for a large corporation probably isn’t viable. You will normally find that companies with hundreds or thousands of employees will need to have a marketing team in-house. They will usually work with specialist marketing consultants or agencies, but they will usually have a team who manage the day-to-day marketing activities.
In-house Marketing Benefits:
Employing a person or team to carry out your marketing will give you the benefit that their sole focus is on growing your business. It means they will build an in-depth knowledge of your company and industry.
Potentially more cost-efficient
If your marketing needs are frequent and straightforward, keeping these functions in-house could be more cost-efficient as it may not require significant expertise to do a decent job.
Large companies need in-house resource
For large businesses, it’s inevitable that you’ll need some marketing resource on an employed basis to give you the day-to-day resource and flexibility. Having worked with a number of global businesses, they will almost always have a marketing team or teams in-house and work with external agencies to give them the added expertise they require.
Large marketing agencies could be cost-prohibitive
Working with the big-name agencies will likely rack you up quite a bill. If you want talent to work with your brand and have a decent budget, then building a team in-house could be for you.
In-house Marketing Risks:
Difficult to get the variety of specialists needed
It’s no secret that modern marketing has A LOT of different specialisms and skillsets. For smaller businesses, it usually isn’t affordable to employ experts in all of the areas needed, and so you may be weighing up hiring vs outsourcing.
A solution for a lot of businesses is to hire a marketing generalist to manage your marketing strategy and day-to-day activity, who will then work with and manage working with external partners to deliver the more specialist aspects of marketing.
Employing might not be for you if you’re a small business that need specialists to help drive your growth, but don’t have the budget or need for full-time staff. If you want specialists on a flexible basis to scale with your company, then outsourcing is the better option.
Hiring and training can be a challenge
Hiring and training can take up a good chunk of your time and budget. Depending on where you are based in the UK, it may be difficult to get the talent your business needs. Then there is the time to hire and get them up to speed. Outsourcing can usually be a quicker and proven route to getting things up and running.
So what’s the right option for your business?
In all honesty, the answer is likely unique to your business. However, the scale of your company may provide a useful indication as you will likely be facing similar challenges and decisions to make:
Start-ups and small businesses of up to 15 employees
It’s often difficult to justify employing someone or a team for marketing at this stage. Working with a marketing consultant or small marketing agency is perhaps the best route to go and will give you access to the specialist skills you need, when you need them. You may get less man hours than if you had someone in-house, but don’t forget the age old rule of quality over quantity here.
Small businesses of between 16-30 employees
This may be the stage where you think about hiring a marketing manager in-house who may then also use external partners to provide the scale of expertise as and when you need it. If you’re a company who have a high volume of straight forward marketing requirement, it might pay to expand the in-house team further.
Businesses of between 31-100 employees
It will almost certainly pay to employ someone to manage your day-to-day marketing activity, and possibly build a small team around them. This is when you will likely still need the strategic skills of a marketing consultant or marketing agency to support in specialist skills to the business.
More than 100 employees
It will be very difficult to function without having a marketing team in-house, and you will likely need a more senior marketing professional to lead the direction of the business (Head of Marketing/Marketing Director). Using external resource could still provide you with specialist skills where there are gaps in the team, and you may wish to outsource certain strategic projects or ongoing requirements depending on the make-up of your team.