Digital marketing: In-house or outsourced?

Digital marketing

Digital marketing: In-house or outsourced?

Ten years or more ago, I believed that having an in-house digital marketing team was a sensible option. Although that call can depend on the nature of the business, I’m not sure that it’s a sensible option today although like most things, the agency world is evolving.

What has changed my mind?

1. Digital is an eco-system
Digital platforms generally feed into and off each other. This means that within your in-house team you’ll need a bunch of specialists in diverse fields. Graphic design. Copy writing. Content generation. Social media management. Search engine optimisation. E-marketing. Google search and display. Website design, development and maintenance. Traffic management. Analyics.

Assuming that you have a skilled leader, you’re talking a salary bill of at least R 200 000 per month for a mid-weight team. Depending on your business, not all of them will be running at 100% capacity each month. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a rare animal who is skilled at most things digital.

2. Learning
Agency people learn from the diverse needs and dynamics of its many clients whereas an in-house team has limited terms of reference. Their in-house learning comes mostly from desk research and perhaps courses which are not real life.

The agency team is doing the same desk research and attending the same courses but their learning is practical and spread.

Theoretically, the company using a good agency has an advantage over the company with an in-house team.

3. Boredom
With some exceptions, the in-house digital team is doing the same things everyday and every month. On the same day, the agency team is working on a cannabis manufacturing account, an alternative investment campaign, and a healthcare distributor’s digital catalogue. In the afternoon, they’re brainstorming a creative digital campaign for a luxury goods company, before figuring how to align a digital marketing plan to a brand strategy for a shipping company. These diverse projects create a richer whole.

4. Rationalisation
Arguably, rationalisation and agility are the most obvious benefits of outsourcing digital marketing. An in-house outfit might choose to rationalise for many reasons, ranging from cost-savings to focusing on fewer platforms. You’re then stuck with retrenchment costs or retraining lags.

5. Costs
It doesn’t necessarily follow that an agency costs more than an in-house team. Your total requirement might take ten hours or five days or whatever for an agency whereas you have the in-house team embedded for a fixed time.

When does in-house digital marketing make sense?

1. Success
The most obvious reason is when it’s working well for you. What does “working well” mean? When it achieves stipulated objectives such as generating sales or leads, increasing brand awareness or whatever your measurable objectives are.

2. Costs
When you’re achieving measurable objectives and your in-house costs are less than what you would be paying an agency, then in-house is a compelling option

3. Culture
You want a lively, learning culture which is similar to that of an agency. We’ve mentioned before that in many instances staff will be doing the same-old stuff repeatedly. You need the purpose to be on continuous improvement and the staff having fun and enjoying a sense of achievement as they strive to overshoot the objectives set.

4. Hybrid
The hybrid model involves the digital marketing functions being split between in-house and an agency. This can work well but one needs to manage the dynamics exceptionally well. We have said before that digital marketing is an eco-system with success dependent upon multiple factors. Graphic design. Copy. Content generation. SEO. Website. Google. Social media.

The need for cool and informed heads comes when you’re not achieving objectives and you need to identify which cog in the wheel is not cracking it.

If the agency knows that the problem is in-house, will they point this out to the in-house team and risk conflict (and their revenue source)? Or will they just fix what might not need fixing? Or will the agency get fired for an in-house short-coming? Cynical I know but let’s be real.

Ultimately, the decision to move your digital marketing in-house, outsource digital marketing to an agency, or pursue a hybrid model will be motivated by many factors such as the size of your business, the objectives of the digital marketing strategy, the capacity and understanding to oversee an in-house team, your culture, your budget, and the nature of your products and services.

Gary Hendrickse
CEO Sherpa Brand and Design

Sherpa Brand & Design Agency
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