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7 min read

In-Housing vs Agency Outsourcing: A Marketing Manager’s Guide

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

In-housing is all about claiming ownership of activity and capitalising on brand knowledge. The term – meaning quite literally to ‘bring things in-house’ has been widely celebrated over the years as a means of bringing talent into client-side teams and therefore allowing those teams full access to and visibility of every activity.

But is in housing digital marketing support the right approach for you? Sure, bringing skills in-house has its benefits but so too does an investment in a full agency team.

We’ll caveat this blog post with one big, well, caveat: we are an agency. It’s highly unlikely we’re going to advise you to take everything in-house because, quite frankly, we believe there are huge benefits to be gained by choosing an agency partner.

We believe choosing an agency over (or, in fact, as well as) in housing provides your business with huge benefits above and beyond what could be achieved by an in-house team alone. Because agencies recognise that brands do have the in-housing option, we have to adapt to changing needs in the marketplace and constantly assess our offering to ensure it really does make sense for you.

So if you’re a marketing manager, a head of marketing or even someone in procurement or another stakeholder who wants to ensure your marketing investment is being spent wisely, read on…

What is in-housing?

In housing is the term used by businesses to describe the act of hiring people into a team rather than outsourcing work to an agency or third party partner.

Why do marketers choose to take skills ‘in-house’?

The main reason marketers specifically choose to take skills ‘in house’ is that they perceive a greater ability to control and directly influence marketing activity. However, many marketers and brands also recognise the inherent value of using an agency partner for the access to more people/full teams and broader skill sets and experience.

What digital marketing skills are most commonly ‘in-housed’?

In digital marketing, the skills most commonly brought in house tend to be those that are more embedded in the marketing plan long term, such as basic SEO and paid media. It is the most specialist skills, such as digital PR, technical SEO and paid media niches that tend to be outsourced to agency partners.

In-housing is a valid consideration, then, for any marketer. And, as shown (hopefully) by the FAQs above, in housing can have many benefits, but can also be the less effective/efficient option for some brands.

What activities should be kept in house?

There are certainly some aspects of your marketing that you’ll want to retain in house. This is most true of any aspect that requires your business-specific knowledge or knowledge pertaining directly to your target audience.

While it is certainly possible for an outsourced partner to learn all about your business (and, in our opinion, it’s absolutely essential that any partner you choose does invest time into this), it’s also a valid argument to say that the only people fully aware of all of the rationale behind your decisions, and the commercial reasoning for your targeting, are your in house team.

That’s why, more often than not, an agency like ours will work with a head of marketing or a marketing manager who will share their broader strategy with us, thus enabling us to dovetail our work in and for us to collaboratively ascertain the best use of digital marketing budget to achieve their goals.

Specific activities you might choose to retain in house include:

  • Data ownership; you should retain ownership of your data – you can always provide an agency access via an MCC for PPC, via social media channels and via platforms like Google Analytics and GSC
  • Branding; it’s important that any activity represent your brand in the best way for you, so it’s likely you’ll want to maintain visibility of and sign-off for any larger scale branded work, such as a content campaign. You should also seek to provide your partner with tone of voice guidelines and wider brand guidelines to help them represent your brand
  • Big picture strategy; if you’re looking to use a partner for elements of your marketing strategy, you’ll still want to keep ownership of the big picture thinking, e.g. giving direction around broader marketing activity and ensuring your chosen partners are aware of your full mix

What activities should you invest in a partner for?

An agency partner can be a hugely efficient and effective method of making the most of your marketing budget.

The main benefit of investing in an agency partner rather than keeping all activity in house is that you invest in the expertise of a team, not just an individual.

Let’s unpack that some more.

What you’re getting when you recruit someone directly into your team is that individual’s knowledge and experience. Do your due diligence right and you’ll find someone who perfectly fits your brand and culture, and who brings relevant experience and knowledge to the table. Great!

But equally, it’s important to recognise that that person’s experience and knowledge is limited to them alone. Employ one person, get one person’s skills. Employ an agency partner, however, and you benefit from not just one person, but a whole team. And their experience spans not just any in-house role they have had in their career, but the experience of working across dozens (if not more) brands through their agency experience. They have knowledge of a wide array of business types, sectors and from years spanning the disciplines for which you employ them.

Plus, you know that staying up to date is a huge part of their role. In order to grow their agencies, these people have to be able to understand the digital landscape and apply their thinking to many different businesses, having to pitch for business themselves and having to report and prove their impact to clients.

Now, that’s not to say an in-house team member doesn’t work as hard, that’s certainly not the case. But it’s fair to say that their focus remains solely on your brand, while an agency’s focus spans your brand and probably dozens of others – with pros and cons to both.

Specific areas you might seek to outsource tend to be those where a specialist skillset is needed, such as:

The list continues, and is continuing to grow as more brands in-house broader skills like ‘marketing’ and outsource those requiring a very specific niche, like SEO.

In-housing an agency partner

While there is a decision to potentially be made here, there is also a ‘best of both’ option (you’re welcome!).

Here at Impression, we recognise that what you gain in experience and broader knowledge with an agency, you might feel you lose in that direct relationship with your brand that is often best built when the person working for you is located, physically, with you.

That’s why we offer an in-housing service, whereby one of our team would be seconded to your office for a period of time or for a number of days per month. As well as this, we always offer and encourage a full ‘discovery day’ where we get to know you and your brand in person, either at our office, at your office or another location of choice.

Outsourcing or in-housing: the final decision

The reality is that the bottom line decision on this is down to you. Which sounds super fluffy, but it has to be… it’s a decision specific to you, your business and your needs.

With that said, we provide digital consultancy (amongst a wide array of digital services) to help people just like you to make this decision. If you’re interested in learning more, get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.