Okay – I admit it. I may be a wee bit biased when writing on the subject of the relative advantages and disadvantages of using an in-house ad agency versus outsourcing to a marketing communications agency. You probably already suspected the bias because you’re reading this on a marketing communications’ agency blog. I do believe that outsourcing to an agency provides more advantages than disadvantages based on my own experiences and discussions with companies and clients over the last 20-plus years.
Despite that belief, there are always exceptions and hybrids between in-house and outsourced communications resources. What we’ve seen work best is when a company has strong marketing leadership within the organization combined with a marketing communications agency it trusts. The internal marketing leader should have a strong understanding of the company’s business and marketing objectives, serving as a driving force in developing marketing strategies that align with the company’s goals. This person should communicate these things to the agency frequently, especially as business goals or executive leadership within the organization shifts. The agency and internal marketing staff then work in tandem on the development and execution of programs to reach those goals.
An outside marketing communications agency provides advantages that just can’t be replicated in-house.
An outside perspective and objectivity. One of the most important, if not THE most important, advantages an outside agency has over in-house staff is objectivity. The agency’s view is not overly colored by internal discussions, politics, views, etc. Emotions and personalities play less of a role in agency recommendations. The most effective work comes not from a focus on how the company views its products and services but how the customer views them. A good outside agency should always be focused on the buyer and not be distracted by other motivations that are impossible to escape in an internal role. Because agencies are not employees, they’re not bound by the same limitations as employees. An outside agency helps you avoid getting tunnel vision from focusing only on your company or industry.
Shared learning across clients. Another prime benefit of working with an agency is access to the learning from work done across multiple clients in various industries. The isolation of working within one company — or even within just one industry — makes it difficult to always have a finger on the larger landscape as it evolves. Being able to apply expertise gained from executing and measuring media programs from one client and show ROI and conversions for other clients is invaluable – not just learning from programs, but from audiences as well. For example, gaining an understanding of the mom audience through our engagement with Market Street supermarkets applied to the programs we developed for Chuck E. Cheese’s, and that learning then applied to Animalz’ campaign. Our expertise in reaching moms across the country benefited all three of those clients.
A variety of skill sets. A marketing communications agency has specialists with skills and expertise across multiple channels and disciplines. That’s very hard to replicate in an in-house agency and very expensive. Agencies are built with shared expertise and resources that companies only pay for when needed. Telling a company’s story requires a combination of skills across strategic planning, creative, public relations, social media, media management and other disciplines.
Industry relationships, credibility and negotiating power. Established marketing communications agencies already have a wealth of industry contacts and relationships from which to pull when getting a company’s message out to the market. Good agencies have strong relationships with production vendors, reporters and editors at news outlets, photographers, etc. They’ve built up a reputation that can benefit clients in terms of media coverage, better execution and lower costs through negotiations. These relationships may have taken years to cultivate, giving the agency’s clients a tremendous advantage.
These are a few of the important advantages that outside agencies can provide to clients. Certainly there are others; but for the sake of a balanced view, let’s look at where in-house agencies shine.
Access to company resources. In-house staff are always going to have a better understanding of the internal processes and organizational structure within the company and should be able to use that knowledge to get things done in an efficient way. They also have more ready access to subject matter experts who can provide information and intelligence to inform communications efforts. That access can speed projects along and provide a higher level of detail in communications.
Availability of resources for quick-turn projects. Since agencies have other clients, they may not be able to address company needs at the drop of a hat. Large agencies with complex reporting structures and processes typically struggle with turning projects quickly where more nimble agencies can react faster.
An insider view of the industry. An in-house agency team is likely to know the company’s industry better. Agencies work hard to understand the industries that their clients operate inside, but can’t know everything that someone who is entirely focused on that industry does. For example, a brand operating in the fashion industry will have a have a better grasp on what happens day-to-day and a richer understanding of the industry insiders.
No solution is right for every business. Hopefully the above points provide some perspective on the strengths of each option. In the end, we believe agencies like ours can bring unique expertise and execution that in-house staffs can’t reproduce alone. Having said that, marketing expertise and championship within our client organizations is one of the biggest assets that we can leverage. It’s really the best of both worlds.
What’s been your experience with outside agencies and in-house resources?