In-House Marketing vs Agency: Understanding the Pros and Cons

Writer:
Catherine Lovering
Editor:
Kassidy Vavra
Published: Jun 11, 2024
Last Updated:
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Chances are, you didn’t get into business for the marketing of it. Often, that’s the necessary errand that you have to perform to build your brand. 

The good news is that you have options for your marketing. You don’t have to lay it all at the feet of your in-house team and you don’t have to outsource it all to an external party. You can find just the right mix of in-house vs. agency that supports your business and its growth.

Is In-House Marketing the Right Choice for You?

At first glance, it seems intuitive that your marketing should be the same as other aspects of your business: developed and handled in-house. It’s true there are real rewards from this strategy, but there are some potential drawbacks. 

Here's a look at some of the big pros and cons of keeping your digital marketing in-house — operationally and in the ultimate success of your marketing strategies.

Pros of Having Your Marketing In-House

An in-house marketing team works only for you. They don’t have possible split priorities between you and other clients. They also have regular access to your other in-house teams, including sales and customer relations, which makes cross-department collaboration easy. Take a look at these pros in favor of in-house marketing.

Greater Control Over Your Budget and Timeline

Outsourcing marketing typically comes with set deliverables under an established timeline and within a certain budget. This model can be somewhat inflexible if you have a dynamic marketing campaign where you need to make last-minute changes to strategy.

This might include:

  • Changes to outputs, like increasing the frequency of your content marketing output
  • Shifting the focus of your pay-per-click campaigns
  • Adopting new content channels to reach your potential customers

Keeping your marketing in the hands of your in-house team allows you to stay as agile as necessary. You can easily shift timelines and increase or decrease your marketing budget without the added layer of negotiation that might happen with external marketing agencies.

Complete Transparency of the Whole Marketing Process

When you outsource your marketing, you can access professional skill sets that might not exist in your internal marketing teams. They can draw on a knowledge base you can’t otherwise access and benefit from their expertise.

However, that outsourcing also means there’s an aspect of the marketing process that’s not visible to you or your internal teams. You’ll have control over your marketing plan and strategy, but there might be execution aspects you trust to the external agency and simply don’t see.

Keeping your marketing fully in-house gives you end-to-end visibility. Your team develops, executes, and refines strategy. You have first-hand knowledge of what’s working and what isn’t, key points that come to you second-hand through an external agency.

Transparency also reveals why some components of marketing campaigns are particularly labor-intensive or require extensive resources. You get a clear sense of the resource commitment of blog writing and SEO specialists, which are both critical for your content marketing. 

Greater Understanding of Your Brand and Offering

The most sophisticated outsourced marketing departments communicate well with your in-house team. They make an effort to understand your brand and the unique selling points of your products.

But even the best digital marketing agency won’t have the same insight into your brand and your offerings as your in-house team. Your own team members live your brand message day-to-day and hold a commitment to supporting its success. 

That commitment and authenticity can go a long way when it comes to digital marketing strategies. Your in-house team has an elevated understanding of what sets you apart from your competitors, while that might be a steeper learning curve for an external marketing agency. That in-depth understanding of your brand is essential not only for the development and execution of a marketing strategy but also for a reflective assessment of how those strategies are working. If they’re not hitting the mark, one reason might be a limited understanding of your brand’s individual voice.

More Control Over Your Data

Your marketing strategies should be built on data, including:

  • Who your potential customers are
  • Where they hang out online
  • What messages best attract their attention

Your marketing strategies are also refined based on data. When you keep your marketing in-house, you have complete access to first-party data.

Working with marketing agencies can mean losing access to data about interactions with your brand. This can be largely a matter of technology, where an external agency leverages tools to execute your brand strategy and, in the process, gets first-party data about how those strategies are working.

If you’re spending your marketing budget completely in-house, that means all of the tools, technology, analytics, and key points of information are also kept in-house. You see all of your data and can use it to create dynamic, in-depth reports that allow you to constantly reflect upon the return on investment (ROI) of your strategy.

Cons of In-House Marketing Efforts

Staying in-house has some clear benefits. However, it's also critical to consider the drawbacks. As a business owner, you’re fully cognizant of the pressures placed on your company and how sticking to a fully in-house marketing model can be a net loss financially and operationally. 

It can come down to whether the benefits of in-house marketing outweigh the risk of spreading your people and your budget too thin.

Limited Marketing Expertise and Human Resources

You love your in-house marketing team — after all, you hired them! But the truth is that they can’t do it all. You might have fantastic team members with great individual skill sets, but they won’t always have the range of expertise you can harness with outsourcing marketing services.

You can also hire only so many people. An external marketing agency is dedicated to that one aspect of business, and that team is built entirely of people who can handle things like:

They can draw upon their own in-house staff as well as vetted pools of freelancers who can handle the time-consuming and highly detailed tasks of content creation, SEO analysis, and content channel optimization, among many others. What you’ll get depends on who you partner with externally, of course. When you keep things in-house, your internal team might not know each of these components in-depth, and your HR budget might not have room for a specialist in every area. 

For that reason, it can free up your team if you choose to outsource your technical SEO auditscase study writing, and other marketing duties.

Lack of Innovation and Knowledge of Marketing Trends

You might also value your in-house team because of their creativity and dedication to your business and industry. However, the reality is that they can develop a kind of tunnel vision because of the time they spend working for your company alone. 

An outside agency has the benefit of monitoring marketing trends as a whole based on their broad industry knowledge and work with a range of clients. This is a perspective that your in-house team might lack simply because their focus is on your company’s marketing strategy and that internal strategy alone. The inability to develop a broader perspective on emerging marketing trends can be a disadvantage to your team and is an important consideration for the in-house marketing vs. agency debate. As much as you value your team member’s ability to brainstorm new ideas, it can be difficult to innovate without this broader perspective on trends.

Even if you encourage them to stay up to speed on trends as part of their job, there are only so many hours in the day. Your team might not have time to do it all!

Extra Human Resources Management and Hires

So what if you solve this “not enough time” problem with the obvious solution of more people? That sounds good on paper, as pouring more resources into marketing might help solve some of the drawbacks of going with an external agency.

While your marketing might be better executed, this brings a new operational pressure point: HR management. It’s often wonderful to have a growing internal team of enthusiastic, skilled employees. But a larger team also means comprehensive HR resources, whether employees are remote or in-office, including:

  • Managing
  • Detailed coordination of workplace logistics
  • Benefits administration
  • Friction-free scheduling
  • Tools and education to handle interpersonal and workplace conflicts

More people can definitely help enhance and support your company culture, but it can also put pressure on that culture. Unfortunately, it can also cost more money and time than it might be worth. In comparison, things like content outsourcing and outside SME reviews can relieve pressure on your marketing team without the added administrative burden.

Time-Consuming and Risk of Poor Marketing Results

All of these drawbacks might come down to the one big potential downside of keeping marketing activities in-house: They take time and might not give you the results you want. 

You're likely well aware that digital marketing is a competitive field. Your industry colleagues are using the same channels to sell similar products to the same pool of potential customers. Without a precise and targeted marketing strategy, your campaigns might fall short of your goals. 

Putting all the pressure on your in-house team can come with advantages, but at the end of the day, they’re up against a highly skilled marketing machine that others are rolling out. Those others may have the resources, the innovation, and the trend knowledge to leverage at a pace you can't keep up with on your own.

Is a Marketing Agency the Best Choice for Your Business? 

Weighing the pros and cons of in-house marketing vs. agency outsourcing is just stage one of your analysis. You might also want to directly ask whether a marketing agency is right for your business. That also comes with a number of pros and cons specifically related to expertise, perspective, and brand alignment.

Pros of Hiring a Marketing Agency

As your company has its own area of expertise, so does a marketing agency. At a marketing agency, marketing is their business. It’s what they do, and they should offer a level of service and results-based offerings you might not be able to access in-house.

Access to a High-Level Team of Experts and Best Practices

An outsourced marketing team hires people who know marketing best. They might have worked in marketing across industries, bringing a level of broad knowledge you might be hard-pressed to develop with an in-house team. 

A marketing team also can include a number of specialists who focus on different areas, from SEO to content to pay-per-click campaigns. Each one of these requires an evolving skillset as the digital marketing landscape shifts and changes over time.

Those skill sets can include an up-to-date and comprehensive knowledge of current best practices in digital marketing. Aspects of technical SEO, content marketing, and content channel optimization can all change organically or abruptly with a sudden Google algorithm change. Partnering with an external marketing agency can make it easier to navigate those changes so your business can retain an agile and effective digital strategy. 

Improved Flexibility and Creativity

Working with an agency provides an agility benefit that goes beyond responding to search engine algorithm changes. An outside marketing agency can give you unmatched adaptability in terms of workload, skillset, and timeline that can be harder to achieve in-house. 

While an in-house team might follow a set schedule for projects and integrate time off and job-sharing arrangements accordingly, a marketing agency can often give you the personnel you need as your marketing requirements shift. 

Perhaps you have a desire to ramp up your content calendar in the coming quarter or as part of a new product rollout. With an outside agency, you can be contracting writers to develop that content on an as-needed or short-term basis. It’s kind of like a temp agency for your digital marketing. This might be harder to achieve with your in-house team, whose goals and responsibilities tend to be ongoing and long-term.

Your outside agency also means new people to bring ideas to your marketing. These creative insights mean your brand voice can remain adaptable and relevant even as the industry landscape changes and your brand grows.

Seamless Scalability

Speaking of brand growth, it’s important to reflect on what that means organizationally and how an outside marketing agency can help. Brand growth is likely a central goal for your business, but to get there, you also need:

  • Increased conversions
  • A boost in sales
  • More potential customers
  • A shift in your team's digital marketing strategy

If you have an existing in-house team that’s used to a certain level of activity, scaling up can bring added operational pressures. Your team might not have the bandwidth to increase scheduling on your content calendar or to analyze the flood of new data about your marketing activities that comes your way. 

With an outside agency, you can easily scale your marketing activities up or down, depending on your needs. 

Say you’re focusing new marketing efforts on a specific demographic segment. You can develop a new content campaign targeting those potential customers and increase your output over a series of weeks or months. This is relatively easy to achieve if you don’t have to write all your content in-house. The ability to scale output up or down is one of the main benefits of content creation services.

Outsourcing your marketing can also mean benefiting from another team’s tools to understand your data as scaling occurs.

Expert Analysis for Data-Driven Decisions

With an outside marketing agency, you can also avail data analytics experts. Beyond basic metrics that are only modestly useful, like page views and click-through rates, in-depth data analysis can improve your decision-making. 

Expert marketers can dive deep into the data, combining metrics, benchmarks, and predictive insights to arrive at information that supports making reasoned choices between strategic options. This results in less risk for your business, as you won’t be confined to the “throw it all at the wall and see what sticks” approach. 

Your marketing agency also has an outside perspective that provides an objective data analysis while still being steeped in your own company’s performance and strategic goals.

Provides Fresh Perspectives on Your Offering and Messaging

You love your team, as has been said repeatedly — but your team also comes with a bias to favor your current messaging and offerings. Working day to day in your company, they are intimately familiar with your brand. They know what you’re trying to sell and are naturally inclined to believe their own sales pitch.

An outside agency has no such bias — its team members want to help you succeed, but they won't necessarily rehash or merely tweak what you’re currently serving up to accomplish your goals. A marketing agency can offer a fresh eye to help revamp ideas and strategy. It’s easier for them to see how your brand stacks up against the competition because they have no bias toward anyone in your industry. They only know what works when you’re trying to reach your potential customers.

Access to Top-Notch Marketing Tools

Your in-house marketing team doesn’t have the same capacity as marketing agencies to dive into areas like:

  • In-depth analytics
  • Keyword research
  • Benchmarking
  • Prospective insights

Even if you gave your team an unlimited budget, they might not have access to the same tools marketing agencies develop and rely upon to provide expert services.

In-house report generation might have limited value compared to what an outside agency can offer. Depending on their individual capabilities, they might give you necessary perspectives on your own data and emerging issues like the role of AI content in marketing. While your in-house team has access to a set of metrics, it is the expert role of the marketing agency to convert those metrics into information that has meaning.

The marketing tools don’t stop with analytics. An agency might offer a collaboration and content publishing platform as well as solutions for content distribution. 

Cons of Outsourcing Your Marketing Efforts

While there are many benefits to marketing outsourcing, there is the flipside — the assortment of “cons.” These are important to review so you’re prepared for the changes that come with partnering with an outside agency.

Adaptation Period To Align With Your Brand

While outside perspectives are often essential to maximize your brand’s development and reach, the initial drawback of the outside voice is a lack of knowledge of your brand. It can take some time for you and the marketing agency to come into sync about your brand’s mission, voice, and goals.

During that initial period, you might experience some adjustment pains as you hammer out the nitty-gritty details of which marketing outputs are an ideal example of your brand voice. You can also suffer alignment friction as you adjust to new workflow arrangements and reporting structures.

Loss of Control Over Data Security

Those fantastic data analytics can only come under one scenario: The outside agency has access to your first-party data. Discussions around data confidentiality and security will likely arise as you set up the new arrangement, but this isn’t without risk. Whenever an outside party has data access, there’s a chance it could be accidentally or deliberately exposed to the wrong audience.

Your internal data teams might want to carefully assess how and what data is passed to the agency, as well as the obligations for data security and privacy if the agreement with the outside agency ends. After all, your data is not just possibly your customers’ or team members’ info. It might be key information about how you do business that shouldn’t end up in your competitors’ hands.

Slower Communications

Even in the era of hybrid and fully remote working arrangements, you can typically expect quick and easy access to your in-house marketing team. Often, it’s a matter of a quick ping if they’re not in the same building or a mere stroll over to their workspace if they are.

That’s not usually possible when working with an external marketing agency. While you will likely have a dedicated agency contact in the case of fully managed content marketing, it isn’t always possible for them to give a quick answer to your query or to provide updates on the fly. This can be a definite drawback to outsourcing marketing, particularly when you’re just launching a new campaign and want to be on top of every potential event.

Marketing Aspects That Are Better Handled In-House

With all these pros and cons of your in-house marketing vs agency outsourcing, we’ve yet to mention the (perhaps obvious) solution: Split the difference. You might want to outsource some aspects of your digital marketing while continuing to trust your in-house team with the rest. There’s no definitive list of marketing activities that must happen in-house. That depends on the size and expertise of your internal team and your comfort level with (and budget for) an external agency. 

In general, companies tend to prefer keeping marketing strategy in-house with their internal team. Strategy, after all, is likely why you have in-house marketers to begin with. Unless you want to partner closely with an external consultant who will get to know your brand intimately, it’s your internal team who has the best overall understanding of your business and its selling points.

Social media strategy is also an aspect you might want to keep in-house. While it might seem easy to outsource on the surface, social media is often your most direct connection to customers. This is an aspect you want to make sure is on-brand and on-message, and it involves communications that take place at a rapid pace. 

Aspects of Your Marketing That You Can Outsource

While you might want to keep some aspects of marketing to your internal team, there are definitely a few roles you can outsource. Content creation does not have to happen in-house as long as you work with writers with an awareness and understanding of your brand and its voice. 

In fact, content might be one of the main areas you choose to partner with an outside agency. Writing content is one of the most time-consuming and labor-intensive aspects of digital marketing, but with an outside agency, you can remove that burden from your internal team. 

Analytics is often best suited for an outside agency since their teams generally have the tools to create comprehensive and insightful reports. Other tasks to outsource can include email marketing campaigns, specifically the setup and initial execution of these campaigns, so your in-house team can monitor them closely.

How Much Does It Cost To Hire an Agency?

The cost to hire an agency depends on the services you outsource. A way to gauge your potential costs is to compare the fees you might incur from an agency to the number of hours in team member time it would take to produce the same output.

This is only a quick-and-dirty figure, of course. Staff time doesn’t take into account your overhead costs or the shifting of resources away from other priorities when the time comes to scale up your marketing efforts.

Choose the Right Agency To Reach Your Marketing Goals

When it comes to the in-house marketing vs. agency debate, finding the right balance between the two ultimately comes down to your own goals, expertise, and budget. To start your journey, learn more about what outside partners, such as Compose.ly’s managed service, can do for you and your team.

When you choose a team like Compose.ly, you get the peace of mind that the content you outsource will help you reach your goals and allow your internal team to focus on other important marketing tasks.

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