In or out? The in-house versus agency debate.

In client meetings over the last month, I’ve noticed a common theme among business leaders – the question of agency versus in-house is a hot topic. I am in the unique position of having managed both. Within a large corporate, I ran the marketing function entirely in-house, then starting my own collective in NTWRK, I’ve managed marketing campaigns exclusively from both an agency perspective and in conjunction with an in-house marketing team. To me, the hybrid model promotes collective knowledge, increased productivity across the marketing function and alignment to business, strategy and messaging – not to mention increased return on investment. 

Keeping it in-house allows your dedicated marketing team to manage from a central point, such as the Marketing Manager with the General Manager. Your marketing strategy is on point with the business strategy and overall most digital elements are delivered, but then I hear frustrations, ranging from reporting lines through to execution. We’re also seeing the growth of digital surging at a rapid pace. Access to a budget for the right headcount to cover everything from organic and paid media to website redevelopment and customer qualification is unlikely. In my experience running in-house, the spread was too thin. We couldn’t cover all elements as well as we would have liked and as a result, our SEO was fantastic, but there was no optimisation program to gather the data we needed to qualify the customer experience.  

It isn’t just in-house that has its pros and cons though – outsourcing digital marketing entirely does too. Nothing gets missed, deadlines are hit and it’s a campaign that aligns to a clear target market, on industry trend. Then there are the usual frustrations such as the brief differing too much from the delivery, the messages are misaligned to the corporate strategy, the outcomes weren’t what was expected, or the brief submitted wasn’t what the reporting line wanted. Not to mention cost versus budget.   

It’s the combination of these reasons that make the hybrid model the right fit for most businesses. Tapping into the collective industry and business knowledge from the in-house marketing team and the agency means the strategy is targeted, precise and aligned. The campaign is managed centrally, but there are more hands and minds with the right access and knowledge running digital – so all levels of the marketing team, from adviser to manager, have the opportunity to provide input and take responsibility. As the elements that make up digital marketing expand, in my experience working with large scale clients, we have captured this growth in elements and incorporated them into the strategy. 

It’s about more than just trends though, it’s about return on investment and the hybrid model focuses on amplifying business growth. Just recently we partnered with a client to improve their customer communication. We created a targeted email campaign, segmented by audiences, and implemented a test and learn program to deliver increased revenue both in store and online. It drove engagement with the brand, their loyalty programs and saw an increase in average shopping cart spend.  

The hybrid model is also about alignment, something often missed when working just in-house or agency. Aligning to corporate strategy and stakeholder messaging allows the brand to understand its position and articulate it clearly to its audience. While you might think, ‘surely it’s better in-house,’ that isn’t the case. Together, the agency and business need to discuss and implement the alignment on a regular basis. This has a flow-on effect, from website through to UE; the message throughout should be the same. More hands, more conversations, more opportunity within the partnership means better business growth.  

Scale and specialised function, as well as interagency alignment are further arguments that I would make for the hybrid model. Tapping into the industry connections and collective knowledge and partnerships your agency may have with other agencies, is yet another advantage. Allowing for growth through scale and specialisation means unique, exceptional and targeted offerings to drive UX and customer loyalty, increased and streamlined productivity and ultimately, return on investment.   

One of the biggest factors for me and my business with this working model, is that it is executed well and continually optimised. At NTWRK, we believe in ‘one more thing’. We think about what it is that we can do to go above and beyond. In a high quality partnership, everyone plays a role and is accountable, so each element from SEO, paid media, organic social to data analytics and customer qualification are covered, executed and optimised. 

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