Marketing Agency vs. In-House: Which is Better?

This is no one’s favorite answer: It depends.

No one size fits all. Both work, given the right context.

Adding to the mix, hybrid solutions are also an increasing reality. Large brands entertain the services of dozens of marketing agencies. When you’re that big, an in-house staff takes on the role of symphony orchestration.

If you’re midsize and growing, the question is no longer either/or. It’s more like and/when. In-house vs. outsourced becomes a game of budget percentages.

That’s a whole other post in the making.

But for the small burgeoning company contemplating the move from a lone wolf CMO to some form of marketing wolfpack, the hybrid possibilities are still a few miles down the road. Right now, it’s either marketing agency, or startup in-house team.

Straightforward as this may seem, the decisions here still need to be carefully weighed. But the following ten observations will help you see which way the balance tips.

The goal here is to contrast the advantages fairly on both sides. Each benefit has its exceptions, so nothing here is a blanket statement. Finding a solution where the exceptions lean in your favor is the goal.

5 Advantages of an In-House Marketing Team

  1. Greater Engagement: In-house teams feel the weight of their responsibility more keenly. They are closer to the epicentre of company concerns, and their career is tightly tethered to results.

    In contrast, marketing agencies are buffered by distance, and often not tasked with the final execution of a strategy. Their engagement is further divided by the fact that they serve multiple clients.

    Nothing precludes mediocre engagement on either side -- full engagement is an ongoing choice of the individuals involved -- but consensus agrees that in-house has the advantage here.

  2. Agile Accountability: Up-to-date progress reports, changes in direction, last-minute details -- all of these are more easily navigated when management and marketing are just down the hall from each other.

    Agencies have to replace such convenience with stellar communication skills -- and the integrated technology to support them.

  3. Brand Understanding: Brand is the laser pinpoint of marketing focus. A company’s own marketing team will deeply delve the nuances of its profitable shift -- they stare at it every day. A well-defined brand should shine under their watch.

    Agencies require start-up orientation and ongoing sensitivity to get a feel for these subtleties. The good ones really work hard at this, but where brand is carefully calibrated, in-house is preferred.

  4. Higher Trust: In-house marketers are regarded with a greater degree of acceptance, on every level. It’s a DNA relationship that can’t completely be cloned by a marketing agency.

    For anyone in-house, board clearance is arguably more streamlined, and healthy sales/marketing camaraderie is organically achievable. These are company people.

    Even the best of marketing agencies has a difficult time with this aspect. Great ones seek to close the gap with high touch, sterling performance, and lots of social proof.

    But all things being equal, in-house teams have the visibility edge.

  5. Fixed Costs: Sometimes it’s easier to sell decision-makers on a specific salary sum than on a vague marketing budget spent on unknown third parties. In-house teams are more tangible, and thus more justifiable.

    Where year-to-year budget concerns need rigid consideration, in-house expenses are the easiest to measure.

    Outside agencies represent “mystery” costs, requiring due diligence. The extra comparison research involved can be viewed as too daunting to justify the effort.

5 Advantages of a Marketing Agency

  1. Skills Variety and Depth: Collectively, marketing agencies represent an aiming-for-infinite selection of specializations. In-house marketers readily recognize they are limited by their team skill set.

    When the in-house limitations become acute, boutique agencies are increasingly the solution of choice.

  2. Network Partners: Any marketing agency carries greater social clout than other businesses of comparable size. At their disposal is the collective weight of the hard-won relationships all their clients have garnered -- and then some.

    Marketing agencies experience both the bane and blessing of being the most targeted businesses on the planet. If it’s B2B, agencies are on every salesperson’s A-list. This laser focus can be leveraged.

    Such positioning includes bulk pricing on software and services, wider partnering possibilities, and diversified marketing channels -- doors to which agencies carry a set of master keys.

  3. Lower Cost: Once hired, an in-house team is a fixed expense which sits well with accounting. But the initial recruiting process has many hidden price tags: screening protocols, benefits packages, and employment agency fees, for starters.

    Time and opportunity costs also have to be considered when building a marketing department.

    Marketing agencies make their value felt by quickly bringing their team’s talents to the table without as many complications. Dollar-for-dollar, agencies are generally considered the best investment -- especially for SMBs and specialized solutions.

  4. Arm’s-Length Stability: The issues of high in-house turnover is a point of ongoing discussion. Whether it’s a craving for variety, or a drive for professional advancement, the need for career change seems to be higher in-house than it is in-agency.

    If HR’s revolving door is a concern, agencies are the viable alternative. Whatever turnover they experience affects the client as a ripple, not a splash.

  5. Fresh Perspective: The biggest challenge in-house teams face is a tendency toward creative myopia. In marketing’s rapidly changing climate, this is a major concern. Wise marketers know when their fresh ideas are tapped-out, and when it’s time to switch from music composer to symphony conductor.

    Marketing agencies, in contrast, have their creativity honed and diversified with every client and project. The dynamic of their business model demands innovation.

    Moreover, their hiring process is constantly scanning for jack-in-the-box thinkers, people whose ideas consistently pop with new possibilities. They are the seedbed of master marketers.

    When coupled with great execution skills, marketing agencies infuse fresh blood into anemic in-house solutions.

One Final Freebie Advantage

Remote working relationships are at an all time high -- and trending higher. We all understand this. Marketing agencies count on it, building their businesses to be increasingly agile, regardless of distance.

Really embracing the possibilities here means thinking harder, planning longer. But to do so allows everyone to spread their arms wider.

It’s obvious that today’s adopted strategy won’t eliminate tomorrow’s possibilities on either side of the fence. The in-house team versus marketing agency question is a constant kaleidoscope of morphing solutions.

In the new world of marketing, “It depends” is an answer that never quite disappears.

We know that finding the best agency for your marketing project can be difficult. Hundreds of agencies. Dozens of disciplines. Good versus great. The considerations are many. Rnked can help. Our broker team intelligently matches growing businesses and marketing agencies. We give you choice, freedom, and zero obligation in the process. Using smart data and years of experience, we take an important marketing decision -- and simply make it less difficult. You're still at the helm, but we're here, aiding along the way. And we do it without cost to you.

Manfred Koehler

Manfred Koehler is Rnked Marketing Broker's Chief Content Creator. As a speaker, writer, and photographer, he is an addicted creative. Stick-ability is his favorite word. And Rnked is Manfred's favorite place to work.