In-house or outsourcing: keeping Marketing in the family or farming it out

I was recently at a seminar where we debated the merits of using a consultancy firm to deliver brand development, versus keeping it in-house.

Choosing whether to outsource the marketing function, projects or tasks, or manage it in-house, is a decision faced by most organisations at some point. The key to making the right choice, in my view, lies in asking the following questions:

1. Do we have the right mix of skills at the right level?

Sometimes a skill is needed for just a short period of time. For example initial brand development is often a one-off activity and a business could be better off employing someone with transferable marketing skills rather than a brand development expert, drawing on the expert at certain times. If the project or task at hand requires a skill set that you don’t already possess in-house and the business can’t or isn’t willing to gear up to fill gaps, you’re almost left with no option but to outsource.

If the organisation employs the right sort of people but they don’t have the influence or decision making ability needed ‘in the moment’, then outsourcing is definitely the better option. But don’t forget, managing an agency is a special skill all of its own and if not done well, can be as resource intensive as managing in-house delivery.

2. Can we be creative enough?

It takes time to be creative. It also takes space.

In-house marketing and design can become stale simply because we don’t have the head-space to give the creative process the treatment it deserves. We’re too busy ‘doing the day job’ to come up with anything new or different. If a project or your marketing strategy needs a creative kick, a consultancy firm can often be your knight in shining armour.

3. Does the ‘problem’ need a fresh pair of eyes?

If you stare at a circle for long enough, it can start to look like a square. An outsider looking in can be just what you need if you’re looking to change direction.

Consultants can also be very useful for telling the Board or your senior team something they may not want to hear. Feedback from outside the business can evoke a very different response to the same message given internally. Using consultants sparingly but at the right moments in time can often give a much needed nudge.

4. Does the context we’re working in mean only we can make the right decisions?

All companies have their quirks. Sometimes businesses can be so complex that it would take longer to communicate the nuances to an outsider than it would to deliver what is needed in-house.

In the case of the long view a good relationship with a consultancy firm who get to know your business well enough to overcome the quirks but still provide innovative approaches, can pay back dividends. If your business is full of obstacles and the project you’re working on is short term, it may be that in-house delivery is the most efficient route.

5. Does our culture lend itself to outsourcing?

The bigger a company gets the less likely it is that there will be a need to outsource marketing (or any function for that matter).

Size aside, some organisations are simply better at outsourcing than others. And some organisations are better at knowing what marketing will work for them and how to recruit the best talent to get the job done in-house.

For outsourcing to work, the organisation’s culture needs to be one where relationships with suppliers are open and transparent and decisions can be made in good time. A good agency will tell you things you didn’t know. It will also tell you things you didn’t even realise you needed to know! Culturally, you need to gear up to act on this valuable information.

Managing marketing in-house and outsourcing it both have a place depending on the context. Essentially if you employ good marketing managers they’ll be able to manage the process either way.

I’d love to hear your view. Leave me a comment…


One thought on “In-house or outsourcing: keeping Marketing in the family or farming it out

  1. I think when it comes to something as instrumental as establishing / developing a brand you firstly have to loosen the reigns and trust your employees. If you have employed people who should be capable of doing the job, give them the freedom to do it. Micromanagement by experts outside of the field really holds back the creative process. There is a tendency to outsource when it comes to projects deemed of higher importance, why not trust your employees for the skills you employed them for in the first place?

    However, this is reliant on your team having the skills in the first place – which is not always the case.

    But on the same note, people that have been sat within a company for years become jarred by their boundaries, they can become stale – easily so in large organisations that steer clear from fresh ideas and new direction.

    Nice piece Katie

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