Agency vs In-house Marketing – can we work better together?

Over the last 12 years, I have had many discussions with businesses owners and CMOs about the benefits of in-house vs outsourcing to an outside agency. Though much of the decision making process is down to budget, the reality is that budget plays a smaller part of the equation and is mostly driven by a variety of factors.

  • Value for money – ROI
  • Understanding the goals – in some cases helping shape the KPIs
  • Realist deliverables and timeframes
  • Clear communication channels – across both sides
  • Strong relationship – less supplier, more strategic expert

Putting these 5 points above a side for the moment, the fundamental process to a successful outcome, is the two parties working in tandem together to achieve the desired goal.

To help arrive at a sensible conclusion, I have tried to weigh up the pros and cons an organisation faces when looking to ramp up activity.

So, let’s look at a simple scenario:

The Challenge

Budget limitations mean you need to get the most for your money. Balancing expertise and knowledge with time and budget constraints.

The Options

  1. Do it yourself
  2. Hire in-house
  3. Outsource

The Pro’s and Con’s

Do it yourself

a) Many company’s try to run campaigns themselves to cut costs or be “in control” but I have never seen this work well. Do what you do best. All too often businesses try to cut costs by putting the wrong people in the wrong roles, The MD of a company shouldn’t be uploading AdWords campaigns, they should be focusing on what why and how those AdWords campaigns are going to amplify their business

b) It may cut costs on paper but the time and efforts in the long run could probably be best spent on other responsibilities to add value to the company

Hire In-house

Hiring additional in-house specialists can be a laborious process and also involves a clear understanding of what you require in the first place.

a) It is very difficult to hire people with experience in digital marketing, why, because digital marketing is broad and complex. You could be interviewing a “Digital Specialist” who has never run a search campaign e.g. all their experience is in Email and Data, meaning although they have high level experience in one discipline they are lacking in others

b) You never know what you are getting till it is too late. This is the same whether the candidate is good or bad, it takes time to bed in and normally it will take months before you start to see the cracks or clear positives from your new employee

c) It costs to get an excellent Digital Marketer. Whether your requirements are SEO, PPC , Display, Social, Analytics – in order  to hire someone who can excel in all these areas or even one element is costly, and rightly so. If they are good then they are worth the money. However back to point b. you may only find out after a lot of resource is thrown at this. So be prepared to pay for excellence but test if that excellence is actually real before and after hiring

d) Completely embed them within the company. This is key, to have an employee coming in every day, surrounded by the business, living and breathing the company is of great value. This means the understanding of the company challenges and sticking points are very clear. Also the selling points and angles of positioning the business are often close to hand meaning the marketing tone and approach is strong

e) Although on the other hand, being completely embedded within the company can have drawbacks. When you are too close to something sometimes you cannot see the wood for the trees. To think in terms of the customer rather than how the company wants the customer to see you can be a challenge

f) External experience. Sometimes running just one account limits the exposure to new techniques which can be applied

g) Growth and long term company security. If you hire a good one, and they are with you long term it can be a great investment as they grow, the company grows


There are a variety of agencies and independent freelancers who do an excellent job. In some cases, normally at the higher end of the spectrum, there are those that have strong niches, contacts and successful strategies. Sometimes the benefits, far outweigh costs. As is life, the challenge is kissing the frog to find the prince.

a) Trust. Often a major sticking point for businesses is knowing which digital agency to trust. There are many cowboys out there who are giving the industry a bad name. Like in any industry, the ones who do it badly taint everyone else.

b) Expertise. When you hire an agency or consultancy you are buying into a wealth of knowledge (if you pick the right one). They have teams of individuals all working on different disciplines and varied clients which can be utilised to your benefit. When you first meet an agency you should be asking what they have learnt from other accounts that may help your business.

c) Experience. Often the wrong questions are asked – Rather than “how many companies like us have you worked for?”, ask about what strategies have shown the kind of results you are looking for”. You can teach an agency about your company and products but you shouldn’t be teaching an agency how to come up with strategic approached to solve your digital needs – that is their job. Just because a company claims to work with big brands on global accounts it doesn’t mean they are any good. So, ask the right questions.

d) Experience. Sometimes the lack of industry knowledge will mean you need to educate your agency on your industry, but this would be the case if you hire someone anyway.

e) Who is running your account. You may have bought into the person selling to you in the pitch, but who is going to manage your account? All too often the big media buyers send in their best sales guy, then dependant on your budget, you get allocated account manager further down the chain who knows little about your business, or any pre discussions that you had, you then have to start from scratch. Get some consistency, either the account manager is in the pitch process or the presenter is overseeing the project in the early stages. Find out as this will be important to the long term relationship with the agency.

f) You pay for time. This can be a good or bad thing. You only pay for time, meaning you are not paying for someone to sit at a desk with nothing to do on a  slow day. Equally, you have to pay for extra time. You need more resource, it costs money and if you are finding this is a growing area the outgoings can increase quickly. Make sure your agency is spending their time on the “right” things, things you can’t do or are not getting value from internally. Why are they spending 50% of time on reporting when you run internal reports yourself! And make sure they have enough time to give you. A good agency never over promises and under delivers, they plan and manage each client within Urgent, important, Regular and low level tasks. They should be on tap if you need them in an emergency, but not hanging around on the end of the phone charging you for the calls you keep making to them every day of the week.

g) Support. Agencies often have teams sat behind the main account manager or account director you deal directly with. This means a wealth of knowledge is on tap for any digital query you may have. And if they don’t know. They can find out quickly. Any Agency worth the investment also has a team of support at the media owners such as Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Bing, etc.. it is often hard for clients to get the support their need from the media owners, Agencies can help.

h) Integration. A good agency should be working closely with your team and being proactive. You shouldn’t be pushing ideas down a one  way street, your agency is your extended team. Often clients and agencies forget this. The best results come from working together and tapping into the knowledge the client has of their market, and the agency knowledge of digital marketing, strategies and analysis.

In Conclusion

So budgets are tight and decisions must be made, the bottom line is to make the right decision not just the cheapest decision. The best approach I have leant over my 12 years in digital marketing is when Agency and Client works as one. Clear, regular communication is open and free to flow in both directions. The agency is proactive and in some cases incentivised with goals and targets jointly agreed. Minimum fees are fine – but bulk retainers must be clearly understood. There are some agencies out there who charge you through the nose for the bare minimum, yet other agencies, who offer strategic guidance and support as an extension to their service offering.

In short, find an experienced, hardworking and dedicated agency that prides itself on client relationships and strategic digital marketing techniques. If the relationship is right, you will have the best brains and experience working fulltime on your brand.


If you would like to find out more about how we can help support your digital marketing please contact us to discuss your requirements.

Rachel Mepham
With over 15 years’ experience in Digital Marketing, Rachel heads up the team at Digital Clarity. With a deep skill set in the Paid Search, Social Media and Analytics, Rachel is regarded by both clients and peers as one of the most experienced and prolific women in the UK digital space. Her approach and application to digital strategy planning has been used by some of the biggest brands as well as leading advertising and marketing agencies.