In-House v Agency: Which is best for my business?

Sara Morton

In-house or agency for your digital marketing? This is by no means a new debate, but it’s a question that as a digital marketer, I hear a lot. In fact, I’ve even had a prospective client on the phone asking me in regards to social media management, “why can’t I do that myself?” My honest answer? If you have the time and resources, you can. But in this article I’ll explore why for the majority of businesses, taking the decision to outsource your marketing could be the best option.

What are the benefits of using a marketing agency?

Access to specialists

The dream for a small business would be to try and recruit an in-house marketing expert. For many, this would be the perfect option. Someone who can control all elements of your company’s marketing means ensuring a full-time commitment to your business and more control of what’s being done and by who.

As ideal as this situation may be, the truth is that to find and recruit someone skilled in all digital marketing specialisms (social media, SEO, PPC, and content to name but a few), you’re going to be hard pushed. And if they are well versed in all of the above, they ain’t going to come cheap. The other option is to employ a team of people, but for many small businesses this isn’t a feasible option.

An agency is build on a team of specialists working together, meaning you can rest assured that whatever element of the marketing you want focus on, they’ll have the right person for the job. Some agencies specialise in one area of marketing and others will advertise themselves as full-service, meaning they can provide a full marketing strategy across all services.

What you’ll likely find with either of these agency types, is that they have heaps of experience in a range of marketing services. And if they don’t have the in-house capability for a particular task then they’ll have connections or partnerships with other reliable agencies or freelancers who can do that part of the job.


Developed partnerships

Agencies usually have a range of partnerships in place. This means that if an element of your marketing needs something that they don’t specialise in, then they can recommend other companies or will partner with them and factor in the cost. A good example of this is marketing agencies’ relationships with PR firms. Some projects will require PR and while not all agencies have an in-house PR team, they’ll have strong links with companies that they can outsource to to ensure a campaign gets the coverage it deserves.


Because of the collective budget that agencies have, they usually get preferential treatment from the likes of Google and Facebook and you’ll find that some agencies (like us), are Google Partners. These relationships mean the agency has access to account managers who can help with any queries or problems that might arise when getting a campaign underway. If you’ve ever tried to personally ask for business help through Twitter or Facebook’s ‘help’ section, I feel your pain. They’re not the most easy things to navigate. Fortunately, thanks to these agency-platform partnerships, help is closer to hand.


Cost saving

Cost is one of the main things that puts people off using marketing agencies. But before you walk away, bear in mind exactly what you are paying for: a whole team and a wealth of experience.

Understandably employing an agency for full marketing management is a big commitment for small companies and the usual option in this case is to outsource a particular element of your marketing strategy that you really need help in. For example, you may need an email campaign to go out or to get your social media activity up and running.  An agency happy to take on smaller campaigns of this nature could be perfect and should be reasonably costed. If you’re looking for full marketing strategy and management then expect to pay accordingly.

However, it’s worth working out the overall value and you may find that employing an agency actually works out as  more cost-effective than employing an individual. As a collective, agencies can’t go off sick and they don’t go on holiday. The agency is responsible for their employees’ payroll, reviews, holidays, absence and recruitment so from an HR point of view, you’re quids in. As I touched on earlier, with most agencies you’ll get multiple people working on your account plus account management. In essence, you’re getting the benefit of a team of people working for you, without the recruitment hassle.

It’s always worth doing your research on an agency to find out which  partnerships they have in place and see how they have the potential to benefit your business.


Should you focus on building an in-house marketing team?

There are absolutely pros and cons for both in-house and agency teams, and I really feel like it’s dependent on the needs of each individual business. Having someone (or a team) in-house means you have their  undivided attention on your business. Unless you’re paying big bucks, most agency staff will work on other client accounts, not just yours. Of course, having people in-house also means you can speak to them whenever you like and get immediate answers. (In theory). However, most agencies pride themselves on their client relationships, and with a good account management team they should just feel like an extension of your business.

If you have the tools, time and money to build an in-house marketing team or you can find that multi-skilled marketing diamond, it could absolutely be the best decision. I still wouldn’t rule out that a partnership with an agency will be beneficial at some point in your digital marketing journey. If nothing else, working with a marketing agency will highlight the skills you require for success.


What to do when choosing a digital marketing agency

Small or start-up businesses can really benefit from the experience of a marketing agency, especially those that are prepared to work as consultants or offer smaller service options. Sometimes you may just need that push to get your brand off the ground and utilising the knowledge of an agency can make this happen.

Large companies can benefit hugely from the wealth of experience and knowledge that comes with working with agencies. Creating campaigns is what they do day in, day out for a wide range of clients, and if anyone’s going to be determined to make a campaign work, it’s them.

Don’t forget that their reputation is on the line too.

Whatever you choose to go for, make sure you do your research and recruit carefully. As much as you’d interview an in-house candidate on their skills and experience, so you should with an agency.  Just don’t ask them to describe themselves in three words. Nobody likes that question.  


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