Should you use an ad agency, or should you perform all marketing tasks in-house? This question has been debated for many decades, and we’re sure it will for years to come. With this in mind, we’re going to clear up some of the confusion and help you formulate a responsible answer to the question in today’s market.
If you’re currently debating the move from an ad agency to in-house marketing, vocalizing this thought aloud probably elicits a broad spectrum of opinions. Some will tell you that it’s not worth the hassle and that you should stick with the agency. While others will explain that they transitioned to in-house marketing and haven’t looked back since.
It’s time to dismiss all these opinions and find the answer that’s right for you. Today, we’ll discuss the benefits and drawbacks of moving marketing in-house, and follow up with suggestions you’ll need to get in-house marketing right.
As online solutions improve, more company owners are starting to see the value of bringing what was previously an intense part of the business back in-house. Previously, offloading advertising was almost a relief for business owners because it required so much time and attention. Now, with the advancement of algorithms, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, business owners can take on advertising challenges without it being a Herculean effort.
In a 2013 survey among all Association of National Advertisers (ANA) marketers, fewer than six in ten respondents admitted to in-house marketing teams. In 2018, this had increased to around eight in ten.
Why the switch? According to some businesses, it’s about greater control, agility (ability to react quickly), and visibility. Though agencies offer a wealth of benefits, it seems businesses want more control over the creative process now that access to this operation is more accessible to those with less extensive experience. Global giants, in addition to small businesses, are starting to move their advertising efforts in-house; this includes companies like Electrolux, the NHL, and Bayer.
Should you make the jump? Allow us to explain some of the benefits of choosing this route.
As a business, you’re probably interested in how this transition will impact your costs. Well, in many cases, in-house marketing is the cheaper solution of the two. For starters, you don’t need to set aside an amount per month to pay for the agency. Instead, this money is filtered into the in-house marketing budget. Getty Images, another brand that has moved all marketing in-house, claimed greater value for their money came from relying on internal marketing rather than paying the same amount to an agency. Many other companies also found that their ROI was higher when spent internally.
Of course, whether or not you can save money depends on the experience and expertise of your marketing team. When pulling funds from an agency, you lose their expertise and their advertising knowledge. If you don’t have this in-house, you may not lower costs at all, so this is something to consider.
Speed and improved efficiency are perhaps the most obvious benefits of transitioning to in-house marketing. As an example, when working with an ad agency, we send questions across in an email and might not get a response until the end of the day (sometimes even the next day!). On the other hand, having marketing taking place in the office means that you can get answers to important questions more quickly as well as control the prioritization of the responses.
In a world of competitive social media advertising, agility in the market is vital, and in-house marketing allows you to react and execute ideas with little delay. If a topic is trending on Twitter, the in-house marketing team can seize the opportunity by quickly writing an associated article and getting it out the same day. When working with an ad agency, there’s no guarantee how quickly you will hear back from the team, let alone get content prepared and created in minimal time.
In addition to the creative response time, the various AI-based tools available to today’s marketing have dramatically reduced time-and resource necessary for ad management. Automated analytics are now available at your fingertips to allow you to make educated timely decisions even if you lack decades of marketing experience. Many of these tools even function across multiple platforms and media formats, making the process even more efficient and cost effective.
It’s natural to feel a loss of control when handing marketing responsibilities over to an external service. Only you know the ideas in your head and the precise voice you want to portray online; sometimes ad agencies fail to live up to these expectations. If you’re currently working with an ad agency, you might find that they’re struggling to get the distinct brand expression right.
With in-house marketing, it’s easier to control who creates content and ensure that everybody is following the same script. Ad agencies lose employees, hire new ones, and may even welcome people on apprenticeships. While this is great news for young content creators, these newcomers don’t necessarily understand your brand voice and could completely miss the mark with content, wasting precious time, money and opportunities.
As promised, we’ve outlined the benefits of transitioning to in-house marketing, now let’s take a look at the drawbacks.
Some valid challenges come with transitioning to in-house marketing and they are the main reasons why businesses are so passionate about sticking with their ad agency, even as AI and machine learning tools improve within the niche.
Sadly, it seems that many of the best talent work for ad agencies because they like the variety that comes from working with several clients. With different clients, their work changes from one hour to the next. Even if you do manage to hire a high-quality marketing specialist, you might find it hard to keep them motivated over the long-term. You’ll need to consider how to keep a creative employee happy and engaged so that they don’t jump ship just when you need them most.
We’ve touched on this challenge already but it bears repetition, - moving away from an ad agency does mean that you’ll lose their analytical insights in addition to their creative resources. When taking on the advertising task in-house, you’ll solely be relying on your own historical data and the expertise of your team. Ad agencies work with many clients and use the insights from all of these clients to benefit your strategy. Those with decades of experience already know what works, what doesn’t, and more. They’ve seen the market from several different perspectives rather than just one. This is where you are going to have to do your research and secure the best AI and machine language tools to arm your team with reliable analytics so they can react in real time to changing trends and CPM.
Need we say more? Even those that have made the switch to in-house acknowledge the problems that come with media buying. Anybody with experience knows that media buying is tedious, time-consuming, and sometimes troublesome. While ad agencies have several members in a team all working on purchasing media, transitioning to an in-house system could reduce this staff to just one or two. Again, advances in automation will dramatically help in this arena.
Should you transition from an ad agency to in-house marketing? If you came to this guide for a definitive answer, you aren’t going to find one. If you do see an online guide pointing you in one direction rather than the other, they probably have something to gain from this recommendation. In reality, the decision depends on your specific business and circumstances.
The truth is that you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons. If the benefits outweigh the drawbacks for YOUR business, it might be time to research the transition further.
If you conclude that you want to bring marketing in-house, devise a plan for how to approach the transition. Decide whether you will change the roles of existing employees or simply hire new talent. After this, make sure these people understand the company goals, the brand voice, and how you wish to proceed with the marketing strategy. Also, ensure your in-house team has all of the right tools to succeed with this undertaking.
Before making the change, you should also check the agreement you currently have with the ad agency. Understand the impact of parting ways, whether it be early termination or standard contract expiration. An example would be whether you lose access to content, data, or other important aspects of the marketing system. The last thing you want to do is to leave the ad agency only to discover that the agency owns everything with regards to your current marketing strategy.
If you still aren’t sure, why not test the water and start doing more marketing tasks yourself or in parallel with the ad agency? Over time, you might decide to fully take over responsibilities from the agency. Or you might decide that you need their expertise more than you thought and that a transition isn’t for you. The key is that you can always revisit the decision as your business and situation change.
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