Outsourcing marketing: costs, results, and other options – which is best?

The question to bring your marketing in-house isn’t to be taken lightly. There are a lot of question you must ask yourself before making this decision, if you jump in without thinking it through you could be left high and dry, but with an extra mouth to feed.

It’s probably worth noting that this article is written for SMEs who don’t have the budget to insource an entire marketing team – e.g. having specialists for PPC, SEO, Email Marketing, design, social media, copywriting, PR, and more. Quite often you see these companies bringing in an individual to implement their preferred selection of marketing activities, but do their available resources match their expectations and were they even ready for this move?


Are you prepared to bring your marketing in-house?

When you bring someone in-house then you must be prepared to set objectives and take a more strategic approach to marketing. You should do this to some extent anyway, but you need a leader within your business who your new employee is accountable to. With outsourcing, this is done for you – a specialist will set realistic objectives for your campaign and report to you on performance.

If you make a hire but forget about objectives and accountability, then you’re going to face the same problems you did with agencies and miss the results you want.

Are you organised enough? Tying in with the previous point, if the marketer is accountable to too many people then it will cloud their vision. Ever heard the phrase “too many cooks spoil the broth”? That rings true for managers. Without a clear hierarchy the marketer will have too many demands, or too many competing objectives from different leaders.

Finally, do you have the resources available? It is not cheaper to hire an in-house marketer, although you’ll hopefully be saving your time, you are ultimately investing more resources than you would outsourcing. It will affect your organisational structure, your objectives, your bank account, and more. You’ll need to attain the right equipment and ensure there is room for growth.

If you’re prepared for this change and to invest properly then it could mean a whole new era of success for your organisation. Otherwise, you’re just trying to force a jigsaw piece into the wrong puzzle.

Here’s a three-part test to help you see if you’re prepared to bring someone in-house:

  1. Do we have objectives?
  2. Is there a clear hierarchy and reporting structure?
  3. Do you have the finances, time, and organisational space to introduce a marketer?

And a bonus question – will it tread on anyone’s toes? If you have an internal candidate who will begrudge the new appointment, deal with it before it becomes the new marketer’s problem. If you answer positively to the above then you’ve passed the preparedness test and next need to consider why you’re hiring an in-house marketer?


Why do I want to bring my marketing in-house? Who am I looking to hire?

You might find that bringing marketing in-house is a great decision which revolutionises your business. More hands-on time, more expertise, and greater product understanding. Alternatively, it could become a sinkhole for your budget. This is especially true if your marketing budget is quite small, as you could instead of hiring be releasing £1,000s into your budget.

Your motivations to insource marketing should be based in a combination of organisational objectives, not just the desire to have an in-house marketing department on a whim. The main objectives companies I know of have for bringing marketing in-house include:

  • Improving control and results
  • Cutting costs
  • Integrating marketing internally
  • Saving your time (through delegation)

I go into each of these in more depth below (you didn’t expect that did you?). In a nutshell, however, it can improve control, it is more expensive, it is one of the only ways to integrate marketing throughout your business, and it might save you time. But that all depends on hiring the right person. So, let’s dive right in.


I’m fed up of my marketing agency, what can I do? – Improving control and results

One reason people take their marketing in-house is because of frustration with agencies, they hope for greater control and accelerated marketing activities. When bringing marketing in-house for this reason it is a question of personnel. If you have the right people in place it could be the right choice. A lot of companies, however, want to pay the smallest amount and end up with a poor candidate which leads to poor results and that’s probably why they’re unhappy with their agency to begin with.

Bear in mind that if you’re hiring an inexperienced marketer or recent graduate they are lacking practical skills which they will have to develop at your organisation – you are paying to develop them rather than to develop your business. It could take upwards of a year to see any real results, so don’t expect any deep insights or leaps for your marketing.

If you look at a more experienced alternative, then consider their skillset in detail. As an example, I believe marketing strategy and an interconnection between all campaigns and organisational functions creates the best foundation for long-term, sustainable success, so that’s what I focussed on in-house. Is that the kind of person you’re looking for, or perhaps you want someone to develop your creative content? Make sure you get the right person for the job or you and your new employee will be left unsatisfied.

But, what else could you do to solve this problem? Well, you could change agency. If your agency is letting you down there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, instead of trying to do everything yourself you could look for a better way to outsource. Change suppliers if you don’t like their results, their ethics, or their attitude.


Is it cheaper to bring my marketing in-house? The cost-cutting objective.

This is the biggest question on a lot of people’s minds as it relates to your bottom line. The major factor here comes once again to who you choose to hire and what you will still have to outsource.

Note that the salaries below are based on my experiences in Wales.

If you hire an inexperienced marketer or graduate – a Marketing Assistant – then you can bring blogging, email marketing, and social media activity in house. But were they costing you £14-18k to begin with? Your money is going towards developing the individual rather than your business. If you want to create your very own specialist marketer, then this could be a good choice. But don’t think of it as a cheap alternative to outsourcing.

Instead you hire a digital marketing executive at £22k per annum. That’s £1,833 per month plus operating costs. For £1,355 per month you could have engaging management of your social media platforms with real research and brand management, SEO that includes on-site and off-site development, blog writing, video creation, and article development, website management, and open anytime reporting on your campaigns. With £500 left over you could buy a cake and some prosecco to celebrate the savings and then pick an extra service too!

So, in terms of costs it will not be cheaper to bring marketing in-house unless you’re already paying through the nose for your services. If this is your only reason for examining the question, then you’re probably not considering the wider impact marketing can have on your organisation and how important it is to drive growth. Instead of asking “is it cheaper to bring my marketing in-house?” ask “am I getting the results I want from my marketing agency, and is it time to change?”


But I want to integrate marketing internally!

This is an objective which relates to your organisational success rather than simply cutting costs or not liking your marketing agency. However, integrating marketing holistically in your organisation will be a full-time job for an internal candidate, and you will still have to outsource a large portion of your marketing – you aren’t hiring to take over your marketing activity, but hiring in addition to your marketing activity.

What’s more is that you need someone experienced to do this. Potentially a Marketing Manager who could cost you from £25-50k or more. They must examine every touch point your organisation has with a customer, from the internal processes that affect customer experiences to the actual marketing tools you are using, and then make real changes.

Alternatively, you could look at hiring a consultant. A consultant could cost you a fraction of what you’d pay to do this in-house and might get the job done quicker, especially if coupled with an inexperienced in-house marketer who could implement recommendations. That way you only pay the consultant what’s needed to develop the plan, and then for check-ins. A marketing consultant might be able to help you review how well your suppliers are working as well, and whether it might be time to look at a change.


Bringing marketing in-house to save your time

So, it’s about getting back to doing what you do best – billable hours! Usually in this instance you’re looking for someone to co-ordinate your outsourced activity, rather than bringing all activity in-house. This creates one point of contact internally for management and for suppliers, facilitating your marketing efforts. In addition, you could stop outsourcing some marketing activities in-line with your candidates experience.

If this is your main reason for bringing marketing in-house, then don’t get shy when it comes to who you hire. If the person in control knows what they’re doing then you’ll see a definite improvement in performance, if not then you’ll see the opposite. Realistically, you’re going to want a marketing manager or executive skilled in project management for this position. However, that does mean you require tens of thousands more in your marketing budget.

An alternative is to hire a marketing consultant in an ‘outsourced marketing manager’ role. This would provide you with greater strategic guidance in your marketing, ensure you have one point of contact and a co-ordinated effort. It doesn’t bring marketing in-house, but it frees you up to focus on what you do and for a fraction of the cost of a full-time employee.


My thoughts “should I bring my marketing in-house? What options are available to me?”

There is space for outsourced and insourced marketing at SMEs, but you need to be at the right stage in your business lifecycle, and to make sure you’re asking the right questions when making the decision. If you find that it’s actually a dissatisfaction with your agency that’s driving you, then changing might be the better option. But, what about your other options?

A marketing consultant can help you to achieve many of your objectives without having to bring that experience in-house. They could bring more to the table than a new hire, get to the heart of your organisational problems, and ensure your agencies are operating to their best. As an independent 3rd party a consultant can take an external view of your business and really see what works and what doesn’t. Additionally, as they’re not the ones performing your marketing activity, they’ll be realistic about your results.

But, my thoughts aside, what does all this mean for you? Well, there are a couple of solutions depending on what you want to achieve.


You passed the preparedness test, and you have good, objective reasons for bringing marketing in-house:

Then do it! Just make sure you choose the right candidate. Now isn’t the time to cut corners or this whole endeavour will fail. Get the right skills, and the right experience to achieve your objectives.


You failed the preparedness test, but you have good, objective reasons for bringing marketing in-house:

Hire a marketing consultant. A marketing consultant can take your business objectives and help you to achieve them, but without filling up an extra seat at the table. This is a flexible, cost-effective solution that gives you an experienced marketer as and when you need them, providing you with more control, more knowledge, and better results.


You failed the preparedness test and your reasons to bring marketing in-house were shallow:

If your reasons related to cost or a dissatisfaction with your marketing agency, just change agency. It’s the more cost-effective option and ensures you attain the skills you need. However, when searching make sure you are clear about your objectives,  and ensure your new agency is clear about what they can achieve for you.


So, did that answer any of your questions or help you to decide on bringing your marketing in-house? Do you think you have a better idea of what to expect now? Or maybe there’s another option I’ve missed? Let me know by leaving a comment or sending me a message and we can carry on the conversation!