Building out a comprehensive marketing approach can sometimes overwhelm even the most experienced leaders. Marketing, like many creative fields, has always been a team sport. With brands expected to be on every social and communication channel from TikTok to LinkedIn and specific, unique strategies required for each, having the right team is more important than ever.
As the adage goes, “Knowing when to ask for help is the hardest part.” But what kind of help will best support you in achieving your marketing goals? As you consider whether to seek out in-house or agency support, it’s important to understand how developing an in-house team differs from working with an agency to determine your next steps.
What is in-house marketing?
First things first: what exactly do we mean by in-house versus agency when comparing team-building approaches?
In-house marketing is really just a fancy way to say “marketing department.” It means that a company hires a marketing team as full-time employees, and they work only for that company. Just like there’s an HR department and an IT department, this group becomes the marketing department. (We Are Rosie offers a more flexible approach to creating an in-house team, but more on that later.)
A marketing agency, on the other hand, is a company made up of professional marketers who are contracted to run the marketing for other companies. The agency might have specialists in digital marketing, out-of-home marketing, creative, advertising, or other areas.
So, rather than recruit, hire, and train a full marketing team, some organizations may decide to outsource the entirety of their marketing to an agency; or, they may have a few key internal roles who manage the outsourcing of the rest.
What are the main differences between in-house vs agency approaches?
Before assessing the main differences of a marketing agency versus in-house teams, note that both are great approaches that often complement each other. One of We Are Rosie’s most successful in-housing projects set up a huge brand with an in-house creative team that is agile and speedy with day-to-day marketing, but they can lean on agencies for help with those really big campaigns.
Since We Are Rosie helps build marketing teams of all kinds, here are a couple key differences of an in-house versus agency team that our Rosies have noticed along the way:
1. In-house roles owe greater accountability to business outcomes, while agencies focus more on project goals.
Natalie Lennox, a freelance brand and performance marketer who’s been on both sides of the industry for 14 years, sees one of the main differences between in-house and agency roles as direct accountability to business metrics.
“When you’re on an in-house team, you own metrics and you’re responsible for determining the approach and driving the outcome to achieve them,” she says. “It’s empowering to have that ownership, and it works best when the business trusts you to make decisions and achieve the goals.”
“But, that environment can be tiring over a long period of time,” Natalie adds. “That’s why I love freelancing. Agency work is a great balance, where roles tend to be more collaborative and success is tied more to project goals. I enjoy contributing my part and seeing it all come together. When you’re the client, that agency work is only one piece of a much larger pie.”
2. In house teams result in stronger continuity, while agencies can mean higher turnover.
Paige Hansard’s extensive marketing experience fell mostly on the brand side, until her first agency assignment with We Are Rosie. Her take from being on the agency side for the first time is that if longevity and institutional knowledge are key factors, in-house teams are the way to go.
Agencies benefit from a flexible environment where people are often working on multiple brands and are encouraged to try new things with a fair amount of autonomy, she says. But for clients, agencies don’t usually offer the brand focus and continuity of having folks in-house.
What are some pros and cons of using a marketing agency vs an in-house team?
We Are Rosie’s Client Director Sara Fornais, who helps clients strategize about how to use freelance and flex talent, says that typically, the benefits of building an in-house team include the depth of product knowledge that an internal team will have as well as their faster turnaround time as compared to sending things out to an agency.
The biggest benefit of using an agency, on the other hand, is the third-party perspective. Agencies look at your business objectively and may notice things or have ideas that an internal person wouldn’t. They can also offer insights from their work with other brands and access to media resources.
In-house teams help keep costs down in the long run but might be limited by budget or hiring capacity. This approach takes a while to build, but can result in faster execution and turnaround time down the road. The in-house approach also accepts a more narrow perspective than agencies offer, traded for an in-depth understanding of the brand and better cross-team collaboration.
Agencies, on the other hand, tend to be more expensive. If your brand has a really specific need, agencies can be a great option because they attract outstanding niche talent. However, you won’t be the only client, so it’s important to understand who on the agency side will really be doing your brand’s work.
Isn’t there something that brings the best of both approaches together?
Stuck feeling like there’s no great answer to your in-house versus agency debate? We Are Rosie’s Flexy In-Housing program allows clients to adjust roles and hours as business needs dictate, offering many of the benefits of both agency and in-house teams.
On the other end of the spectrum, some in-house teams act like an in-house agency, taking on occasional external clients. This can help bring in extra revenue and attract top talent, who may appreciate the diversity of work.
How can you decide whether to choose a marketing agency or in-house team for your business?
All the Rosies we talked to agreed that there are key questions for clients to ask when deciding on a marketing agency versus in-house approach.
First, consider the level of service you’re looking for: both what you actually need and what you want. If a dedicated team with a big time commitment is what makes sense for your business goals, look at building in house. But consider whether there’s really enough work to justify full-time attention to marketing programs and assets. If you just need a few specific projects completed or would benefit from a niche expert, you might have better luck finding that at an agency that has already sourced the top talent.
This decision about how to best approach building a marketing team is a critical moment for companies to take a hard look at their brand. Do innovative, creative people want to work for you? Can you offer the competitive salaries and work-life balance that increasingly matter to people with this skill set, or would you do better in the meantime to work with an agency that attracts and manages those people while providing your business with the services it needs? With this information, you can decide whether to hire an internal team or an agency—and keep in mind that your approach can ebb and flow over time as your business changes and grows.