In house and agencies: why you need both when it comes to digital

Flowchart on a chalk board with world globe

Flowchart on a chalk board with world globe

I’m not sure if this qualifies as a great debate, but many companies asked themselves in 2012 whether or not they should be bringing their digital arm back into the company fold and cutting out agencies. The question comes down to cost versus benefit, both tangible and intangible and, so far, there seems to be nothing more than a stale mate.

There has been a shift in the corporate makeup of companies worldwide to take as much as possible in-house. However this is not a general reflection on agencies as such but rather on the status of the economic condition worldwide. Essentially it has proven more cost-effective for companies to hire in-house staff to accomplish goals than to try to outsource to high cost agencies (at least that is my experience at the moment).

On the other side of the coin are the agencies who have been providing stellar service to their clients for years if not decades that suddenly find themselves fighting for the work. We have seen the closure of some of the smaller outfits in 2012 which has been both disappointing and sad.

Having said all this, there is one major drawback to having everything in-house and that is stagnation. When you are on the inside it is difficult to see the opportunities you are missing left, right and center, including the faults that you believe to be strengths. The greatest opportunity offered by hiring an agency is innovation and fresh thinking – but this of course comes with a price tag.

Having seen the industry evolve this past year and being both in a corporate and agency, environment I strongly believe that (like most things in life) the greatest area of profit for an organisation lies somewhere in between.

Here’s how I see it:

Why keep it in the family?

1. No one knows your brand like you do!
When you distribute messages and engage in communication no one is better suited than the person on the inside. So when it comes to managing your online communication (can you say “social media?”) it is from an internal perspective that this should be handled.

2. No one loves you like yourself
Just going to an agency and saying “we need a digital strategy” or “we have no online brand – get it done” is asking to be shot in the foot. A company may lack innovation and an outsider’s perspective but the final decision should come from the inside – it should be championed from the inside and managed by dedicated internal team members.

3. You did what?
Agencies do not know you like you know yourselves. Giving an agency full run of your online reputation and digital brand can result in absolute disaster. As you most likely well know, a single step outside of who you are can have detrimental and (sometimes) long-lasting results

Why should we spread the love?

1. Yawn!
The online environment moves at an overwhelming pace for most corporates. Couple this with the inability to have an outside-in-view of the organisation and you will just be another boring brand ticking the boxes… Facebook – Tick…Twitter – Tick… I can hear your users crying already. Agencies have the ability to provide a corporate with an entire team of ideators who are looking at your users for inspiration (at least they should be). Using an agency will keep your messaging fresh and attractive to your audience.

2. If you want something done right… please get someone who knows how
Unless you plan on hiring an internal team whose sole responsibility is to keep up to date, you will lag behind the times and then you will make a mistake. Whether it is being up to date with Facebook’s latest terms and conditions for marketing or knowing that someone somewhere in Iceland just discovered how to teleport cheeseburgers, you need to be current. Any digital agency worth their salt will be current and will give you the best level of digital integration as possible

3. Gangnam-what?
In point one I referred to the ever-increasing speed of evolution that the digital environment is subject to, the same applies to the content being created by the “digi-verse.” Not being aware of trending events and content will create missed opportunities. A good digital agency should be constantly involved and nimble giving your online presence the best opportunity to flourish.

4. If two minds are better than one then surely 20 minds are better than four?
It is true that a company could bring their digital in-house with a base level of 4 employees but these 4 employees can only have so many ideas and see so many opportunities and threats. Agencies bring to the table a veritable army of involved team members who can throw ideas around and look at a situation from multiple angles. The benefit to companies is of course that they don’t have to manage these people but they get the benefit of a large team.

I’m not sure what 2013 will hold for the digital world. There was an air of excitement throughout 2012 that was never realised and many now speculate that 2013 will be the year of digital for a lot of emerging market countries. Will agencies begin to disappear? Will corporates begin to take everything in-house? I don’t think either will happen. Rather I think that agencies will become more specialised and efficient at what they do and the services they offer will become “professional” in nature. Companies will hire digital leads or equivalents to manage the reputation but will rely on agencies to provide the resources.

Nonetheless, the growth we saw in 2012 should really be just the tip of the iceberg.



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