Any process or service that doesn't directly improve customer service or generate new customers should be outsourced. A nacho restaurant should keep an IT firm on retainer instead of hiring an IT guy. When was the last time you bought nachos from a restaurant because their disaster recovery strategy blew your mind? In that business IT is a utility. Not a differentiator. At their core, nacho restaurants need 2 types of people - i) people that make nachos and ii) people that sell nachos. Every other business need (accounting, legal, janitorial etc;) can be had from a third-party provider/service.
That's why in-house digital marketing is puzzling. Digital marketing is a medium that people selling your stuff need to utilize. However, it isn't your core business (unless you are a marketing firm). A lineup of agencies full of talented digital people could be available for you with the budget of 1 or 1.5 full-time digital employees. They benefit from economies of scale after all. Digital marketing services are cheaper than you think. I know because it's our core business. You need someone in-house to keep the digital agency utilized and take the marketing campaign to the web, but not to do the work in house.
Below are some factors to consider before bringing digital in-house:
Knowledge - Every digital superhero has a Kryptonite weakness that they'll gladly mention 2 months after being hired. Maybe they are a great graphic designer, but have no idea how to make a website, build an app or run a search campaign. By going in-house you've traded a hospital of cardiologists, neurosurgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists for a live-in general physician (GP). Nothing against GPs, but I don't want them performing open-heart surgery on me.
Expense - By going in-house with a GP digital marketer your costs have skyrocketed. Not only do you still need to pay your agency for the stuff that the GP digital marketer can't do, but now the digital marketer's salary is on the books. Most digital marketers need a budget to buy ads or try new tactics. Don't be surprised when your digital marketing team member starts looking for a credit card to set on fire.
Training/Turnover - Digital is a dynamic environment. Keeping your digital expert sharp on new tactics is paramount. Staying abreast is critical to them, but isn't going to directly get you any new customers or improve your product/service. If you don't train them then they'll leave for someone that will. Good digital people are constantly being poached by companies that offer them new challenges among like-minded people (marketing agencies) or more money (perhaps your competitors). They are recruited and usually work for digital agencies. Just like the best lawyers work at the best law firms. If your digital person isn't being actively recruited then that tells you something too.
Availability - Digital marketers - app/web developers, search marketing experts, pay-per-click gurus and designers handle a lot of intellectual property. They are often bottlenecks in your organization. What happens to your tasks when they aren't available to you? Does any digital marketing get done when your digital marketer is on vacation? You create a bottleneck by having a single-point of failure for the organization on these processes. What if they get hit by a car? Awful and sad of course, but there goes your digital.
Philosophy - Give in-house resources a try for a set period if you can afford it. To forecast costs you should take the budgeted number you have in your head and multiply it by anywhere from 3 to 7. That's usually what people have spent on digital before they come and hire an agency like ours. Then, sit back with your team and ask yourselves what business are you in? Do you need 4 cows worth of milk? Do you drink that much milk? Are you prepared to buy a farm, feed, bathe and milk the cows yourself? I think the grocer's freezer will do just fine.
I trust your competitors will too.
About the Author:
Sajeel Qureshi is the VP of Operations at Computan, a digital marketing and software company. Computan serves as the digital department for numerous businesses throughout the globe ranging from start-ups to multinationals.
He has a degree in Business Administration from St. Bonaventure University and MBA from Eastern Illinois University. Sajeel plays tennis well enough to convince the untrained eye that he knows what he is doing and poor enough that the trained eye submits him to a drug test.