What Not to Do When Bringing Your Digital Marketing In-House

Ann Robison, PPC Client Partner

There are a myriad of reasons why businesses choose to outsource their marketing efforts to agencies instead of having an in-house team lead and execute. The truth is that both can work equally well, depending on the people involved.  However, even the best practitioners can fumble a transition. 

If your business wants to bring its marketing team in-house, discover our recommended best practices and some “definitely don’t do these” practices for the transition. 

Defining In-House Marketing

Having an in-house marketing team means the business has hired its own internal staff to handle marketing efforts instead of outsourcing that work to an external agency. 

We can trace back the origins of marketing agencies all the way to the days of the ol’ town criers; businesses didn’t want to spend time shouting about their goods to passers-by on the streets, so they outsourced this work. Through the invention of the printing press, the Industrial Revolution, and the “Mad Men” of Madison Avenue, it became common for marketing to be the work of external agencies. Thanks to these agencies, we have modern advertising tactics and strategies to distribute promotional messages.

In the past twenty years, businesses have increasingly transitioned away from working with a marketing agency,   instead hiring a Marketing Team to join their ranks as full-time employees. This has largely been made possible by the Digital Revolution, technology and automation, and the surge of available educational content (a la, this blog). 

Pros and Cons of In-House Digital Marketing

If you’re thinking about bringing your digital marketing efforts in-house or simply want to re-assure yourself of the advantages of an in-house team, read on. Several pros and cons need to be considered.   

Pros of Having an In-House Digital Marketing Team

No Competing Priorities

The biggest pro to having an in-house marketing team is that, as direct employees of your business, you can be as sure as anyone can that your team is exclusively working on the right client; aka, your business and only your business. An in-house team is dedicated to your company rather than juggling other clients and businesses, meaning they can be more agile and effective. 

More Culture-Wise

In-house teams “drink the Kool-aid” in a way that external agencies simply can’t. Internal employees are hip to your company’s culture and values, as they undergo the same training and product/service education. They will be far more entrenched in your company’s culture than an agency can be. 

Lower Cost

Having an in-house digital marketing team can be significantly cheaper than hiring an external agency. Your business is still paying salaries and benefits, but you’re investing in those employees, rather than investing in another company. 

Cons of Having an In-House Digital Marketing Team

Lack of Outside Perspective

Maintaining a high-level view of your digital strategy and cohesion across channels and products is key to your desired success. But it can be difficult to have that when you’re in the weeds every day. Unless you have someone explicitly and specifically assigned to keeping the significant, no-buzzwords situation in mind, you can entirely miss the forest for the trees. 

Less Industry Knowledge

You know the saying, “A book is outdated as soon as it’s printed?” You can hire the best people for your in-house team, but the fact is their experience outside your business ends on their first day on the job. Once you bring people in-house, you massively limit their exposure to competitors, other businesses, and novel marketing tactics that aren’t widely available. If knowing the newest industry trends and staying on the cutting edge is your priority, having an in-house team can be limiting. 

Reduced Versatility

Having an in-house digital marketing team of five people is significantly less versatile than sourcing from an agency team of 40. Those five people take vacations, get sick, and have individual skill sets and interests. Agencies never take vacations; if someone gets sick, they have alternatives, and they have a wide range of skills and expertise that can be tailored to what your company needs at that point in time. 

4 Common Mistakes When Bringing Your Digital Marketing In-House

If the pros outweigh the cons, there’s a good chance you’ll choose to bring your digital marketing in-house. Use the benefit of my experience and avoid the mistakes I’ve seen businesses make when transitioning to an in-house team 

1. Assuming Your In-House Teams Know How to Collaborate

Agencies must be good at teamwork and collaboration to survive, but individual in-house employees may not be, or may not know how. A considerable advantage of having an in-house team is their access to your other departments, such as sales, product development, and customer service. Don’t assume these teams all know how to coordinate and align their efforts without assistance, whether that means setting up ongoing check-in meetings, starting a stand-up series, or training about when to pull in another team.  

2. Rushing the Transition Process 

Reduced budgets are often why companies bring their digital marketing efforts in-house. For that reason, some businesses have to expedite their in-house transition. However rushing these proceedings can result in some serious long-term failures. For example, don’t bring your digital marketing in-house right before your busy season. Take the time to have transition meetings with your current team, and make room for consulting with the old team after the official transition, if needed. 

3. Failing to Verify the Expertise of the  New Team

Does anyone at your company know how to evaluate the skills of a PPC Manager? Do you know what questions to ask a Marketing Analytics Strategist to see if they really know what they’re talking about regarding GA4? It’s hard to watch, but I have personally seen businesses put their digital marketing into the hands of some supremely unqualified people because no one knew the right questions to ask in the interview. Call the references and demand up-to-date certifications. Get a Digital Marketing expert you trust to sit in on your interviews. Do your due diligence and ensure your team is prepared and experienced enough to handle the type and volume of work. 

4. Using Your Digital Marketing Agency as the Scapegoat

If you’re moving your digital marketing in-house because you’re unhappy with your agency’s performance, ensure performance data backs up the decision. Ideally, you established the main KPIs with your agency before work even began. Hopefully, you reviewperformance at least quarterly, if not monthly, and take their recommendations and feedback in stride. You don’t blame them for poor numbers due to your decisions. If you insist on using most of your budget for a campaign that doesn’t ultimately convert, try not to pull a Steve Jobs and blame your agency for not successfully talking you out of it. Firing them may save you from your boss’ ire in the short term, but you’re still on the hook for improving performance (and now you have fewer resources to help you do so). 

Tips for a Successful Transition to an In-House Digital Marketing Team

Many businesses successfully transition their strategy from an agency to an in-house digital marketing team. If you’ve decided to move your digital marketing efforts in-house, here are some tips to help.

Get All the Documentation You Can

If your agency doesn’t offer you transition or strategy documents, ask for them. It’s far, far better to have that information and not need it than to wonder four months down the road why your agency chose that tactic. Take advantage of the agency’s learnings, and don’t make the same mistakes they may have. 

Give Your Agency Advanced Notice

I know breaking up is hard to do, but having 90 days for offboarding is superior to having 14 days (for everyone involved.) It allows your agency time to wrap up tests or campaigns they may have been running, finish projects at a good spot, and write up recommended next steps. Sometimes, they can even suggest a quarterly or yearly roadmap for your in-house team to work on. It allows your team the flexibility to take over with enough time to still utilize your agency as consultants, which can help reduce stress and pressure. Remember that agencies are accustomed to churn and want to end on a good note. Don’t short-change yourself by waiting until the last minute to announce your departure simply because you feel awkward about it. 

Set Clear Objectives and Timelines

Clarity is key for your in-house team. Ensure they understand the main reasons for moving the work in-house, and what you expect of them. Clearly defining your in-house team’s top priorities and specifying explicit timelines can go a long way in helping them feel more capable of taking over. 

In a nutshell, your in-house team should know:

  • What KPIs the agency was hitting
  • What KPIs the agency was not hitting
  • When the agency will officially stop high-touch work (like managing ad platforms)
  • Which finished projects the agency recommends finishing
  • When is the last day they can reach out to the agency for assistance

Have a Candid Exit Interview

Your agency has a unique perspective on your company’s marketing strategy. If you permit them, they’ll tell you exactly what they would do in your position. The agency will want to know what they could have done to keep your business.

Agencies also love referrals. If they’re worth their salt, they’ll want to help you transition correctly. Take advantage of their knowledge and perspective (and sweet referral bonus programs). 

Making the Switch to In-House Digital Marketing

In my biased opinion, working with a digital marketing agency is often the best choice (when you have the budget.) Agencies are often more expensive, but you get what you pay for. In this case, you get a larger pool of resources, more industry knowledge and versatility, and a team that never takes a day off. However, if you have decided to bring your digital marketing team in-house, take advantage of my agency experience and follow the above steps to make the transition successful.

Ann Robison, PPC Client Partner

Ann Robison

Client Partner Team Lead
Client Partner Team Lead

As Client Partner Team Lead, Ann brings hands-on experience in PPC, SEO, and Content. A sucker for highly technical data and problem-solving, digital marketing allows her the unique opportunity to live out both loves. In her spare time, Ann sings (mostly) jazz, and binge-reads science fiction.

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