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To in-house or not to in-house? You’re asking the wrong question

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Space & Time on the importance of understanding both sides to the in-house agency debate.

In the 11 years I’ve been working in digital marketing, I don’t think a single year has gone by where I’ve not seen articles pronouncing ’this is the year of in-housing’ or ’in-housing is the future of digital marketing’ but it never seems to happen.

Yes, some companies successfully run their digital marketing in-house while others rely solely on the expertise of agencies, but these proclaimed big swings from one to the other never seem to come about and I think I know why.

The million and one parts of digital

In theory there are a lot of good reasons to think about in-housing your digital marketing; greater control over strategy, a team focused on a single brand and of course, no agency or outsourcing fees. But I think the brakes get hammered on pretty hard when the realisation kicks in of just how many technical, creative and strategic elements go into to building a team to cope with all aspects of a brief.

Digital marketing in the year 2021 can be a mammoth beast and it’s becoming increasingly hard to find people who are comfortable with all elements of it as each is becoming more complex and specialised. This means that rather than hiring one or two rounded digital marketers to run everything, you need to build a team of ad platform specialists, brand marketing experts, integration specialists, data experts, reporting analysts and creative experts, and this can be a daunting task.

What’s more, a lot of the modern media partnerships with Google, Facebook and programmatic display providers are limited to agencies or clients spending millions, and so getting the support for your in-house team from these media giants can be impossible at times!

So is in-housing dead?

Not at all. And in fact the last thing I would say is to just give it all to an agency, because really it shouldn’t be a question of to in-house or not to in-house. It should be a question of how we can get the most out of our internal and external teams working together.

Mark Ritson published an article in Marketing Week last year, where he talks about the need for “bothism”, or if you prefer, a “hybrid model”. It looks at our sometimes unwavering need to find the one single approach that will solve all our problems, when in fact “an open mind and accurate data set will show you usually need to adopt both perspectives.”

He was focusing in on marketing strategy, but the same applies here. I truly believe in-housing often falls down as it’s seen as a complete alternative solution to agencies, and it doesn’t work. Maybe the best solution is accepting that there are uses and strengths to both in-house teams and external suppliers and rather than letting these be conflicting approaches, work to get the best out of them together.

How to embrace ‘bothism’

So how do you get to this utopian world of agency and in-house team working as one? Well I think step one is training. So often, push back or disagreements between teams comes from a lack of understanding or even fear of the unknown! Getting both sides to start by teaching each other is a simple way to break down barriers and encourage collaboration. From day one we strive for strategic and commercial alignment with clients; this ultimately drives towards a symbiotic relationship that ensures the client benefits from the capability they need to achieve their goals but on a model that works for them. We call this ‘Full ExperienceTM‘, as our breadth of capability enables clients to interact with every step of a customer’s journey, on and offline, but with the flex built in at a micro-level to work between fully managed, hybrid or in-house. We don’t believe there should be a scenario where the client loses out because of the way the agency decides to operate.

It’s why at Space & Time we regularly do immersion sessions with our clients to fully understand their business and make sure we’re not just implementing a siloed strategy but working together to come up with the best solutions to reach their goals. If we fully understand their brand, their goals, their loves and hates, it’s so much easier to help them plan, strategize and work together towards results.

It’s also why we’ve created our own training division, so that we can actually teach our clients the inner workings of Google Ads, Facebook Ads and Google Analytics, and the rest, so they can get a better understanding of what’s possible, how it could work for their brand and again how we can strategise together as a team. We also believe this approach enables a far deeper working relationship whereby Space & Time can add greater value at more layers of our client’ business, working to accelerate what we call Growth Marketing outcomes and helping them realise the potential in their business.

Now some may think this will surely just encourage them to take these skills in-house, but we find that when everyone has a good basic level of knowledge across these specialist areas, it’s easier to plan together but then let the in-house team own their parts and the agency teams own theirs.

So let’s stop asking “to in-house or not to in-house” and instead focus on getting a better understanding on both sides and working together as one team.

Are you looking to get your in-house team trained? Why not contact us today to see how we can help?

Matt Read, business director and head of training and digital, agency business, at Space & Time

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