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Should You Outsource Your Content Marketing?

Now that lead generation campaigns have become the main driver of B2B marketing for many companies, the question looms, "Should I outsource my content marketing or bring it in-house?"

Not only is it difficult to make a quick apples-to-apples comparison between the two options, there's a third possibility — using a hybrid insource-outsource model.

Understanding the pros and cons of each option will help you decide which is the best option for your company.

Calculating the Costs

Calculating the expense of an in-house content marketing department might be the easiest, but least helpful, part of any evaluation.

To calculate the cost of bringing your content marketing in-house, you can total the following costs:

  • Employee compensation
  • Employee overhead
  • Office square footage, equipment and overhead (or remote worker equivalents)
  • Hardware
  • Software

Unless you understand exactly what skills you need on the team and the workload your plans will generate, you can seriously underestimate your expenses. Content marketing is not just writing. It's strategy, marketing automation, artwork development and data analysis. A content team might include:

  • Content strategist
  • Writers
  • Designer
  • Media buyer
  • Sales automation expert
  • Marketing automation expert

In addition to paying for these team members, you'll need to support them your existing marketing and IT staff. This means you'll need to apportion part of their time and expense to your calculations.

Calculating the costs of outsourcing your lead-gen campaigns is difficult unless you have already done this and know what your needs will be throughout the year.

If you haven't managed content marketing agencies before, it's best to meet with multiple contenders and select one that is a good fit for your company and its situation. While you can use an RFP process, we recommend that you utilize a more informal approach that results in less overhead for you and the agencies you are considering. (This also allows you to start developing a relationship from the very beginning of your agency search.)

Even then, your expenses will fluctuate as you see the results of your campaigns and modify your strategies and tactics.

Intangibles

Even if you can cost-effectively create a complete in-house content team, there are dynamic factors involve that will change over time.

For example, you will need a mix of younger employees who understand and use the latest technology, as well as older professionals with many years of experience in experimentation, teamwork, learning from failures and corporate culture.  

Multiple HR surveys show that millennials don't want to stay at their jobs more than three years, so you'll need to have the staff-management skills to entice them to stay.

When you hire a content marketing agency, you're hiring marketing as a service, rather than 10 individuals. If someone at your agency goes on vacation or leaves the agency, you have no hiccup because your provider is responsible to be fully staffed and committed to meeting your priorities.

If you have three employees working in-house and one of them leaves, you can be left in the lurch. That's especially true if you've hired three different specialists.

Continuity of service is a key benefit of outsourcing to an agency, and it's one of the risks you eliminate when you outsource your content marketing.

Another intangible you'll have to consider is rapidly changing technology. Once you purchase the computers, hardware and software to outfit your in-house content marketing department, how long will they be up to date? When you outsource your content marketing, the agency constantly updates its technology.

An agency also makes sure its staff has the required expertise, providing ongoing training and education for its employees.

Build vs. Buy Factors

The first step in determining whether or not you should bring your content marketing in-house is to define your objectives. That will help you identify your people and technology needs.

Do you currently have on staff, or can you recruit and train new employees, to perform all of the functions you've identified? What are the costs to outsource vs. the costs to bring the capability in-house? How will you address the intangibles?

If you can accurately determine your ongoing content marketing needs, and can calculate the costs of an in-house team, and can compare the expense to outsourcing your lead-generation function, you can make a more informed decision.

And, it all rests on the assumption that both options deliver the same results. My opinion is that people at agencies provide greater value due to their greater range of experience; they have more context to bring to bear when designing solutions to marketing problems.

Gartner, Inc.'s 2017-2018 CMO Spend Survey found that marketing budgets hit their peak in 2016, shrunk in 2017, and that CMOs foresaw those decreases continuing into throughout 2018.

This means marketing heads are under increasing pressure to demonstrate concrete ROI, which means more inbound marketing expertise will be required and fewer missteps tolerated.

If you're a $25MM software company, you need five or six roles within your marketing group. You need to ask yourself whether or not it makes sense to hire all those positions with budget cuts likely to come soon. Should you instead be using those extra dollars on content assets and advertising spends to enhance organic results?

The Hybrid Model

An alternative to an all-or-nothing model is to create a hybrid.

Most businesses find they can hire a content marketing agency (complete team) for less than the cost of one marketing employee. You will need your marketing leadership people involved, but only to provide objectives, industry expertise and guidance to your agency.

Your marketing people will use their knowledge of your marketplace, product and customers to guide your inbound lead generation effort. They will use an agency to do the writing, implementation work and sales lead generation.

In essence, you provide the first three "Ps" (product, price, place) expertise, while your outsourced content marketing provider handles the fourth "P" (promotion).

When businesses get to $50 to $100 million in revenue, they do so much content marketing that they feel it makes sense to bring it in house. In many cases, however, the larger your business, the less effective it is to insource inbound marketing.

The biggest factor to consider here is not cost, but whether or not you are getting the best talent and whether or not will they stick around.

At Austin Lawrence, our inbound marketing experts have experience working on many accounts and often work multiple clients at the same time. This allows them to bring experiences from a wide range of companies like yours to each project. Agency professionals continue to learn new methods and techniques as they attend industry conferences and work with marketing teams from many other businesses.

As part of a hybrid strategy, you might want to hire one or more dedicated content marketing employees in specialty areas. For example, you might hire a marketing automation person, and then retain an agency to handle strategy, editorial and artwork.

Depending on how much work you have for that marketing automation employee, you might also assign sales automation to his or her plate. In HubSpot, the sales automation and marketing automation tools work from a common dataset and operate quite similarly, easing switching between both.

Get Some Fact-Finding Help

Every build-or-buy decision requires a very personal analysis of a company's needs. Here at Austin Lawrence we’ve worked with many businesses and have probably seen your situation before, or something a lot like it.

If you'd like a consultation to discuss your goals, plans and timeline to achieve, contact me to set up a time to talk. You might find that it's not just answers you need, but the right questions, as well.

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