Marketing gurus — inside or outsource?

My previous life in Silicon Valley exemplified the old, big-company way of doing things: To market, hire a big staff for all the skill sets you need to execute your strategy (and bear the resulting costs of compensation). Enter globalization, the Internet, and aggressive cost control, and this model has crumbled to a large degree. Companies realize now that they have a spectrum of choices in between the two poles of full-employee staffing and an ad hoc virtual department of contract providers whose services can be called upon and paid for on a made-to-order basis.

I don’t know where along this spectrum your company falls, but CEOs and their marketing leaders are faced with a dazzling array of choices when considering whether to outsource any portion of their marketing needs. Do you plan to keep all of your core functions under the employee umbrella? Will you opt for a small core staff and supplement with hired experts as quarterly or project strategy dictates? What about just one key leader in your employee seat who oversees an entirely virtualized marketing department?

To help you pick your way through these decisions, I’d like to offer some food for thought on pros and cons.

Let’s Outsource!

Many agencies you see today are a far cry from the Mad Men days, when having fancy offices and a big staff were the accepted measure of an agency’s worth. To answer the rising need for companies who wanted to supplement their staff’s skills without adding extra full-timers, leaner agencies, often composed of small groups of specialist contractors who could be brought on and off projects as needed, arose. With distributed work teams who can both coordinate and execute their work online, marketers have a new resource. The advantages? You can quickly add a range and depth of talent that you can’t through the individual hire. You can take the services and disciplines you need a la carte, reducing your expenses on compensation packages. And if the relationship goes south, contractor relationships are much easier to terminate than employees.

Then Again, Let’s Not

The argument for investing in in-house talent is that they will come to know your business inside-out, building their skills and industry knowledge into an irreplaceable package. An external vendor may not bring the same level of expertise. Over time, you can drive better performance with this brand of expertise, making a contractor a non-starter. There may be some things that nobody can flat-out do better than your team, so why outsource it?

A contractor relationship also means you’ll be giving up a level of control and day-to-day contact that some leaders envision when they see a company team. You can’t tell a contractor where and how they have to do their work every day, and this could be a downside for the leader who likes his or her teammates to be in the flow of company life. A contractor with multiple clients can vanish on you a lot faster than an employee in whom you’ve invested risk, rewards and learning.

Getting the Right Mix

Every business will evaluate the prospect of outsourcing differently, depending on company size, budget, model and strategy. One helpful way to start looking at this issue is to evaluate on a case-by-case, function-by-function basis. Functions that are critical to your business but outside your wheelhouse are an obvious place to start, especially on a project basis. Designing a new website, for example, is something that’s regularly done by outside vendors.

But what about other marketing functions? You may have a great marketing manager whose time might be better spent overseeing a pay-per-click campaign rather than executing one. Other marcom activities can be divvied between your core staff and selectively applied outside talents—keeping your team on the most critical stuff while keeping other important nuts-and-bolts activities on autopilot.

You might choose to run extremely lean—an internal VP to formulate strategy while his or her trusted vendors handle the execution with some guidance and input. See where your model demands day-in, day-out inside resources—and subject the rest to inquiry. You might even experience the best of both worlds—an able vendor who you may someday want to make an employee.

Categories: Sales & Marketing