In-house or agency?
One of our founding missions was to take away pain from companies needing media-grade content. So you might expect us to recommend using a content marketing agency. Across most kinds of marketing and in other fields, organisations benefit from the flexibility and specialist skills agencies give them. But might content marketing be the exception?
The top reason for keeping things in-house is that no one knows your stories like you do. Others can help – ‘We tell your stories’, says our strapline – and might even add perspective or craft that you can’t manage. But no one really knows your world like you do.
Content marketing isn’t about pumping out words. It is about telling engaging stories over the life of your business, using those stories in various ways to build up trusted relationships with those you want to reach. Your customers ultimately want to believe in you … not someone acting on your behalf.
We wrote recently about using staff to create the best content and this is easier when you’re in close control of this process. When others lay out a plan for growing the ideal content marketing team, you can see the strong dependency on in-house staff.
Get the ‘write’ people internally in the right roles. Then you can always split the workload with external experts when you need them. But note that major organisations such as Cisco, Dell and Oracle – to name just three in the tech sector – have in-house content teams, set up much like a publication’s newsroom.
Much has been said about real-time content marketing. This might be more a social media play – think about Oreo’s 2013 Super Bowl quick reactions – than about longer-form content but it is still important if your goal is to behave like a traditional media organisation.
Some companies will never achieve this. For some that’s because they don’t need to. Others, as we have said in the past, have the turning circle of an oil tanker. But if your content team is in-house, you stand a much better chance of moving quickly when you must.
A few words on sign-offs: One of the key factors, speed-wise, is how you get content approved. The process isn’t necessarily faster if external agents aren’t involved. You still need an individual with the authority to sign off the trickiest content. All things being equal, though, you will be faster at this with an in-house set-up.
Where does this leave those selling their services to you? Even the largest newspapers in the world rely on freelance help for certain assignments or content. So don’t kill that external budget just yet. (Indeed this can be a shock for companies that have invested their entire content marketing budget on staffers, only to find they still need a little more for occasional freelance contributions.)
You will always need subject matter specialists or people in another part of the world or at an event you can’t get to. Flexibility is good. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep the bulk of your efforts in-house.
Cost – any cheaper?
Assuming your content volume is roughly the same, our experience is that, cost-wise, there is little to make the case for choosing between in-house versus outsourced. The pros and cons lie elsewhere. For smaller operations, those where budgets are below two or even 1.5 full-time equivalent staff roles, agencies or even lone freelancers are the way to go, reporting in to a single marketer. But beyond that you will face the above choices.
Good luck with your structural decisions. And remember two things. All this is fluid, not just because content marketing is still evolving and must work with other disciplines, but because at different times your needs will vary. Lastly, content marketing might feel like a new thing to you but by now there is a world of best practice and mistakes to learn from. Ask around.
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