Enough with the “build or buy” debate. When it comes to in-housing or outsourcing, brands should have it both ways

To build or to buy? It’s a question all companies are asking themselves as they look to optimize their processes and innovate their offerings. But it’s a question increasingly being posed to marketing teams as well.

Traditional advertising has been falling out of favor for years and owned and earned media have come to the fore. That means marketing teams are now tasked with producing high-value content and creative campaigns. Is it better to handle these projects in-house, or to contract out to an agency?

The answer, it turns out, is a bit of both.

The customer-first, content-focused, and data-driven programs of the present differ markedly from the demands faced by in-house creatives 20 years ago. They’re more nuanced, more detailed, and more demanding—and the challenges faced by in-house content teams have been well-documented. With expectations high, and teams stretched thin, there are always opportunities to partner with experts, even for companies that are building robust content marketing programs internally.

How an in-house and agency team are stronger together

So what should these partnerships look like? The right solution is whatever works best; different brands have different needs. And more often than not, a mix of internal and external expertise is necessary. Let’s look at some instances where in-house teams and agencies can join forces to empower brands and amplify their content marketing efforts.

Processes and workflows

Asking “build or buy” when it comes to your content capabilities isn’t always the right question. Sometimes, buying is necessary in order to begin building out your team and its roles.

MEC, an outdoor retailer consistently recognized as one of Canada’s most trusted brands, approached Quietly with a clear goal: to re-shape the way their content marketing supported objectives across the business.

But what they realized along the way was that they already had many of the tools to help make this happen. Sharing our own in-depth knowledge, we led discovery sessions that showed just how much more they could do with their existing technology stack, such as analytics tracking, e-commerce integrations, and asset management. We also introduced our own dedicated tools for crafting stories, measuring attribution, and proactively analyzing risks.

Marketing teams will often have a basic framework in place to streamline their content operations, but they need to keep building from there. It’s important that they identify new workflow opportunities, add interdepartmental touchpoints for key stakeholders, and determine roles and responsibilities.

All of these processes can be managed by an in-house team—but they first need to know that they exist. Brands can benefit from partnering with agencies that have worked with dozens of clients across categories. In the best brand-agency partnerships, agencies come ready to share their tools and knowledge and empower in-house marketing teams to build from there.

Talent and fulfilment

According to the Content Marketing Institute, 52 percent of B2B teams report they only have a skeleton crew managing content marketing operations across the whole organization; for 35 percent of them, this team consists of fewer than five full-time staff.

Consulting with specialists is a great way to fill talent gaps or grow the team on short notice. When Herschel Supply Co., the well-known luggage and lifestyle brand, needed to produce in-depth, inspiring guides to 18 locations across the globe—bylined by well-traveled creative professionals with insider knowledge—they turned to us.

The project had to be completed quickly in support of a massive go-to-market strategy across Instagram. By tapping our global on-demand network of content creators, we were able to recruit adventurers, influencers, nomads, and designers with compelling personal brands and lifestyle clout to write the city guides, complete with off-the-beaten-path insights and recommendations.

A third-party agency is like a pressure valve for content production; when challenges begin to build, you can look to outside help to relieve the burden and provide additional value.

Strategy and planning

It’s not just about the how. Working with external experts can help teams determine what stories to produce, where they should be published, when they should go live, who they should be geared towards, and why they’ll be impactful.

In-house teams can often find themselves too close to the work or limited by legacy processes. Strategy partners can be both holistic and specific in analyzing search traffic, social channels, the broader competitive and publishing landscapes, and a brand’s own proprietary analytics to help determine the topics that will perform best. Drawing together data from a host of powerful tools allows agencies to help brands garner insights they otherwise might not see—and quickly.

Not only that, but agencies that specialize in content marketing, distribution, and attribution may have access to resources that would be too costly to take on in-house. That’s certainly what allowed Quietly to help a top luxury lifestyle and real estate brand.

The team at Sotheby’s International Realty was always navigating a delicate balance between driving discovery and bringing in a wider readership, and retaining the elevated storytelling that their target audiences associate with their product offering.

Our comprehensive research culminated in streamlined, accessible annual content calendars for long-term, big-picture planning, along with shorter-term quarterly content strategies. And the results have spoken for themselves, with a 488 percent increase in new users arriving from organic search and a 382 percent increase in organic search sessions.

Even if you have an efficient in-house team, a trusted third party can enhance your strategic planning on an ongoing basis. Again, it’s about buying smart so you can build better.

Partnerships for the win

Looking ahead to the 2020s, brands not only need to discover the right balance of in-house talent and external expertise to achieve their goals, they need to put the right processes in place to get the work out the door. This means working in tandem with agencies to bring a critical outside-in perspective and help establish best practices.

At minimum, appoint a dedicated team member to oversee all things related to content marketing. How can campaigns be created and deployed more strategically? How can success be measured and attributed more effectively? How can current roles be aligned to these needs? And how can external experts help to fulfill these functions, drive efficiencies, save resources, and further expand your content marketing success? Make sure your dedicated content liaisons have a direct line to executive stakeholders so that they can champion these causes and drive real change across the organization.

The business case for internal-external collaboration practically writes itself; now you just need to be empowered to action on it.

Image: Elodie Oudot/Unsplash

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