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Outsourced Marketing: Does It Make Sense for You?

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • Nine key benefits to outsourcing creative marketing functions
  • And a few reasons you might want to keep those functions in-house

This article will explore the benefits of outsourcing marketing tasks such as graphic design, Web design, and Web development. Written specifically for B2B organizations of roughly 100 employees and a relatively small marketing footprint, this article will summarize some areas that need to be considered when determining whether to outsource graphic design, branding, or multimedia work to an agency.

The question of whether to outsource varies depending on the specific factors at play in an organization. Though outsourcing may bring significant cost savings to some, for others the workload just might not be sufficient enough to justify going with an agency.

Regardless, there are significant benefits—including the following—that should be considered when contemplating the outsourcing of creative marketing functions.

1. Higher-Quality Output

Because of the highly competitive nature of the graphic design/Web industry, outsourced firms must perform at a very high level to keep clients satisfied. That means going the extra mile, working "over budget," and meeting the high demands of the client. The relative ease with which clients can move from one firm to another makes high-quality output an imperative.

2. Cost Efficiency

Although outsourcing might not necessarily provide cost savings (at least in the short term), significant savings are a reality, as you pay only for time used. In an outsourced environment, there is no downtime that eats away at budget. In addition, if there are no projects, there are no costs; whereas with in-house staff, overhead costs remain constant regardless of how much work is available.

3. Economies of Scale

More often than not, in-house teams are backlogged on projects due to numerous initiatives happening at once or a simple lack of resources to get things done. Outsourced firms, on the other hand, must complete projects on time—and, therefore, ensure that they have the resources to start and finish projects efficiently.

4. More Collaboration

By nature, outsourced firms are much more conducive to collaboration and problem-solving. An in-house team is often limited to the opinions of an immediate group or manager, whereas outsourced firms tend to call on a vast array of experts, professionals, and colleagues to assist in developing new materials or designing Web materials.

5. Faster Work

Outsourced firms can simply work faster. They have the ability to collaborate, pull in additional resources as needed, and delegate work to subject-matter experts. In-house staff, on the other hand, often must find solutions on their own, self-teach to fill any gaps in expertise, and sacrifice initiatives when resources get tight.

6. A Bigger Pool of Talented Professionals

Outsourced firms have specialists on hand in important niches such as usability, information architecture, accessibility, etc., and can use those skills to produce higher quality, on-target materials.

7. More Flexibility

Outsourcing provides the ability to upscale and downscale resources based on the projects at hand. That flexibility allows for additional cost savings in the long term.

8. Helps Companies Focus on Core Competencies

Graphic design and Web design may not be a core competency at your organization. Similar to where I work, some companies are not set up to foster creative outreach or collaborative design; hence, their options are limited. But outsourcing to an organization with a core competency in graphic and Web design removes the burden of managing styles and expectations that we are not necessarily equipped to handle.

9. Better Technical Expertise

From a Web design perspective, even with the most robust, feature-packed Web development software (e.g., Joomla), a tremendous learning curve is involved in developing a technically sound Web experience. Expecting that a small in-house team remain aware and current of all emerging technologies is unrealistic. For an outsourced firm, however, that expectation is valid.

Why Proceed In-House?

There are also advantages that need to be considered when deciding to keep Web and graphic development in-house:

1. Closer to the Organization

Because in-house teams work within the business, they might be able to grasp some concepts quicker than an agency. For example, briefing an in-house group could take less time than briefing an outside group.

2. Small Changes Faster

An internal team (or resource) is better aligned to make small changes, such as to a website or to an email template. The very nature of small projects sometimes renders them incompatible with outsourcing them to an agency (e.g., briefing an agency on a website change could take longer than the change itself).

Which Is Better: Outsourcing or Staying In-House?

As noted, one of the main benefits of outsourcing is that you gain access to subject-matter experts, additional resources when required, and people who help foster collaboration and new ideas.

Though outsourcing certainly holds the potential to take your creative marketing to the next level, if not managed properly it can very quickly drain your budget. A poorly managed agency can lead to increased stress, projects that run way over budget, and frustration on both sides of the table.

Nor are agencies necessarily set up for small-scale projects, the costs of which can add up very quickly if they are outsourced. Having a junior resource on-staff to assist with basic graphic design, brochure-copy layout, HTML email creation, etc., could be an effective way to contain costs as you move forward with an agency.

Although outsourcing holds the potential to take your brand to the next level, the high propensity for sticker shock on the cost of projects could quickly throw a wet blanket on your initiatives. Therefore, tread carefully.

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Mike Etzinger is marketing director of RL Solutions, a provider of healthcare software solutions. Reach him via Twitter @maetzing and

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  • by Brian Wed Feb 9, 2011 via web

    The biggest issue is identifying competent companies to do the work. This is especially tricky for work such as SEO where much of the work is invisible.

  • by Chris McGraw Wed Feb 9, 2011 via mobile

    We see effective results and a definite payoff for companies when using this model. Companies can manage initiatives and adjust strategies quicker using this flexible, variable cost model as opposed to a cumbersome, fixed cost model.

  • by David Finch Wed Feb 9, 2011 via web

    An interesting article which covers off the key issues. Being agency based I am biased towards companies outsourcing to an agency but this is only when they are looking to grow their business by using our experience and knowledge not when as is often the case they are looking to save money by using our time to save them time but not wanting to pay for it.

  • by Mike McCready Wed Feb 9, 2011 via web

    There are benefits to both outsourcing and in-house, but one thing to consider is an outsourced company may not have as much vested interest as your own company.

    Also, with regards to social media, the only time I would outsource is to help in developing the strategy and campaigns. But the execution I would always do in-house.

    Outsourcing social media is like sending a friend to a party to talk on your behalf. It wouldn't work well in the real world, so why would it online.

  • by Greg Timpany Wed Feb 9, 2011 via web

    This article could not have come at a better time for me. Thanks!

    Greg Timpany

  • by Ed Thompson Wed Feb 9, 2011 via web

    These are great guidelines, but why limit it to just web and graphic design? Think about Marketing Automation - with a limited pool of available talent and the complexity of the technologies it's a long ramp-up for any Marketing team. You can have an impact now with outsourcing and buy yourself some time to decide whether it makes sense to bring it in-house.

  • by Arvind Sehtia Wed Feb 9, 2011 via web

    I agree with Ed's thoughts above. These are excellent factors to consider while evaluating Outsourcing vs Insourcing. And the same can be applied to other marketing tasks like outbound lead generation. Activities like inside sales, telemarketing, lead qualification, contact discovery and database cleansing etc. are also great candidates for outsourcing.

  • by Lydia Sugarman Wed Feb 9, 2011 via web

    I was surprised that the writer seems to discount the critical importance of basic graphic design, brochure-copy layout, HTML email creation to the success of every campaign by suggesting those tasks be off-loaded to a junior staff person.

    The other point that hasn't been stressed enough is that cost is not as simple as employee salary vs. out-sourced marketing agency and then, sometimes it is really that simple. The cost of hiring a full-time employee with salary, benefits, and probably limited experience is far more than finding and hiring an agency staffed by experienced professionals.

  • by Jason Lombard Thu Feb 10, 2011 via web

    I completely agree with Lydia. Here in California, the fully-loaded cost of an employee can run as high as 140% of negotiated salary. As a corporate marketing manager I spent years vetting and qualifying companies to handle outsourced work. Now, as a business owner, I get to tout all of those same benefits to current and potential clients.

  • by David Cohen Thu Feb 10, 2011 via web

    Great article! With regards to your closing points, how about a follow up article on how to choose the right company (ie. what to look for) when outsourcing web and graphic design projects?

  • by Mike Etzinger Thu Feb 10, 2011 via web

    Hello everyone, thank you for your comments. Some great points raised here that I believe definitely add to the discussion of whether or not to go the route of outsourcing.

    It's very interesting to hear your comments on this point as I think the discussion of outsourcing is something we marketers deal with on a fairly regular basis. As someone who has never worked at an agency, the points I outlined in the article are ones that I explored as our company struggled with the question of whether to retain the services of outside groups or to staff up internally. At the end of the discussion, we decided that our core competency was that of being a software company, and therefore decided to look outside to professionalize our marketing function. It's worked well for us so far. Costs have been contained, and recently, our new branding was recognized via an award for our tradeshow presence. Hopefully, it's the first of many.

    @David Cohen - thanks for the suggestion! I'm currently working on a couple of ideas and will definitely consider this one as well.

  • by Tim Redpath Thu Feb 24, 2011 via web

    Great thinking Mike.
    As someone who worked within the corporate world and outsourced lots of marketing projects I think you have hit the main issues.

    Now that I work outside the corporate world, as a marketing consultant, I think you could look at when organizations can best use strategic marketing help and advice. :-)

    It's not for everyone, or for every size of organization, but it can be an extemely effective way to bring in fresh ideas without the cost of employment.

    Just a thought.
    Tim Redpath

  • by PrimeOutsourcing Mon Aug 6, 2012 via web

    There had been issues that outsourcing is very crucial. The main concern is that privacy of the records of the company are at risk. Yet how can we guarantee the security of their records?

    Clients can have the assurance that they can have best staff by determining the credibility of the company. The years of service, portfolios of the staff and the reviews of their recent clients are important. With this, clients will be confident that they have the right staff working with them.

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