From small local companies to global billion-dollar brands, millions of businesses now run their digital ad campaigns in-house. For most, it’s a question of cost-efficiency and control. Why pay someone to do something that can be done in-house for a fraction of the cost? And, more importantly, why outsource such an important part of your business and give control to a third party?
On the other hand, there are many benefits to engaging a media agency. You get access to highly skilled experts with a breadth of experience that’s impossible to match with an in-house team. You benefit from an established agency’s relationship with ad platforms – lower rates, better support and access to new features. You can launch a big campaign or scale up your advertising instantly, rather than building an in-house team over time.
Around five or six years ago, it was hard to run campaigns in-house because the platforms were changing every day, their self-serve tools were buggy, and there wasn’t an easy, low-cost way to manage campaigns across different ad platforms. With vast improvements to self-serve tools, now the choice between agency or in-house isn’t so clear-cut. Every company has different needs and those needs will dictate whether an agency is necessary. Here are our thoughts on the five key differences to help you decide.
Big agencies have an expert with experience in every specialist area. In-house you are likely to be doing some things for the first time and relying on a fair amount of guesswork, online guides or advice from the ad platforms (which is often based on getting you to spend more). Also, if you are a small company, you might not get access to the best people who work for platforms like Facebook or Google. Agencies spend a lot of ad dollars so they monopolize the top experts (you might get stuck with someone who seems to know less than you do).
Agency ad execs work on multiple accounts at once. This can be both a positive and a negative. What they learn on one campaign can be put into action on another, which can either benefit you or your competitors. Also, if an agency worker has three accounts with two performing well and the other one isn’t, they’ll tend to concentrate their time on the one that isn’t. If your campaign is running along nicely, it’s likely they won’t dedicate time to making your campaign perform even better (unless they are incentivized to do so).
Access to agency expertise is a big plus point, but the reality is that most companies probably don’t really need top-level expertise. If your campaign is just a standard campaign using tried and tested ad placements on an established ad platform, chances are that any experienced in-house marketer can set it up and get results. If you are a global market-leading brand with huge budgets that are looking to push the boundaries with every campaign, then, of course, an agency is vital. But if you are a smaller company where budgets are limited, and you need to be cost-effective, then it might be wise to skip the agency.
If the person working on your account at an agency leaves their job, it’s unlikely that your campaigns will suffer. If a member of your internal team leaves or is absent, the impact might be more significant (especially if that team is just one person). Working with an agency gives you peace of mind that no matter what happens, someone will be there to take care of your campaigns. Again, this comes down to a question of needs. A small company might not worry too much about temporary disruption to their online advertising, but a big brand needs the security.
On the other side of the security argument, keeping everything in-house makes it much less likely that you will suffer customer data theft or allow a competitor to learn from your findings. Agencies are supposed to keep data confidential, but it is almost impossible to police. The only way to keep your data safe is to keep it in-house. Also, if an agency discovers a particular technique that produces great results for your company, there’s nothing to stop them from using that to help your competitors.
In-house teams just can’t compete with the highly paid strategic experts that work at top agencies. If your company is just getting started with online advertising and you want to run basic campaigns, you don’t need a strategic genius on a six-figure salary. But if you have a tricky business problem that needs a revolutionary strategy and a complicated media plan, you’re more likely to find what you’re looking for at an agency. Of course, in-house teams do produce award-winning strategies every so often, but agencies do it all the time.
Agencies don’t like companies that want to take things slowly and can’t commit to big budgets. If you work for a company that likes to tread carefully then most agencies will not be interested in your low budget test campaigns. They want a minimum budget commitment and they’ll put together a plan that’s designed to spend it quickly. If you manage your campaigns in-house, you can spend a little in a lot of places before slowly increasing spend when you’ve proven that a platform delivers a return on investment. Sometimes $10 a day is enough to see if a platform can be effective for your business. This is a much lower risk than committing to a $10,000 minimum budget. Of course, many agencies will tell you that just because your experiments didn’t work it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. This is true, but if your low-risk experiments do pay off, you will have saved your company some agency fees and proven that in-house campaign management can work for you. If you fail, you can still work with an agency afterward and your test campaigns will act as a good starting point.
An agency will keep tabs on your campaign and give you weekly or monthly updates. They will manage and optimize campaigns based on your objectives and your feedback. How often they do this and how focused they are on your campaign all depends on the agency. You’ll never know how much time they really spend on your campaign or the small decisions and changes they make to optimize your campaign. In-house, you have to make these decisions yourself, so you can make them more quickly and you can learn from them. It’s surprising how many things you can learn from ad campaigns that can be used elsewhere – especially things that go wrong. Things like the popularity of certain products, a preference for certain messages, or negative comments on social ads. These are things you could find out from your agency, but they’ll usually hide the bad stuff unless you press them for it.
Agencies will always have three things in mind when optimizing your campaigns: making your campaign more successful; making your campaign more profitable for the agency; learning something that can help make their other campaigns more successful. Usually, these three things all work in your favor, but sometimes there can be occasions where spending your budget more quickly is beneficial to the agency, but not so beneficial to you. If you operate your campaigns in-house, you know that every single optimization decision is made with the interest of your company in mind.
If you work with an agency, you’re putting control in someone else’s hands and deferring to their expertise. If you manage in-house, you’re effectively taking control of your own destiny. For some, this might be a scary prospect – a responsibility that they don’t want to be accountable for. For others, it’s something they are desperate to give a try so that they can operate more efficiently.
Whether you decide to manage your campaigns in-house or use an agency, the Sether platform makes the whole thing much easier. When working with an agency, it allows you to monitor the campaign in real-time and see the actual results for each platform. This means the agency can’t hide the bad results with the good. You can also use Sether to agree on a performance-related contract. This incentivizes the agency to hit or exceed all of the agreed targets and KPIs because if they don’t, they earn less money.
If you decide you want to deliver an in-house campaign, you can also use Sether to track the performance of your team. Effectively, your in-house team becomes your agency. Brand managers and other stakeholders can closely monitor every part of the campaign and make sure everything is on track.
All you have to do is register for a Sether account and then add your campaigns to the dashboard. When you add a campaign, there’s a user-friendly step-by-step process that helps you set everything up. You can input your deliverables:
You can also set user access and budgets before linking each campaign to the social media or ad platform account. Then all the data is pulled into the Sether platform so that you can easily compare campaign health across platforms, track spend and see where a campaign needs work.
Running and monitoring campaigns in-house can definitely be beneficial to your business, but if you need agency help because you don’t have the in-house human resources or you want to deploy specialist power, then going with an agency is the right choice for you.
The good news is that Sether can help you monitor your performance either way. Give it a try now.