Agency vs. In-House: The Two-Sided Coin of Marketing

Hand of woman prepare for flip a coin

As some may have seen, I will be transitioning out of agency life, and moving to an in-house role. Most people didn’t really get to know me until I started working in agencies years ago, but I actually do have in-house marketing experience as well.

Having traveled both paths, there are immense and diverse challenges that come in both camps. People seem to generally be tailor-made for one environment or the other, and a lot of it is about personality, what drives you, and what types of stress you are comfortable with. Truly, I enjoy both for very different reasons.

The best situation is where the strengths of both teams work together seamlessly – the in-house team and agency partnership model.

Since I’m exiting agency life to go back to in-house, I’ve gotten several questions from people at agencies about how the two paths differ. There are a lot of ways, but here are the ones I’ve noticed consistently – and most notably, these are the strengths of both positions. Knowing them can help agencies and in-house teams leverage each other in the right situations, to create the best outcomes!

Problem-Solving Abilities

A core part of any marketing strategy is growth, and then overcoming issues that arise. Those issues can vary, and be anything from creative that’s not working, to a website that doesn’t convert well. Because the possible issues can exist both by things the agency does or doesn’t have oversight of, it requires the knowledge of both teams to make it all work.

Agency Strength:

Solving issues when you’re in an agency is vastly different than when you work within an in-house situation. (And vice versa, of course.)

Agency-side, you sometimes are better-equipped to identify what’s causing a problem. Dealing with clients across verticals and running different marketing stacks means you learn quirks about platforms that may not be obvious to someone only dealing with one reality.

Agencies also frequently have specialists that can jump in to troubleshoot issues that are outside of the usual day-to-day, or be engaged for certain projects. Many brands don’t have a need to keep certain roles in-house because it doesn’t make financial sense, but partnering with an agency that has those capabilities puts them in touch with additional resources.

You also see what happens with features at scale. Certain problems are just account-specific, but often you’ll find consistent issues no matter what account you work in. This can help diagnose overall platform problems (I’m looking at you, Facebook) versus something specifically going wrong in an account.

In-House Strength:

As an agency, you aren’t working internally for your client so you probably aren’t aware of everything that might be contributing to issues or results.

Frequently there will be things like PR hits, a change in form captures, or other things that affect what is seen within a media platform. As an external partner, those things might not get communicated to you, so diagnosing why there are problems or changes may not be a level playing field – you lack the total context in which the media is operating.

In-house marketers know what’s going on with the larger picture of marketing and can better understand what pieces are moving and when.

Spotting Possibilities

Marketing that’s stagnant will stop working, and digital marketing moves like a rocket ship! With new platforms, new features, and user preferences evolving, neither agencies nor clients can sit idly by, but their contributions are different.

Agency Strength:

Agencies frequently dive headfirst into new features, competing to stay cutting edge and knowledgeable about marketing ecosystems. This means they can bring knowledge and early experience to the table when working with a client on strategy.

The best agencies also understand how to adapt these strategies for where a client is at currently. Some things they might not be ready for, and others they are missing a huge opportunity – the right agency knows which one is which, and focuses on the right ones.

In-House Strength:

There is a depth of knowledge about users that is hard to come by when you’re an agency managing the few facets you were hired to do. Things like website usage, stats on the content that’s created, email drip performance, and feedback from sales teams gives deep insight into the human parts of marketing that numbers on a platform alone might not get you to. All of those pieces fit together to tell the ultimate story of a customer, and you usually aren’t seeing them all unless you’re in-house and interfacing with the groups that run each part.

This means there are opportunities an agency would never spot, unless the client properly integrates the agency partner into their customer data ecosystem and analysis.

Ownership of Results

Marketing is about driving sales and growth of an organization, but how that’s done depends heavily on what you’re able to do and how you’re judged on it.

Agency Strength:

Agencies are hired to perform. Period. The definition of performance can be where some relationships turn unhappy, but clarity around KPIs and what the client defines as exceptional results or service will avoid most of those problems.

If the results aren’t there, the agency is out. It’s usually pretty clear cut whether things are working or not, and what the plan of action is.

In-House Strength:

It can be hard to work very hard on a client account and when the engagement ends, have it go away. Being in-house, you are there for the longer haul, orchestrating more than a few things to move the marketing forward. Some marketers crave the variety of an agency, while others like to plunge into the deep end on marketing for a brand and stay there for awhile to see longer-term results.

When a client project ends, you may never know what wound up happening with the work you created as an agency. In-house, you stay with the evolution of the marketing to see how it grows over time, and some find that more rewarding.

The Parts I Look Forward to

The strengths outlined above are what I’m excited to do in-house. I adore agency life, and it’s a very big part of my career development.

I’ve met so many great clients, had the honor to work on some very large brands and help guide their efforts, and travel all over the world! It’s time to put all that knowledge to the test in a large environment that’s in hyper-growth mode and infuse it into marketing that will build results for years to come.

In the meantime, I am truly proud to have worked with the AIMCLEAR team. Their partnership with clients is inspiring, and I love that everyone brings fresh ideas to the table, week after week. That innovation keeps clients inspired, agency minds sharp, and relationships long-lasting. And that’s exactly what my relationship with this team will always be.

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