For brands struggling to keep in-house marketing teams afloat, there may be a silver lining.

July 22, 2020
James Willoughby
Head of Client Services

In recent years, many organisations have made a strategic decision to bring some marketing services in-house. Typically, this has included content production, social media, channel specific services (e.g. Amazon) and more recently, media planning and buying.

Indeed, some brave businesses with strong enough brand identities have sought to lure both strategic and creative talent in-house. But with the advent of the COVID-19 crisis, the entire landscape has been flipped on its head.

At a time of crisis, it’s common for long-term marketing strategies to be supplanted and replaced by short-term needs for survival. In this instance, shoring up cash reserves and ensuring financial wellbeing become paramount – particularly for businesses that operate with fine margins.

Given the fluid nature of the marketplace, many organisations have been faced with tough decisions that have real human consequences. Unfortunately, businesses with smaller in-house marketing departments, for example, teams of 2-6 people, are likely to be hit hardest.

While the COVID-19 crisis may force employers to make difficult decisions regarding existing staff, there remains an ever-present need to invest in the power of marketing.

For brands that are struggling to keep in-house marketing teams afloat, there may be a silver lining – but only if those organisations are willing to think outside the box.

Is this the end of the in-house model for businesses with small marketing teams?

Pre-COVID, the in-house model served a valuable, albeit specific, role for companies. It enabled a more seamless and cost-effective production of high-volume ‘lite’ marketing collateral and social content, without having to wait for or rely on an external agency to deliver it.

While this model had gained considerable adoption across many service industries, the sudden onset of COVID-19 may have forced companies to re-examine costs, resources and return on investment across the business. In the face of financial pressure, organisations have to be shrewd, analytical and sometimes callous.

What does this mean for organisations in the wake of COVID-19?

Well, it’s likely that any resource that does not demonstrate a clear ROI may be cut in order to streamline operations and ensure financial wellbeing. For organisations, this is an unfortunate (but often necessary) step to ensure the continuity and profitability of the business.

Hard times often require tough decisions. If there is no alternative but to let in-house marketing teams go, then organisations will be presented with a serious challenge that needs to be solved.

A potential solution: outsourcing with precision

As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

In the face of unavoidable lay-offs, organisations will need to find new ways to pivot and adapt their marketing strategies. This is vital to maintain brand relevance, cut through the noise and increase profitability – especially at a time of fear and uncertainty.

It’s no stretch to say there has never been a more poignant moment for businesses to prove the value of their brand. To come out on top, C-Suite executives must take an objective and honest look at existing marketing strategies.

“Have we audited our marketing outputs recently?”

“Are our brand communications delivering ROI?”

“Have our competitors been forced to pause or slash marketing budgets? If so, what opportunity do we have to capitalise?”

These questions lead to an important reappraisal of the status quo. While in-house marketing may not be possible for brands in the wake of COVID-19, switching off marketing altogether is an even more alarming proposition.

To address this conflict, it’s possible we could see the emergence of a new solution: outsourcing with precision. In this case, organisations with smaller in-house marketing teams could employ agencies to deliver on short-term, tactical needs and take a more holistic, creative view of the wider brand itself.

Whether that means refining archetypes, values, beliefs and mission statements, or ensuring an employer brand and EVP is fit for purpose in our new world, this big picture thinking will help companies visually and verbally manifest the true identity behind their brand.

At a time of crisis, the value of brand should not be understated. By conducting research, competitor audits and sector gap analysis, organisations could raise the bar and create a brand proposition that is compelling and relevant in our changed world.

A window for new and better

If companies seek to adopt this selective outsourcing approach, it doesn’t mean marketing has to take a hit. On the contrary, working with outside experts has its merits. In fact, businesses may benefit from addressing the holistic challenges that some in-house teams may have overlooked.

In this outsourced marketing model, agencies would be able to support organisations with tactical content creation on an “as and when required” basis.

As we emerge from the worst of the crisis, it will be important for companies to create a marketing strategy that delivers tactical content across relevant channels and platforms. Organisations can then dial up spend according to best-practice strategy, which results in less waste and more effective spending.

For brands, the benefits are twofold: first, it addresses the financial issue of being unable to afford an in-house marketing function. Second, it harnesses the experience, insight and expertise of external creatives who can add real value across the end-to-end marketing journey.

Rather than acting as a temporary plug to fill a gap, this re-evaluation of the marketing function could actually serve as a window for new and better: to help businesses save money, raise the bar and achieve lasting success.