Historically, companies would turn to agencies and other external sources to execute a marketing strategy. With the help of technology, however, new avenues of how we deliver creative work have emerged and the tradition of always entrusting creative projects to agencies is quickly becoming less common.
Today, other options exist for a company to get their creative material produced, including moving the work in-house, using independent contractors, or creating a unique hybrid version of any of the aforementioned options.
Before completely retooling your creative workflow, you should first evaluate your businesses goals and mission. Understanding your type of business and what kind of creative work that needs to be done will help you to choose the right structure to produce the best results.
Will your business benefit from a dedicated in-house team that can execute creative elements that are completely in-sync with your brand? Would your message be better created using an agency that has access to an experienced team of specialists?
In this guide, we’ll go over all these questions and explore the benefits and disadvantages to the different kinds of creative processes. We will get an in-depth overview of each of the different ways to get creative to your audience, starting with moving the entire process in-house.
Moving to an in-house creative team
There has been quite a bit of chatter about going in-house with your creative team over the past few years.
In-house creative teams open up the opportunity for marketing directors or managers to become more involved in the creative process, as some companies aren’t in love with the fact that outsourcing work means less supervisory control over the creative process.
What are the benefits of doing creative work in-house?
While there are budgeting constraints when building an in-house creative team, having an accessible group of individuals that intimately understand your brand can result in better and faster content. Below are some of the various benefits of moving your creative work in-house:
Advantages of establishing an in-house creative team include:
- Cultural alignment and an ability to collaborate more efficiently
- A more devoted team with an established loyalty to the company
- A deeper understanding of the brand and its customers due to immersion in brand content and easy access to sales information
- Ability to execute on smaller brand elements at a moment’s notice
- Easier collaboration across departments
- The ability to become more involved in the management of the creative process and oversee content coming to life
One of the most notable benefits is that keeping the creative department within the company walls allows for improved communication and collaboration between managers and content producers. With an internal creative team, there is the ability to nurture an invaluable environment – a team of creatives that are solely dedicated to the creative work of one company and its brand.
This way, there are no distractions from other accounts or different campaigns outside of the one the team is building for the brand. This brand immersion is a major factor, if not the most important, in bringing a creative team in-house.
In addition, internal teams can easily access internal knowledge which means that the issue of scheduling meetings and waiting for the transfer of information with external sources is not an issue for in-house teams. This saves time and money for your creative output process!
What are some drawbacks to moving to a creative team in-house?
Although moving your creative work in-house can be very advantageous, it doesn’t mean it’s without its difficulties. Problems and barriers to be aware of when deciding to go in-house are outlined below.
Disadvantages of establishing an in-house creative team include:
- A lack of resources to complete higher complexity projects
- Inability to sustain the employment of professionals with specialized training needed for particular creative projects
- Inability to execute on last minute projects without affecting ongoing work
- In-house creatives are employees of the company and it can be difficult to purge when the company has a downturn or needs to cut back
- Less awareness of industry trends and market desires than an agency with resources dedicated to tracking trends
You should review all of the pros and cons of moving in-house carefully and make sure you are aware of the drawbacks to making the in-house move.
It's important to consider the type of work and skills that will be required to correctly create your marketing material. It's equally as important to understand the company’s ability to sustain this type of high-churning team – budgeting and efficiency should be top considerations when deciding between the different creative structures and can be barriers to getting an in-house team.
Is an in-house creative team a good fit for your company?
Deciding to move your creative team in-house is a major decision. However, if it fits your needs, it can result in more output, improved collaborative efforts, and better cost efficiency. This can greatly benefit the bottom line at any company.
Moving in-house will benefit companies whose creative efforts require a thorough understanding of the brand and its clients. If you have lots of ongoing core work, it can best be delegated to an in-house team that will be fully immersed in the brand.
In-house creative teams vary on an individual basis. We address the different styles of in-house creative teams and the various roles that may need to be filled in its article on making the move to an internal creative team. Internalizing the creative process comes with a laundry list of benefits, but that still doesn't mean it’s the most optimal route for a company to take.
When to avoid an in-house team
If your projects are incredibly complex or are one-time assignments, it would not be cost-effective to hire on an entire team of creatives to form an in-house creative team. You will need the specialized abilities of experienced professionals who will be expensive to hire on as permanent employees. It also makes little sense to take on a team that might be utilized only during a small percentage of the year.
If you need a speedy turnaround on projects with tight deadlines it's best to avoid relying only on an in-house team. Overstressing an in-house team by having them to produce all ongoing creative work with the expectation to drop everything on a second’s notice to whip-up an unexpected creative request is only going to result in dysfunction. Your team will not be performing at their best and producing at top output levels due to the stress and overload of work.
Now that we have reviewed the advantages and disadvantages of using an in-house creative team, let’s evaluate another source for creative production.
Seeking out an agency to complete creative projects
Agencies provide a wealth of knowledge and specialized expertise that may not otherwise be available to an in-house creative team. While agencies can be expensive, it’s important to weigh the pros against the cons when deciding on whether to go the agencies route versus establishing an in-house creative team, or any of the other options.
One company may find that agencies are more economically plausible while a different company might find a different creative structure to be more financially efficient. When considering an agency, remember that agencies work solely in the field, are up to date with all trends, and understand how to speak to the market to get the reaction they desire. They are (or should be) experts through and through.
What are the advantages of working with an agency?
Working with an agency gives you access to a team of professionals with specialized skills and knowledge that is not readily available to all in-house teams. Below is an overview of all the benefits you will find when choosing an agency for your creative production.
Advantages of working with an agency include:
- A fresh perspective, as they are not immersed in the brand daily
- An understanding of market trends and what will be well-received
- A team of skilled professionals with specialized industry knowledge
- The flexibility to scale creative efforts up or down according to needs
- The ability to take on extra short-notice projects without interfering with ongoing tasks
When it comes to agencies, it's important to look at what projects you need to complete in order to gauge if an agency will be the right fit for your company.
Unlike hiring a team of creatives, working with an agency gives you a bit of wiggle room when it comes to scaling creative efforts. During major campaigns, you can increase your package to up the creative output. Then, when you have no major projects being executed, you can downgrade to a smaller team to cut marketing costs. Although a very enticing flexible structure, it might not be the best fit for every company.
What are some drawbacks to working with an agency?
Agencies can be costly. This seems to be the major drawback for many companies who rely on agencies and seek to move their creative work in-house. Other cons include:
Disadvantages of working with an agency include:
- Fewer meetings due to budget limitations
- Less collaboration between the creators and the stakeholders
- Little personal connection to the brand; a potential lack in understanding of brand values
- A lack of focus on your brand due to projects with other accounts
While agencies can be a great fit for a company that has complex projects and pivotal brand campaigns, they are not always the best fit for a company in need of consistent, ongoing creative work.
It's important to consider the demands of your content schedule when considering the drawbacks of hiring an agency to carry out your content production. Even though working with an agency is scalable, it can still be costly if used for the wrong reasons.
Is using an agency a good fit for your company?
If your creative department is facing a large and complex project that requires specialized knowledge and a team of professionals with a particular skill set, using an agency may be the smartest option. Complex projects outside the bandwidth of an in-house team might include national or global media stunts, brand redesigns, or major campaigns.
When to avoid using an agency
Agencies are great for companies that are pursuing complex campaigns and need the expertise of professionals that have a specific skill set. However, if you do not need the specialized expertise and want to increase the collaboration on marketing projects, maybe consider in-house teams over agencies.
Next, we move on to the popular choice companies make of hiring independent contractors to complete the creative work of a company.
Hiring independent contractors for creative work
Independent contractors can be found using platforms such as Upwork, Elance, or other job listing sites. Independent contractors offer a range of benefits but also introduce a few hurdles in the creative process.
When working with an independent contractor you are bringing on individuals to create a one-time project. Contractors are self-employed, which offers benefits to the business since they do not fall under the same legal purview an employee fits in. Contractors are a great way to stretch resources as they can offer the skills of specialists without the higher cost (or managed scalability) that an agency would bill.
What benefits come with using independent contractors?
Cost savings and liability advantages aside, independent contractors allow for other benefits included in the list below.
Advantages of working with independent contractors include:
- They are typically available on short notice and can execute projects with tight deadlines
- They give access to a specialized skill set without extending the cost beyond the parameter of the assigned project
- Your in-house team can stay focused on ongoing projects without excessive stress from added last minute work
According to Upwork, independent contractors can be brought on in a matter of three days, whereas other channels like agencies could take six weeks.
If you need to execute on a larger project, but don’t have the funds to hire an agency, consider hiring a freelancer. Having a contractor take care of some of the smaller ongoing work can free up your internal team to focus on a large marketing effort without disrupting your normal cadence.
What are some drawbacks to working with independent contractors?
As with all options, independent contractors do have a few disadvantages that make the creative process a hassle. Those challenges are outlined below.
Disadvantages of working with independent contractors include:
- The work is completed out-of-house, minimizing control over the process
- Remote workers can cause errors due to misunderstandings
- They are not available to attend in-house meetings and give in-person reports
- While independent contractors may be specialized, they do not always offer the level of expertise that comes with an agency
Is using independent contractors a good fit for your company?
Delegating creative projects to freelancers is not the best fit for all companies or even certain projects within a company. An independent contractor might be the right fit if you have a quickly approaching deadline for a one-time project, the work requires a specialized skill set to complete that isn’t available in-house, or the project is not considered a core project and can be completed by someone not working on the in-house creative team.
While ongoing needs and non-specialized work can be completed by independent contractors, it's not always the best fit and could result in cost inefficiencies over time.
When to avoid using independent contractors
If a particular expertise is needed to execute projects long term, then it would benefit a company financially to bring on an employee rather than repeatedly hiring a freelancer. The cost of a freelancer can add up quickly for repeatable projects that need to be completed on a frequent basis. In addition, there will be a limit on collaborative efforts and the communication barrier can cause problems with project deliverables.
Finding the Perfect Solution with a Hybrid Creative Team
Being able to draw from the benefits of each type of creative structure can result in lower costs and improved output. We are seeing trends pointing toward an uptick in companies working with an in-house creative team and casting aside agencies as their main source of creative output.
Even with an in-house creative team, however, companies need industry expertise to draw on. Digiday notes that a company can improve cost efficiency by outsourcing specialized talent that would otherwise eat away at the creative budget when not actively being utilized. This is where agencies might come into play to form a hybrid creative team, offering proprietary insights that can be used by the in-house creative team.
How hybrid teams mix internal and external creative processes
Hybrid teams are a great fix for companies that need to delegate ongoing work to a permanent creative team but also have aggressive initiatives like a global campaign in their pipeline. By outsourcing short-term projects to an agency or freelancer, deadlines are maintained while keeping the flow of normal operations.
With a push for increased control over brand marketing, companies are taking back the reins from agencies. Brands that have turned to in-house creative teams are now struggling to find a middle-ground that gives them the benefits of each creative outlet while also keeping costs low.
Problems that stem from getting the desired output volume and quality from internal teams is to outsource by using external creative sources. By using a combination of different sources for creative material, hybrid teams are able to efficiently produce needed content while benefiting from the added advantages associated with each type of creative structure.
Calculating and comparing cost efficiencies with different creative team structures
When determining which direction your company will take with its creative efforts, money undoubtedly comes into the conversation. It’s no surprise that budget is the factor that typically tips the scale toward one option or another.
With the ability to develop hybrid teams, you can essentially customize your structure to meet your brand’s needs and stay within the constrictions of your budget. However, it's important to know what you are considering when taking cost efficiencies into account.
The ultimate goal is to reach the highest output at the best quality with the lowest price tag. There are a lot of moving parts when factoring which source is most effective for producing your creative material. For a more detailed look into proving an in-house team’s worth, check out how Rebecca Yaffe justifies keeping her creative team in-house.
Reaping the benefits of a great creative fit
Professionals argue back and forth on which creative style yields better results, whether going in-house, using an agency, or utilizing another creative outlet. Ultimately, it comes down to determining which is the best fit for your company.
Making the change to a new creative team structure can be daunting; when executed correctly, however, it can yield the most desirable results. It's important to first identify what exactly your company is aiming to achieve. From that point forward you can plan out the best strategy for completing creative projects and leading your team to success.
It’s important to ensure that your creative team, whether in-house or not, can easily organize work and deliver content in the most effective way. When you have so many different kinds of creatives working on the same project, having a system in place designed to facilitate collaboration between specialists will make the process more manageable.
Slope’s project management platform has led teams of all sizes to meet their creative goals. Whether you need to streamline the creative process, increase productivity, or improve output, Slope’s platform gives companies a centralized space for creatives to manage their work efficiently.