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Why enterprise digital marketing can’t be completely in house

Chris Abraham wrote a great post on Friday called “Why you shouldn’t bring your social media (completely) in house.” He made a lot of great points in that article and I want to come back at it again in this post. My experience is that large companies can’t ever bring their digital marketing  completely in house.  I know that my opinion might be suspicious, because I am Chief Strategist at Converseon, a digital agency, so you might expect that I have every motivation to advise you to work with consultants. But I actually learned this lesson when running parts of IBM’s digital marketing in house. I found that it wasn’t possible for me to bring everything in house.

Now, that might surprise you, because after all, it’s IBM for Pete’s sake. Can’t IBM do anything? No, even IBM couldn’t do everything. Not because IBM isn’t capable, but for more practical reasons that permeate every kind of digital marketing.

You see, what happens when any particular part of digital marketing takes off is that it goes through a few stages:

  1. Infancy. At this stage there are a few dreamers who just know that it will be big. I was one of those dreamers at IBM back in 1999 about search marketing. Every company has someone who realizes that the next big thing is here, but the average marketer doesn’t care–yet. At this stage, there are few projects to do because no one is convinced. Worse, the dreamers don’t have the knowledge to even successfully pilot something, so they need an agency to help them get a couple of projects done to prove value.
  2.  Adolescence. This is the most dangerous stage–the stage where people are most likely to believe they can do everything in house. At this point, they have some successes under their belts and they know what to do. But the problem is that they can’t handle the ups and downs. They can’t staff their team with enough experts to handle the projects coming in. Some months they are swamped and don’t have enough people. Other months, budgets get cut across the company and projects are canceled and your team has too many people. Big companies can’t easily expand and contract resources with fluctuating volume.
  3. Maturity. Now it seems as though finally everything can be brought in house. The volume is relatively stable and so are the skills. But there’s another problem. Every time you get someone up to speed, they get a better offer from an agency. Theer’s no career path inside the organization for such specialists.

Am I painting too bleak a picture? Yes. But hey, this is a blog post and I need to get your attention. I found at IBM that you can bring a great deal in house and it saves a lot of money. But I did learn that you can’t bring everything in house. It always helps to have an agency partner that can handle spokes in demand. And having an expert agency that is always keeping up with changes and learning from other clients can be very helpful to the in-house marketer.

So what is an in-house marketer to do? Choose your agency carefully. Don’t look for people who want to be your experts. Look for people who want to make you the experts. It’s the attitude that makes the difference. With an agency like that, you’ll be able to bring as much in-house as possible and you’ll have an agency partner that can handle what you should leave outside your walls.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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