In-House Team vs Content Agency: How to Choose the Right Fit
For most marketing, sales, and growth leaders, content is often top of mind. Good content can help solve any number of brand challenges, from driving top-of-funnel awareness to closing sales to recruiting top talent. And regardless of your budget, team size, or stage of your business, the question of how to resource it always follows up shortly after.
Generally speaking, there are two options: building an in-house content team or working with an agency. It’s a big decision—one that you’ll spend meaningful money on. Here’s how we advise clients (and friends) to think about it.
3 Steps to creating good content
Before you decide how to resource your content initiative, let’s align on what it takes to create good content. There are three core steps to develop any and every content program:
- Align on your strategy. This is what winning looks like.
- Build a content roadmap. What it takes to win.
- Create a plan for execution. The playbook for how you will win.
1. Align on your strategy
Think of a strategy as your north star—it provides purpose and guides every decision. Every new initiative begins with a strategy and, regardless of your budget or how eager everyone is to start creating content, we believe it is mandatory.
A content strategy answers the following core questions:
- Goals. What do you want to achieve with your content initiative?
- Audience. Who are you trying to reach with your content?
- Past content. What successes have you had in the past? If this is your first content initiative (first of all, welcome to the party and we’re happy you made it) what type of content do you view as successful?
- Competitors. Who are your competitors? What are they doing well and where is there opportunity to outperform? How can you be different?
- Topics and formats. What topic areas are most important to your audience? What pockets of IP and expertise exist within your organization that you can leverage? What content formats make the most sense for your business?
- Volume and cadence. How frequently do you want or need to publish to keep your audience’s attention and show that you have a lot to say?
You’ll answer these questions in a series of meetings—perhaps spread over the course of a few weeks, or consolidated in an all-day onsite/offsite. Should you endeavor to conduct this work yourself or bring in a vendor to help? Consider the following:
- There will be disagreement. And disagreements can cause delays. A strategy session is essentially a group exercise. And it will ask for deep thought and transparency among the group. Does your organization’s culture practice candor and honesty? Can this group of people navigate through different opinions and end up with one solid answer? If not, would a third party individual help make this productive?
- There will be follow up. Throughout the strategy work, new topics and items to address will surface. Account for the potential follow up sessions and associated scheduling demands—without moving the final deadline.
Strategy exercises aren’t one size fits all—their structure is specific to the organization and the people. Learn more about what goes into planning and administering these sessions.
2. Build a content roadmap
You’ll leave your strategy session with a menu of ideas and approved content pieces next it’s time to build a roadmap to execute. During this stage, you’ll operationalize everything approved in the strategy work. Top to bottom, here are the questions you’ll answer.
- What fits within your budget? Your roadmap will be impacted by your budget, as what you can create is directly tied to the resources you have available.
- What’s the timeline? Work backwards from any major milestone (e.g. a product launch) to determine how much time you have to develop content. What kind of resourcing do you need to meet this timeline?
- What is the overall story that you’re telling? You’ll need to prioritize certain pieces and create a schedule with your menu of approved content pieces. Think about the entire chess game vs. the individual moves. Focus on the big picture idea and work backwards from there.
- How will we project manage this work? There can be a ton of moving parts in a content initiative, and having a clear initiative owner is crucial for operational success. Who will be responsible for keeping everything organized and moving forward?
3. Create a plan for execution
You’ve aligned your strategy, a content plan has been discussed and approved, and you’re ready to create that content.
Developing good content requires a process, and process has a direct impact on content quality. Sweaters can be mass produced by machines or they can be made by hand by experts. On the surface, both sweaters may look similar, but if you look closely, you’ll see the difference in quality.
The content development process could look this for every single story:
- Create a brief. Just like your strategy needs a roadmap for execution, every story idea needs a roadmap for writing. In this document, you’ll lay out the goal, audience, and outline of the piece.
- Approve the brief. This is your chance to save your writer(s) rounds of revision. Each stakeholder should approve the brief, so that everyone is aligned from the get-go about the scope of the piece.
- Develop the content. The brief is passed along to the writer, and the writer writes.
- Edit the content. Writers should never work alone. We recommend that each piece goes through two different editors to produce an article that is free of grammatical errors, properly fact checked, and aligns with the audience.
- Source or create accompanying assets. Find or make illustrations, infographics, gifs, and custom art to help communicate your message and improve the quality of your content.
- Build the content. The content is inputted into the appropriate channel—your blog CMS, your email management system, or elsewhere.
- Approve and deploy the final piece. The assigned stakeholders are sent the final product, provide feedback, and view second (or third) versions. Once that happens, the content is immediately sent or scheduled for deployment.
Phew. That was a lot. Of course, there are shortcuts to take, but those have a separate set of consequences.
The main point to note is that content development takes a village, regardless of the size of your organization—it’s not as simple as just hiring a writer. You’ll need to be a team of players who can perform exceptionally in their specific lanes—writers who bring a unique point of view to life, editors that can make the right calls and consider the full picture, creatives who can capture complex concepts in eye-catching and easy-to-understand visuals, and approvers who can ruthlessly spot every single detail. You can either hire for these roles individually or contract an external party to handle these efforts.
4 benefits of working with an agency
The agency world has evolved since the Donald Draper way of operating an agency. Which also means there are various sizes of agencies: the mighty but nimble agency that can be scrappy and grow with you or the industry giant whose portfolio can be viewed every year at the Super Bowl. Depending on your budget and needs, there is an agency solution for you.
Here’s what you can expect when you work with an agency.
1. More expertise
We hope this goes without saying, but content agencies specialize in creating content. It’s not our first rodeo, and we’ve seen most things before. Agency teams can also include a variety of specialists, who would be very expensive for you to hire directly. Working with an agency will give you fractional access to different experts without the burden of a full-time salary.
2. More resources
With a creative agency, you’ll receive an account manager (operator) and a creative team (doers). This is a team solely dedicated to getting you to market faster and are at the ready if you want to scale up (or scale down) at any stage during your content marketing journey. Most agencies also have access to all the software needed for a project—from SEO tools to tracking and calendaring solutions—saving you the time and cost of setting up this infrastructure.
3. More efficiency
The definition of an agency is a business or organization established to provide a particular service. They bring a tried and true process to the table. If you were to build an in-house team, you’re going to have to build a process and team from the ground up.
4. Lower risk
Agencies let you try things before you invest in an in-house team. If at any point, results are not where they should be—or your company decides to pivot strategies—it’s easier to cut ties with a vendor than with a full-time team.
3 Benefits of making the content in-house
While we are partial to the agency route, there are instances where hiring team members or leveraging the internal team might make more sense. Here are the benefits of working with an internal team for your content program.
1. More product expertise
No one knows your product better than your internal team, so there will always be a learning curve for an agency. And you may not have the skills, resources, or time to train an agency on your product. If your content is product-focused or product-adjacent, an in-house approach might be best.
2. More direct access to your stakeholders
A benefit to having an in-house team is in its name. If your content requires input from multiple stakeholders (across different verticals and departments) or specific company IP, closer proximity to these individuals and materials will make your content development process more productive.
3. More control
Time is money, and the time your team spends on creating this content can turn into time wasted, or it can turn into fruitful results—and you can monitor and control all of those variables. With an in-house team, you can directly manage how the team works on projects and their time spent.
Deciding between an in-house team or an agency is ultimately an individual decision driven by your business needs. An agency might make more sense if you need to get to market faster, if your content program is focused on ideas instead of products, or if you’re interested in “trying” a content initiative before “buying” it. You might opt to build or leverage an in-house team if you want to have complete ownership over the end-to-end content development process, your content is product-focused, or this work requires your content creators to have direct, ongoing access to your internal stakeholders.
Remember: there are no wrong answers, only better outcomes. Your decision should result in winning content that solves one or more brand problems, instead of creating more.
Moonlight Editorial is made up of seasoned content creators and multi-faceted storytellers who have seen it all. Need a thought partner to help with your decision? We’d love to chat. No hard sell on our services—just a conversation with someone interested in pointing you in the right direction.