Should You Outsource Your Marketing Function?

I was interviewed recently by a reporter with Inc. Magazine about the prevalence and value of outsourcing the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) role. It’s a topic that I definitely have an opinion about–one that may seem to be at cross-purposes with my own self interests. As a marketing communication consultant I’ve actually served in the role of an “outsourced CMO” on a couple of occasions. In one instance, the client was looking for not only my assistance with current marketing efforts, but my recommendations for how they should proceed in the future — should they continue to outsource this function, or should they hire someone to handle their marketing efforts on staff?

While I certainly would have loved to continue in my role as an external service provider — both because it was a very interesting and fast-growing organization and because the account was a good one for me financially, I strongly believed that they needed to have this function on staff. While external input/assistance can certainly be helpful, based on my experiences, I would generally advise organizations to have a CMO who is part of the organization and is solely focused on their needs and not the needs of multiple clients.

That’s not to say there aren’t some benefits to outsourcing this function. There are. To me, the big benefits are:

  • Outsider perspectives can help to provide a non-biased view of the marketing function and serve to uncover blind spots
  • A large part of the value that external consultants bring to an organization is their experience with other organizations and the best practices they’ve gleaned from these experiences
  • In some cases, the cost of outsourcing may be less than when hiring on-site full-time staff

But, there are also some key drawbacks:

  • The marketing function is a critical function for any organization — not having this function as part of the organization, in my opinion, doesn’t give it the presence and influence it needs. The CMO, I believe, needs to be embedded within the organization.
  • When working with an independent consultant/agency, the outsourced CMO will have other clients/obligations that may divert their attention from your needs.

With the groups I’ve worked with my recommendation has been to hire on-site marketing staff, while still maintaining ties/a connection to external resources that can provide advice/counsel and bring to bear best practices and expertise from outside the organization. That on-site staff doesn’t necessarily need to be at the C-level, depending on the size of the organization and its structure, but I believe there needs to be some consistent, on-site presence.

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