Purple Papers

Are You an “Innie” or an “Outie”?

There have been a lot of interesting discussions going back and forth in group forums on LinkedIn. The topic is about whether there's a trend among associations and non-profits to move their marketing and creative in house and — more important — if it's a good idea. It's garnered a lot of discussion within the group, both pro and con. Now you might think our opinion on the subject is biased, since Moiré is a marketing firm that does a lot of business with associations, foundations and not-for-profits. But several of us have also worked for in-house marketing and creative units, so we believe we have a fairly balanced perspective.

There are usually three main reasons why businesses—and let's just say for the sake of this discussion we're talking about associations—take their marketing in house: cost, control and time. The argument goes that firms who take their marketing in house will save a substantial amount of money, have greater control over their messaging and marketing approach, as well as be able to produce marketing materials and react to new opportunities faster. These are all great goals to have, but whether or not they can be achieved by taking marketing in house is something that merits further examination.


Copywriter = $70,000, Web Designer/Developer = $75,000, Art Director = $80,000, Marketing Manager = $85,000. Cost of starting an in-house marketing and creative unit = Pricey

Granted, the above salaries are averages and they could be lower or higher depending on locale. But regardless of where you're located, those figures don't include the cost of any support help like production managers and assistants, the outlay of capital toward additional health and benefits packages, not to mention the investment in the necessary equipment, materials and graphic-design software needed to operate.

Done properly, in-house marketing communications departments require a significant financial commitment. Now it may be argued that it can end up being less expensive in the long run, with firms not having to pay an agency for every project down the line. But when you factor in all the expenses involved in recruiting, hiring and maintaining an in-house marketing communications department, there are rarely any significant savings over an outside marketing firm.


There's no denying that associations who take their marketing in house will have greater control over what they say and how they want to say it than they could ever hope to have with an outside marketing firm. If you have someone working for you, you can pretty much get them to do exactly what you want because you pay their salary.

Such control is undeniable, but is it desirable? While there may be a great deal of truth to the premise that you know your association/foundation and its vision better than any outsider, often that internal vision can be focused so far inward that it loses sight of the audience on the outside. What's important to you may not resonate as much with potential clients.

A big advantage that an outside marketing firm offers is perspective—an objective way of looking at marketing and communications problems and solutions that may be impossible for those inside the firm to see. Marketing firms attempt to help their clients see that objective viewpoint. We make recommendations based on our experience and on our knowledge of what the audience wants, which our clients are free to ignore or follow.

Which raises another issue regarding control. Quite often, associations approach their in-house marketing and creative units with a "just get it done" attitude. What it means is that the higher-ups in the firm are less interested in hearing the marketing recommendations of their in-house people and are instead more focused on having them execute the marketing ideas of management. It's a relationship that's akin to the old adage, "You don't coach your spouse."

The point of all this is, if an association is thinking about moving its marketing in house, at least follow the recommendations of the in-house marketing people. It will save a lot of frustration.


It takes a great deal of time and energy to develop and train an in-house marketing communications department. But once it's up and running, can the in-house department produce marketing materials as fast or faster than an outside firm? If your firm operates like a well-oiled machine and decisions are made quickly, then the answer is yes. A co-worker of mine worked as the in-house Creative Director and Marketing Manager for a technology firm in the dot-com heyday of the early 2000s. She's mentioned that the CEO liked to brag to clients that their firm worked at "Internet Speed." And they did. They were able to produce marketing materials twice as fast, just as good and at less the cost than the outside agency from where she'd been plucked.

However, if your firm moves at a glacial pace because it's hard to corral the decision makers or everything must be done by committee, then the answer is no. 

You hire a mechanic to work on your car because you don't know anything about engines, lawyers because they have a better grasp of the law, and an accountant to do your taxes because you don't want to be audited by the IRS. A company or an association should hire a marketing firm for the same reasons. But that's strictly our biased opinion.

Is your association, foundation and non-profit thinking about taking your marketing communications in-house or hiring an outside marketing firm? We'd love to hear your thoughts!

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