Digital Marketing: The Hybrid Model.

“What model should we be deploying?” is a question that crosses the minds of marketers regularly as their objectives and needs shift over time. I’ve touched on this question previously when looking at the in-housing vs. outsourcing question in isolation – but one element I want to focus on here is Hybrid modelling. The approach of assessing what you need to control the delivery of, what you don’t need to control the delivery of and strategising a way to design a new blueprint that will successfully set you on your way to growth and improved performance.

Below, I’ve reconsidered some key areas I haven’t touched on previously and made an assessment of the Hybrid approach.

Running Digital Marketing In-house.

Let’s begin by getting this out of the way. In-housing can give the control and speed of activation that you just don’t get with other set-ups. Owning the entire planning and buying however, can be fraught with issues if you don’t get it right. There’s a reason those agencies exist in the first place to take away all that heavy lifting and leave you to strategise. Really ponder the two key points below if you don’t run any hands-on Media buying in-house or are thinking about making the jump to buying some at the advertiser side.

Under Armour EMEA, Head Office.

The infrastructure & Internal Picture.

What really needs to be considered is that bringing the planning and buying of Media in-house (in any form) comes with a huge operational challenge. You’re not just in-housing Digital Marketing – you’re assessing what needs that team are going to have in order to get things done and building a business case to gain operational support from multiple departments. Here’s a few quick ones:

Creative – Is there dedicated support to provide this team with Creative either in-house or outsourced?

MarTech/AdTech – How many people are specifically responsible for supporting the running of Digital Marketing teams within the Tech and Ad Ops space?

Media Analytics – What is the core internal Analytics platform and how embedded is this? Who owns this and is it right for internal Media buying?

Data – If you’re passing this to an Agency already then you might have this sorted. But who is in charge of where this data lives and how it gets into platform?

I mention a business case or some kind of evidence that’s needed to really enact a transformational change to internalise Media buying. It’s not as simple as recruiting a few people to manage Paid Search and you’re ready to go. It’s a journey with many stakeholders (business size dependant) with ultimate decision making control resting at the top. If Marketing isn’t high on the agenda, it’s tough to really lobby to get this done. So a tip I’d give would be to invest in the long term value promotion of Marketing internally so that when the time comes – there’s a strong set of stakeholders that fully know the value of what the department is driving.

Under Amour EMEA, Head Office.

The Talent (and The Numbers).

The conversation often begins with “how much is it going to cost me to pay for talent” but it shouldn’t. You should assess the bigger picture of transformation you’re looking to go through, what your Marketing/Commercial goals are for the years to come and how those two intertwine.

Finding that talent, securing it and keeping those people interested are your primary challenges here as you’ll need truly top quality talent to make those Marketing/Commercial aspirations happen.

Outsourcing via an Agency.

In the opposite corner, is the peace of mind of outsourcing the buying of Digital Media via an agency. You gain access to cross-client / cross-vertical knowledge and talent that’s used to balancing quality at speed. Depending on the size of the Agency, you’ll also be able to access non-trading teams to enrich talent within your business, even wider than just Marketing.

Let’s imagine that you’re coming from a world where you’ve had Digital Media in-house in its entirety for the last few years. You may be going through the process of trying to find the best agency possible to deliver your Digital activity or weighing up your options in this space.

If you go with an all-in-one Media agency that handles your above the line activity – you should benefit from the cost efficiencies and “one media” holistic view of planning & buying rather than treating Offline and Digital separately. If it’s a specialist Digital agency you’re after, you may have access to some brilliant talent that knows the ecom demand generation game inside out. If it’s a Media agency – you’ll traditionally find them to offer a multitude of services outside of just delivery – such as transformational consultancy projects. There are key differences and again, agency selection should match exactly what you’re looking to achieve., Amsterdam Head Office.

The Hybrid Model – The Best of Both Worlds.

You’ll find a number of differing perspectives on what should and shouldn’t be handled by agencies and vice versa. Now that we’ve outlined some initial factors, it’s time to consider a third option. Part of media delivery being handled by the agency and the other part of it handled by an in-house function. Let’s get into the reasoning as to why this model might be worth considering.

Choosing what to control and what to outsource.

The heavy lifting required to run all elements of Media buying in-house is considerable. Even when you’ve recruited the best talent, optimised the internal structure and made sure Marketing is high on the Leadership Team’s agenda – you’ve still got to grapple with the fact that it’s a hell of a lot of work to run end to end Digital Marketing for a full-funnel delivery. The weight of managing multiple partners, Campaign management, billing, reporting, troubleshooting pixels & tags – it takes a lot of time.

But the trick here is in the selection. What can we retain control of (or take control of, depending on your situation) whilst being honest about what requires too much time to run in-house. I’ll give two examples here.

  • Paid Search can be managed by a fairly small team. As long as all levels are considered from hands-on in-platform trading, to defining a Search Strategy and integrating it into the wider Marketing / Commercial Strategy. A brand of about £20m in annual Paid Search spend can be run by a team of 3-4 depending on account complexity.
  • Programmatic however can be a massive in-house undertaking to go through. Multiple DSPs, multiple partners, tag trafficking, ad-serving – sometimes even knowledge of javascript or data science. This would require more heads to truly maximise it’s capability.

Time is a big factor, but so is being able to move and optimise with speed. Traditionally the best way to do this is by controlling the Acquisition only activity within channels – and making a resource / time / value based assessment on everything else.

This is the Hybrid conundrum. But there’s one thing you should never outsource…

Sky Sports Head Office, London.

Never outsource the Strategy.

There’s a big difference between buying Media, and serving it in the most optimised way possible. If bringing Media buying in-house is a cost led only decision, you’re doing it wrong and I’d question what the medium/longer term Strategy is.

The development and existence of a well constructed Digital Marketing Strategy should intertwine with an overarching Media vision – which in turn hooks into a Marketing Strategy and so on. This can be moulded by external thinking from Consultancies and Agencies alike – but it must never be entirely controlled by anyone other than your Brand. Surrendering entire Strategic control to a third party isn’t good for anyone. Equally, inventing the Strategy for Digital Marketing entirely on your own isn’t always conducive to success. So never entirely outsource it, but never write off using outside factors, consultants or specialists to help you develop it.

Spotify, Normalm, Stockholm Head Office.


In the above view, I’ve put forward the key considerations when assessing the third operating model to running Digital Marketing. In-house gives you control and speed to activation, but the weight of this control can be tough to bear – especially if the infrastructure is lacking. Outsourcing can be great, but finding the right Agency is crucial for success. Developing a Hybrid model allows for you to retain some control over the things that matter to you – whilst constantly developing your Strategy and vision for the future. Which one you should go with?… It depends!

That’s all for this one, I hope you enjoyed reading through the alternative option to the in-house vs. outsource debate. As usual, questions or comments are welcome.

Neil Jones.

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