Ahmed El Dabaja wrote – The in-house marketing team – marketing agency divide is as old as marketing and seemingly as impermeable as a granite cliff.  Yet, the emergence of inbound content and social media marketing has seen some cracks appear in the edifice that separates the two streams of marketing practice.

In an age of resource constraints and budget freezes, going outside to a marketing agency is not always possible for a client, posing the question, how do clients get their in-house marketing team to be as efficient as an agency without having to resort to outsourcing?

Traditional Roles

Ahmed El Dabaja Continues “In the “Golden Age” of agencies, in-house client teams were effectively service teams connecting and often translating their external agency with their internal client. Marketing agencies dominated strategy, media placement, production, and the creative side of the business while the in-house marketing team managed internal scheduling, budgets, and reporting.

Then the education sector discovered the revenue stream that today is known as an MBA program and the world changed for agencies forever. Soon, clients were awashed in classically educated Masters Graduates, all eager to reclaim strategy for their own. In this post-apocalyptical environment, agencies were disaggregated, media and production went one way, client service went another, fees were cut, and agency services increasingly came to be selected by clients on an à la carte basis”.


Today’s Agency-Client Context

As disruptive as this disaggregation experience was for the marketing agency, it left them with a lasting legacy of lessons well learned which an in-house marketing team looking to lift their performance to the next level would do well to emulate.

In a high-speed, low-drag agency environment, staff members quickly learn to be both productive and supremely efficient. Additionally, in the typical agency environment, staff are exposed to different types of marketing, strategic approaches and marketing tactics, as well as a variety of client companies, industries, products, and services. Outside packaged goods multinationals, corporate marketing departments can rarely match that learning environment.


Here are four simple areas where Ahmed El Dabaja believes adopting the practices and disciplines of a marketing agency could drive the efficiency of an in-house marketing team.

1. Passion For Profitability

Management in an average marketing agency is acutely focused on metrics such as utilization rate, revenue per billable staffer, and profit margin as a means of explaining to individual staff members what their direct and indirect impact on the agency’s profitability is. Some agencies go so far as to link compensation packages to these metrics.

Ahmed El Dabaja’s blog

In the in-house marketing team environment, the link between individual performance and corporate profitability is far less tangible. While corporate marketing groups are making progress measurement core capabilities, it’s usually less straightforward to explain to an individual how he or she contributes to improved profitability. Clients could do a lot worse than explore marketing connection with profitability and link individual KPIs to profitability.


2. Cross Functional Teams

Functional silos are endemic in corporate environments. Digital rarely crosses over with PR or Events; product teams are separate to corporate. Why maintain that structure when marketing is increasingly integrated and most marketing campaigns demand a coordinated approach?

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One agency sweet spot is their ability to efficiently stand up a cross-functional project team and reassign its members when that campaign is completed. Agencies are skilled at managing their finite resources to extract the maximum productivity from each individual team member while delivering an integrated outcome for the client. This philosophy could easily translate to the in-house marketing team.

3. Time Management & Tracking

Few corporate marketing departments expect their staffers to track their time. A job done is a job completed and off the work in progress list, regardless of how long it takes.

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Time is a resource and as they say, time is money. One of the ways to identify high-performing stars of an in-house marketing team is to look for is someone who delivers excellent and does it consistently and efficiently. That type of impact can only be achieved if you actually track the completion time for a project or task. Time tracking is second nature to agency operators and it would not go amiss in a corporate setting, either.

4. Productive Meetings

The executives who coerce their staff into standing up for meetings are legendary for a reason. Aside from the mechanics of running an efficient meeting, which is easy to stray from regardless of whether you are part of an in-house marketing team, or a marketing agency corporations and their management do appear to be slaves to a meeting culture.


All too many marketing directors and VP have little idea why certain meetings are blocked into their calendars, other than they have been asked to attend them. Inevitably, the meeting meanders, lacks focus and strays off topic. Agencies, on the other hand, tend to avoid inefficient, runaway meetings mainly because it impacts their staffers’ individual utilization rate.

Agreed, tracking time doesn’t prevent a meeting degenerating into chaos, but it’s a start. Inevitably, the agency team is billing the meeting time to a client, so there’s a level of accountability involved and an expectation that you’ll make progress during that time.


Thank you for reading,

Ahmed El Dabaja


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