Content Marketing Deserves More Respect From In-House Agencies

Content marketing should have a place in in-house marketing agencies.

But what exactly should it be?

Newly released research indicates what’s happening, and CMI’s chief strategy advisor Robert Rose shares what you should be doing about that.

This week, Cella by Randstad released its 13th annual In-House Creative & Marketing Industry Report (registration required). The findings illustrate how much in-house agencies provide all kinds of services that go beyond the execution of digital content assets.

The biggest growth areas encompass video (shooting, editing, and production), motion graphics, digital design, creative strategy, brand development, animation, and campaign development.

That’s A LOT of service expansion.

Another interesting finding in the survey – is the growth in the abundance of highly qualified talent in almost every category of creative professionals. The most noticeable change occurred for graphic designers – 22% of respondents in 2023 say an abundance of talent exists vs. 11% in 2022.

In-house marketers report a growth in the available talent pool in almost every category of creative professionals, according to a @CellaServices survey via @Robert_Rose @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Given those findings, creative people will need to wear more than one hat and differentiate in ways other than digital asset creation.

CMI’s chief strategy advisor Robert Rose shared his thoughts in this week’s CMI News video. Watch it below or keep reading for the highlights:


Where content marketing operates

Cella’s research finds most creative teams sit in the org structure under marketing, but they’re focused on bottom-of-funnel programs – 75% say they focus on acquisitions, lead generation, or sales/revenue. That aligns with what CMI finds in its own research.

But while the research raises interesting results and insights, it’s missing something big. “It lumps content as a subcategory of retention under the primary objectives,” Robert notes. “What gives? No doubt content marketing is done in those other funnel categories.”

A new @CellaServices survey lumps #content into the subcategory of retention under primary objectives via @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Now, digital asset management (DAM) and content calendars earn a mention in the study’s section on integration and collaboration. Forty-one percent of respondents say they don’t have a DAM system but plan to. And 37% cite content calendars as a planned need for future implementation. But both of those elements are strategic content initiatives.

How the Cella study included content marketing is not unique. In 2018, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) referenced content marketing as “the specialty service most often moved from an external agency to an in-house agency.” It also noted content marketing was the most likely newly added service that an external agency didn’t handle.

This year, the ANA survey, which was released this week, reported 60% of respondents say content marketing is a special service handled by their internal agency. That’s down from 75% in 2018.

In-house content marketing takes orders; external partners lead

All this research points to two trends. First, content marketing and content strategy have integrated and comingled with other advertising and marketing content. As Robert says, “For many businesses, content marketing is marketing, so it’s just part of the video, copywriting, or creative services.”

The second trend – the more provocative one we see with our consulting clients – is that more businesses use external providers for thought leadership and content marketing efforts.

They’re dissatisfied with their ability to draw together their subject matter experts, executives, and content creators. “It’s the businesses’ inability to get their arms around a content strategy that encourages them to go external for those services,” Robert says.

When businesses can’t get their arms around a #ContentStrategy, they go external for those services, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Going deeper into the Cella research, the top two capabilities cited by businesses for using external agencies are “niche expertise” and “specific assignments.” The ANA research shows 92% of respondents still work with an external agency. Over the last three years, 65% of the ANA respondents have moved activities – search, email, print collateral, direct mail, internal comms, etc. – from external agencies to their in-house agencies.

“Businesses brought all the classic, well-worn agency activities in-house for cost and efficiency. But they still delegate things like strategic thought leadership and innovative content marketing programs that might actually differentiate them to external providers,” Robert says.

Flip your thinking

All that survey data smells like an opportunity to both differentiate and gather talent.

Instead of thinking about which content services to execute in-house, Robert says, stop and lean the other way: “Focus your internal capabilities on building strategic content – digital data, asset management, technology – and strategic content marketing – thought leadership, operating as a media company, and building an audience. Then consider outsourcing the execution.”

Change your in-house thinking. Build a #ContentMarketing strategy in-house and outsource the execution, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

What services do you build internally as an in-house agency? For which ones do you engage external partners? We’d love to hear in the comments.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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