In house marketing or outside company?

Philip Abbett

We have discontinued our digital marketing with the company that has been handling the majority of our advertising for the past 15+ years.  This was a local company that is more well known for branding and image development rather than auto marketing which lead to our spend high and results low.  There were other factors that went along with this that are a bit lenghty to get into and I don"t feel like writing a novel right now.  

We are a medium size Ford dealer in a rural area, no BDC, approximately 1400 new, used, fleet, wholesale sales/year and not really sure which way to go.  Part of me wants to find a person that can do digital/creative, manage our social media/events and do some marketing in house.  The other part says we don't have the sales to justify an in house person and should find a different outside agency.  We have an internet mgr. that does some website work, lead dispatching, digital inventory and deals with most of our outside web vendors.  He does not set the marketing direction or has a marketing background so right now we are relying on to help with our seo and sem.

At what point do you bring your marketing in house and what do you farm out?  Who does this?  How is it working?

Chris K Leslie

This is a great question and I think a hard one to answer for most people in your position. 

We as an industry seem to struggle with this for some reason even though our profits as a business more than cover the salary this person should make. If you look at many other businesses that are your size do they have a marketing person? If the answer is yes, then you should probably have one too. 


We like to think that hiring an outside agency is going to do great things. But, in the long run when you let them go  because they aren't performing you end up at the same place you are today. 


My opinion, being a person who does full time marketing and primarily digital marketing for our 4 stores. Is that you want someone on board who knows how to do the stuff that you think the agency people are going to do becasue you want to own it. You want the history of all the accounts like adwords and so on. You want someone to build out your social channels the right way. 

The justification for hiring someone in house is easily comparable to whatever an agency is going to charge for a management fee. 

Just assume you are paying a management fee for your person. 

Philip Abbett

So do you feel it is more important to find someone with a marketing degree and try and teach them the car business or someone that dabbles in the graphic/creative side that knows a little about marketing?  We don't have anyone on staff right now that I could say, "you are the ad guy now, go get'em". 

I know some of the local guys are doing some in house but not sure how much or what their background is.

Spend on the right person is not so much the concern as finding the right preson that will be able to move the needle.

Allyn Hane

My recommendation is to hire an in-house videographer first and foremost. I think in today's world, that is the best investment for content/SEO/social/paid advertising and everything else. No outside agency can tell your story better than you can and the best way to tell it is via video.

I would not recommend you attempt to run your paid search in house. Find another vendor(an auto specific vendor) to do that and pay the 20% management fee.

Lastly, IMO, an agency fails because of us (the dealers) and not because of themselves. If you allow them to tell your story, then that is what they will do and inevibly fail as you saw happen. How does the agency truly know what you want to talk about this month, the tone, the story behind it and the goal? That account manager from your agency is pretty much just concerned about compliance and making sure the radio spot gets traffic'd on time and properly. 

The agency's job is to provide guidance and execution and ensure you are compliant, but the content (the story/message) has to come from you -- otherwise you just get basic branding or rehashed "truck month" campaigns that get run around the entire country and never work.

The in-house videographer I recommended above is the linch-pin between you and the agency. he/she can be flexible and bob and weave to tell the story as it unfolds.

It's your store, your story... own it. :)



Jackie Studor

Hi Philip, 

I think this is a question that a ton of dealers have. I'm on the agency side of things now, but worked as a marketing director for a large auto group and was also an internet manager at a single point dealership in the past. When I was on the retail side, we started with outsourcing every aspect of our digital marketing and switched to a team handling everything internally. The best scenario for me was kind of a hybrid of both. I'll share with you some positives and pitfalls of both sides of this equation from my experience and some things to consider while you're making this decision.

1) Capacity/Budget - to manage everything you need to do to be successful in the digital marketing space, you would obviously need someone to handle SEO, paid search, content creation, social media advertising/activity (if you're using it), email marketing, video etc. not to mention having capability to do front-end web development to code pages and graphic design capability. This is a HUGE amount of work and a HUGE payroll for one dealership to take on.

Add up what you think you need in terms of people and resources (salary, benefits, tools, etc.) to carry out all that work and compare it to what the packages/fees it would take to hire an agency or agencies to handle these responsibility.

2) Speed - When new specials and incentives come out, how quickly could an internal team or agency react to get things up on the website, make changes, send out an email, etc.

3) Industry Knowledge - in regards to both the digital marketing industry and automotive industry. You mentioned this above...can you teach a digital person automotive or teach a digital person automotive? Both are really challenging. Ask yourself how much time do you think you can dedicate to helping your agency understand your business and market as compared to how much time your in-house team would need to learn/keep up/understand digital marketing. From my experience, there's fantastic digital marketing training out there...for the car business? Not so much.

If I were you, I would have a really good (they'll probably be kind of expensive) in-house marketing director or manager that can really analyze the data you get from all of your vendors and is well-versed in SEO and paid search and understands the car business. I think someone above said that a lot of vendors fail because they don't get good input from their dealers to tell their story and I think that's absolutely true. Having a great marketing manager will eliminate that problem. 

From there, I'd compare the cost of hiring a good paid search person vs. outsourcing (I imagine you'll come up with outsourcing as your decision). Compare the cost of a good SEO person vs. outsourcing. Compare the cost of hiring a graphic designer/web developer vs. having an SEO or content company do this work for you. I imagine what you'll wind up deciding is that a hybrid of an in-house team and using an agency or agencies for other marketing endeavours is best. 

Good luck with your decision!

Philip Abbett

Jackie, thank you for the insight.  The hybrid model is the direction we are going where we use the outside company for creative/graphic and some traditional.  Before Ford made the big swing to digital for co-op we kept up but things have changed now and we relied too much on our outside people to help us make marketing decisions. does a good job of managing our SEO and SEM, for our spend we are getting good leads and our closing ratio is above average. 

What I need is help staying on top of our website and keeping content fresh, pics./videos, blogs, social media.  I have the ability to make changes to our site but lack the time to put together more content (I handle our fixed ops side).  Also, again, due to lack of manpower we have not had any events at the store in I can't remember how long.  Service is always busy so I don't really need to drive more work to this end but we are getting ready to expand our parts business so additional search, pages, links, pics, videos will bee needed.  I need a guy/gal that I can point in a direction and let them handle it, if it means we farm some design or creative out so be it, I just can't let someone else dictate our trajectory anymore. 


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