In-house or outsource: how should you handle marketing?

Any new franchise looking to kickstart its marketing efforts has to first answer a fundamental question: to outsource or not to outsource?

In-house or outsource: how should you handle marketing?

Whether it’s looking to sell its wares or trying to attract new franchisees, marketing is absolutely essential for any franchise looking to grow. But before getting its brand on Twitter or drafting listings, there’s a fundamental decision a franchise has to make: whether it should it hand its marketing over to an agency or go down the DIY route. We speak to three experienced franchising hands about the merits of each approach

Inside voice

For Franchise Brands, the multi-brand franchisor that owns franchises such as ChipsAway and Ovenclean, deciding to manage its marketing in-house was a no-brainer. “We play to our strengths,” says Lidia Benvie-Ferreiros, the company’s group marketing manager. Franchise Brands has built a team to deal with a broad range of eventualities, building up talent in a range of disciplines including digital, creative, editorial and social media. “Marketing resources at Franchise Brands have grown organically as the company has,” she continues.

Franchise Brands has found that managing its own marketing efforts helps provide a more coordinated marketing effort at multiple levels. “We implement an integrated approach to marketing, using a multi-channel strategy to give our brands a louder voice,” says Benvie-Ferreiros. “Having control in-house means that we are able to better coordinate the integration of campaigns.” Benvie-Ferreiros also believes handling Franchise Brands’ marketing in-house allows it to be much more flexible and reactive with its campaigns. “If a topical news story comes into the headlines, we can easily create our own commentary and thereby increase engagement with our customers,” she says.

Whilst it can be intimidating for a new franchise brand first trying to ramp up its marketing efforts when it doesn’t have the resources of an agency, Benvie-Ferreiros maintains that great marketing is achievable in-house. “Just because an in-house team may not have the reach of an agency doesn’t mean to say it’s out of reach,” she says. As long as franchises are trying out new things and tracking the efficacy of their efforts, then they should be able to obtain good results. “I’m a strong believer that marketing is a science,” she adds. “It’s really important to keep innovating and to try out new things in order to keep campaigns fresh.”

But Benvie-Ferreiros is eager to emphasise that the decision to handle marketing in-house or outsource it to an agency really isn’t a case of either / or. “When looking at a marketing function in any business, you shouldn’t view it in black and white but look at each campaign [and] its individual merits,” she says. Franchise Brands has found that help from specialist external teams in areas like TV campaigns and search engine marketing has achieved excellent results, with a recent example being Ovenclean’s first ever TV ad. “Looking at how activity can be complemented through both in-house and agency helps you create really successful campaigns,” she concludes.

A helping hand

Anyone who has built a business from scratch certainly knows how to talk about their brand with third parties. “Somebody who’s been quite entrepreneurial and started up a franchise by themselves has clearly got skills in business,” says Andy McCarroll, head of marketing at Platinum Wave, the franchise consultancy. But there is a distinct difference between the portfolio of skills possessed by an entrepreneur and those required to manage a complex marketing function. “You really need to be aware of all the different skills that go into producing a marketing strategy,” he says.

One of the clear benefits of working with an agency or consultancy is that a franchise can gain access to a broad range of expertise that they might otherwise struggle to lay their hands on. “When it comes to creative thinking, design and copywriting, it’s highly unlikely that they’re going to have the necessary skill set,” McCarroll says.”

By contrast, an external party is more likely to have talent trained in the myriad disciplines required to get a franchised brand out there. “We’ve got design, we’ve got PR guys, we’ve got digital marketing experts, copywriters and access to photographers,” he adds.

Obviously, if one has a mind to, it is possible to hire highly skilled marketing expertise in-house but it’s important to remember that nothing comes for free. “The better the marketing manager, the higher the salary,” McCarroll says. He posits that it could cost a franchise some £60,000 or £70,000 to employ an experienced marketing manager. Conversely, outsourcing can offer franchises more granular pricing; scaling with their needs. “They might pay a fairly low monthly retainer and then if they need a whole lot of extra work done, they can just ramp stuff up as and when they need it,” he says.

McCarroll believes another benefit to outsourcing is the fact that an external agency is unlikely to have any preconceived notions about the marketing tactics individual franchisees should be adopting. “There’s no one-size-fits-all approach,” he says. “That’s a complete waste of time for local marketing.” Instead of forcing a top-down approach to marketing on franchisees, this allows Platinum Wave to address the pain points each one is facing. “We never go in with a set idea of what they’re doing wrong,” McCarroll says. “We actually go have a look around and really try to understand what they’re up against.”

Mixing it up

ActionCOACH, the business coaching franchise, learned early on that simply leaving new franchisees to their own devices when dealing with marketing often did more harm than good. “In the early years in the UK, we had more franchise failures than we would have liked,” says Ian Christelow, the franchise’s co-founder. Part of the reason for this was because franchisees were struggling to market their business sufficiently by themselves. “That sat very uncomfortably with my co-founder Julie Wagstaff and I because we care passionately about our franchise partners’ success,” he says.

Rather than simply shipping out all of its marketing efforts to a third party, ActionCOACH came up with a novel approach: it built its own client generation centre. “The marketers are already recruited, they’re already trained and they’re managed full-time,” Christelow says. “Day in, day out, they’re generating leads for our coaches and that’s fantastic.” This has a huge benefit for franchisees; whilst they’re dealing with all of the demands of getting their new business off the ground, they can rest easy that they have support in getting new business in. “From day one our franchise partners have an effective marketing strategy that they can just plug straight into,” he continues.

However, in areas that require particular expertise, ActionCOACH doesn’t shy away from seeking external help. “We’ve teamed up with a social media marketing company based in Nottingham,” says Christelow. “They really understand our market.” By providing up-to-date info on the latest developments in the social space, using an external agency helps to feed the pipeline for ActionCOACH franchisees and ensure they can easily access new business. “They do a brilliant job with our social media and help our coaches fill their events,” he explains.

But despite all of the external support ActionCOACH provides, it still encourages franchisees to pick up marketing skills and expertise, allowing them to increasingly be in charge of their own destinies. “We encourage them to do a bit of their own marketing; it’s a key part of business,” says Christelow. To this end, it runs four days of masterclass training in marketing, selling and coaching every two months, whilst emphasising to franchisees the importance of gradually building up their own in-house teams to help support them in these efforts. “We also suggest that our franchise partners hire a part-time marketer locally; maybe a marketing apprentice through the government apprenticeship scheme,” he says.”

Josh Russell
Josh Russell