It’s only a bit of an exaggeration to describe the debate over in-house writers vs. an outside content service as “raging.” For any organization dedicated to producing written content as part of its brand, it is an important matter that eventually will need to be addressed. Each method, of course, has its advantages and disadvantages; there are no quick answers. But here are some considerations that should make the decision a little easier:
In-house – Also Known As “One Big Family”
There is a theory of economic activity known as the vertical consolidation model. It derives from something practiced by Andrew Carnegie back in the early industrial age. In short, this steel baron made sure that his company had a hand in every part of the steel manufacture process. He owned and operated mines, processing factories, refineries, mills and stores, all in his name. He never had to go outside his own business for any part of the process, and could directly affect – and make money from – each part of the business for maximum effect.
Maintaining an in-house writing team duplicates the strengths and weaknesses of this approach.
The element of direct control and involvement is one such advantage. The writing team is drawing its paycheck from your organization, and is an integrated part of the team. The writers’ success depends on the success of the entire venture, broadly speaking, so they have a certain vested interest. Similarly, their time spent on the matter allows them a deep familiarity with the different aspects of the company requiring their writing talents. This allows them to discover and use subtleties in their writing that cater directly to the needs of the company.
On the other hand, familiarity does breed a certain degree of contempt. No organization is immune to office politics or the overexposure effect. Being part of the day-in, day-out routine of the brand might limit your writers’ talents, leading them to miss vital cues. The in-house approach requires very specific management to ensure all levels of the group are functioning together and in harmony.
There’s also the danger of missing the forest for the trees. Writers produce a lot of content in ideal circumstances. Some are very good at what they do, and can belt off a solid article in short order. It’s not uncommon, then, for teams to take their writers for granted, or for writers to feel unappreciated for their effort. Make sure that if you integrate, you do so in full measure and that they feel like an integral part of the whole.
Hiring Contractors – Also Known As Let the Barbarians Have Rome
There are a lot of people with very good ideas, and as much as you might like to, you won’t ever have them all under your employ. This is where expert, externally-hired writing teams come in handy. On the other hand, some organizations just don’t have the ability or the need for a full-time writing staff, and turn to outsiders for help and good ideas.
In either case, a fresh perspective is often the most immediate benefit. Someone looking at your material from outside the group can see it in a brand new way, bringing it all together. Alexander Graham Bell didn’t invent the telegraph or the phonograph; rather, he looked at the two of them and saw a potential others hadn’t. Thus, we have the telephone (and the cell phone… and the Internet…). Take advantage of a fresh perspective to get ahold of some new ideas.
Additionally, there is the advantage of flexibility in hiring an outside team on a writing contract. If you hire on an in-house team, you have more obligations to them. An external team can be evaluated on more of a trial basis, or for a specific project on which you need their expertise. It leaves you room to make decisions without commitments, and can be a strong benefit.
However, a team outside the organization might lack the necessary commitment to its goals, which is natural. They’re around to do a job, not to specifically meet your mission statement. More effort is required to get them on board with what you need done than might be the case with someone drawing a paycheck from human resources.
Other Concerns – Entertain the Absurd
The biggest key to success in modern branding and online business is flexibility. Times change rapidly, demanding adaptability and a readiness to change with them. Be aware of additional opportunities that may or may not be readily evident when you first make your decision, and don’t let one decision lock you in entirely.
Consider a team of outside writing experts that you hire for a few projects. They do a good job, and you keep bringing them in for future opportunities, expanding their role and the money you pay them over time. If the relationship is continuing to grow, and you expect it to continue… change your mind. Make an offer to keep them on as full-time writing staff, since they’re so successful.
Alternatively, maximizing the effect of outside perspectives remains a good idea, so make sure each project employs at least one new writer every time they can. This will keep the content fresh and prevent the kind of stagnant writing that gets organizations into a rut.
Copyright ?? 2010 Enzo F. Cesario
— Enzo F. Cesario is an online branding specialist and co-founder of Brandsplat, a digital content agency. Brandsplat creates blogs, articles, videos and social media in the “voice” of our client’s brand. It makes sites more findable and brands more recognizable. For the free Brandcasting Report go to http://www.BrandSplat.com/ or visit our blog at http://www.iBrandCasting.com/