When Should You In-House Your Paid Media Team?

The in-housing trend is accelerating across functions, with roughly 4 out of 5 companies setting up some of their team internally versus externally through an agency.
However, many companies have not yet solved internally for the paid media side of the advertising equation in-house. For companies with annual paid media budgets over $5,000,000, it can make a lot of sense to give in-housing their media functions some heavy strategic consideration.

Top Reasons for Making the Move Include:

  • Saving money
  • Increasing speed/decreasing friction
  • Increasing transparency
  • More consistent brand/business knowledge

Why $5MM?

Because at $5MM in ad spend, most brands would be paying around $500,000-$750,000 in agency fees. That’s at or below the cost to build out a strong mix of in-house talent internally, making it worth some deliberation. Below that spend/investment level, it would be tough to justify the headcount for the variety of different skillsets you need for effective media planning and activation.

At these spend levels, you should be investing about 60-70% of your dollars in digital channels and the other 30-40% in traditional channels if you’re well optimized (and depending on your category). Of the digital spend, about 80% of that investment will be executed programmatically. I.e. through automated buying platforms in social, search, and other digital technologies. The context of this media mix and how it is purchased will be helpful for the team structure noted below.

Starting from that $5MM spend mark, then scaling up with resourcing from there, below is the general team and investment structure needed to pull off a strong in-house media capability:

  • Media Director | $150,000 salary + benefits. This is your team leader and strategic planner. They’ll report to the VP of Marketing or your CMO. The Media Director will be responsible for the strategic direction of your media efforts and management of the rest of the media team, aligning to your broader business and marketing goals. You’ll want to find someone with a more digital background, which is a different language than the traditional language of media in the glory days of print ads and “linear” TV.
  • Digital Buyer | $125,000 salary + benefits. They will be executing a large % of your paid budget working across the various buying platforms required in today’s media landscape. They’ll work in search platforms like Google, in social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and in other automated buying platforms (“programmatic”) to get Connected TV, online video, audio, banner, and outdoor ads live for your campaigns. If your budget grows, this will likely be the first place to add bench strength.
  • Media Operations Specialist | $90,000 salary + benefits. This role will work most closely supporting the Digital Buyer. They’ll assist with technical implementation, ad trafficking, budget management, reporting needs, and communication with internal and external teams. They’ll also be the backup buyer when your Digital Buyer is on PTO. It will be important to find someone with proficiency in both numbers and technology, but they don’t need advanced degrees. Better to screen for experience in ad operations, which provides the technical background from which to build other, easier skillsets.
  • Part-time Analyst | $60,000 salary + benefits. Ideally this person is splitting time between their paid media responsibilities and the analytics needs of one or more of your other teams. As the spend grows above that $5MM mark, the role becomes more full-time. The analyst should be comfortable with statistics, experimental design, research studies, and data management.
  • Strategic Consultation, Freelance Buying, Recruiting | $90,000 outsourced fees. There is an army of talent out there in the consulting and freelance buying space. You’ll want to reserve budget for their services, as well as for the intermittent need for an outside recruiter (with specific industry connections) to backfill attrition from your core team.
    • Strategic Consultants | One of the biggest challenges you’ll face over the mid- to long-term of your media in-housing is keeping their perspective fresh and challenging them with a mind toward the future. Your organization and the team’s comfort level will ground them in the past, to the point where you’ll wonder why your plans are the same every quarter despite all the massive change you read about in this space. Strategic consultants can come in and rock the boat in a positive direction, rejuvenating the team and equipping them with new ideas, frameworks, and training for future success. Pull them in for a large assessment every two years or keep them on a fractional retainer to keep the team’s head up to the horizon.
    • Freelance Buying | The Media Director will be able to directly manage some of the traditional buys, especially with the support of the Media Operations Specialist. However, if you’re buying print media, linear TV, or terrestrial Radio, you’ll likely want an outside expert to manage those buys for you. As noted, there is a different language to that space, which is tough to speak if you didn’t grow up in it. In addition to those needs, the freelance investment pool will help your team tackle high seasonal periods or new channels as they emerge. Think TikTok expert or Influencer expert, for example.
    • Recruiting | Sadly, at some point someone on your team will leave. In order to replace that talent, you’ll likely want to tap into a recruiter who specializes in that talent pool. You’ll have to pay their roughly 20% fee, but doing so will be beneficial to get the right person plugged in as quickly as possible to the needs of your business.
  • Tools, Data, Subscriptions, Training | $35,000 annual expenses. There are a few things you’ll find that you want to invest in for the sake of your and your team’s confidence and perspective. Things like media pricing benchmarks, search and social tools are toward the top of the list, along with access to research and trend data. You will want your people to subscribe to the “trades” of both your category and the advertising/media industry as well. The final bucket of funding here should go to ongoing development for your team in the shape of short training sprints or conference/workshop attendance. Not only does that add cerebral value to your team, but also can be a motivation tool for them, showing that their personal development is important to you as an organization.
With the allocations above, you’ve just created the potential for a high-performing internal media capability. As your business expands and your investment increases, you’ll spend proportionally less money, less time, and find more value in in-housing vs. outsourcing if you stick to the blueprint above