How much do digital marketers rely on agencies?

Annual CMA research explores the reasons many marketers were keen to outsource resources in 2018.


Canadian marketers have relied less on their agency partners this year than at any point since 2010, allowing them to more efficiently manage costs, enhance skills that are core to their business and reduce project turn-around times, according to recent research by the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA).

The CMA recently shared data with strategy from its 2018 Digital Marketing Pulse Report, conducted with research firm Ipsos and released in the fall. The report is part of a 12-year-long collaboration with Ipsos aimed at understanding how client-side marketers, agencies and consumer perceptions continue to evolve regarding the digital marketing landscape. Data for this year’s report was collected between July 11 and Aug. 8 and is based on a sample of 239 marketers and 129 agencies.

According to the findings, 19% of marketers decreased their reliance on agencies this year, a percentage higher than that of 2017 (16%), 2015 (10%), 2014 (11%) or any other listed year since 2010. (The report does not include data for 2016).

“There are definitely some momentum shifts that continue to wax and wane – they rise and fall like the tide – and the relationship between marketers and agencies continues to find the right balance between what they need to bring in-house and what they need to outsource,” says Tim Bishop, the CMA’s VP of marketing and member engagement.

The current trend is likely being fueled by the cost implications of bringing operations in-house, the degree to which the skill in question is core to the business, and marketers’ own operational comfort, he says. Marketers are more likely to build out internal teams when they are comfortable executing those skills, he says.

For example, marketers continue to rely heavily on agencies for highly technical skills, including augmented reality (74%), programmatic marketing (68%) and wearable technology (66%). In contrast, many handle more traditional digital skills in-house, including email marketing (80%), customer-facing websites (72%) and social network marketing (70%).

The latter skills have been in demand for some time, so marketers feel more comfortable and have been able to source and retain the talent needed to ensure best practices, says Bishop. Meanwhile, marketers as a whole are typically not as strong at leveraging the latest, cutting-edge techniques, he says.

The Pulse report includes data (found below) on the reasons marketers give for outsourcing resources or keeping them in-house. On average, to “save money” is the primary reason for taking operations in-house, whereas “access to expertise” is the most common motivator for outsourcing to agencies.

Reasons to outsource

Reason to take in-house

Source: 2018 Canadian Digital Marketing Pulse Report, CMA & Ipsos, 2018