Project Management / Strategic Planning

To Cater or to Cook at Home, That is the Question

Thanksgiving is a big holiday for me. My extended family is rarely all in the same place at the same time so ensuring it is a quality experience is super important. However, my Significant Other’s (SO) parents live 30 minutes away so it is awkward not to see them at Thanksgiving too. That’s why I often do two Thanksgivings each year, even though I do the cooking at both locations even though I don’t eat meat. [This is an excellent example of performance punishment, boys and girls. Learn from my mistakes and don’t let it happen to you.]

turky dinner in-house vs consultantHowever, that does not mean I cook two full Thanksgiving dinners with two turkeys, two set of gravies, two sets of mashed potatoes. One, I tailor my cooking to my audience just like a marketer aligns to the target buyer. Just as important for my sanity, though, I often used prepared food for one dinner. Oddly enough, the criteria I use to decide which to cook at home and which to cater is essentially the same as what executive sponsors need to think about when considering whether to use an in-house or external model for the marketing transformation team. No, I’m not kidding.

We’ve talked before on how important it is to think about the makeup of your team. Now that there are agencies and research firms that specialize in everything from client journey mapping to marketing transformation, it’s a real option to outsource at least part of your team to an external agency. The question is, should you.

Outside Consultants

Outside consultants are always popular for any business transformation. Having been both at outside agencies and in-house as staff hiring the agency, I can tell from personal experience that there are pros and cons to this decision. The ones that are cited the most are that consultants have done it before and that’s always good since they know all the tools and understand the process of transformation really well (at least theoretically, if you were thorough in your selection process).

Plus, they are 100% dedicated to this project, with nothing else to distract them. Having dedicated time sounds like a weak reason to use a consultant but, if you try to use internal staff, you will basically have to tell them that they have a new job and to stop doing the old one cold turkey, so to speak. You can’t do marketing transformation in your free time.

These two reasons also apply to caterers, as well as the concept of mobility. You can get a consultant – or a caterer – virtually anywhere in the country, even if Thanksgiving is at your Dad’s house in the middle of nowhere. Just pick up the food at a place on the way. Similarly, if headquarters is in D.C. but the main area where the transformation is taking place is at the Chief Marketing Officer’s Austin location, your consultant can work out of Austin.

If there is bad news to be delivered or unpopular decisions to be made, executives are also more likely to want to have an expert, outside party to reference as the source of the unpleasantness. They may even want the consultants to actually implement the change to avoid throwing internal staff under the bus.

There are drawbacks to consultants, though. Due the nature of who they know/are told to talk to in the organization, outsiders often miss important areas that needed to be addressed in the project. (I just saw this happen and it was really ugly when the project team tried to roll out the plan. They were ripped to pieces by subject matter experts and they had to go back and make process and technology changes – then get help from other, more credible people to do the roll out.)

Another major negative of the outsourcing model is the lack of skill development within the company. In fact, if you want to groom someone internally to take over the project later, you actually have to pay the consultants to teach the internal employee. If you don’t you will have to rehire a consultant next time something needs to be done related to things only they know how to do.

In-House

One of the biggest reasons to choose an in-house model for your team is expertise on the markets, industries, processes, people, and goals of the organization. A side benefit of that characteristic is that in-house teams have a much faster ‘time to productivity’ than outsiders, since they know so much more about the organization to start with.

If you have a long term project, an in-house team is probably a better choice since it’s much more cost effective. Similarly, if the process is heavy on implementation, it might make better sense to have internal team members handle the project. They’re in a great position to integrate any new processes or tools that come along, since they have a detailed understanding of how the company works under the new model. In-house teams usually also have a lower total cost than consultants.

Another factor to consider is that, from an executive point of view, this is probably not the only transformation your organization will need to do, given the rapidly evolving way business is changing today. For that reason, the executive team may prefer to build an in-house team that can continue to exist long term and help infuse adaptability as a permanent part of the organization’s culture as a way to hedge against future waves of change.

Side note – in-house cooking has worked out really well for me as now, after years of having them help me in the kitchen, have several of my younger cousins and brothers able to cook or assemble dishes without supervision. My lone female cousin has even reached the point where she cooked most of the dinner last year! Teaching an in-house team can really work people –at least when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner.

Hybrid

Obviously, you can also create a hybrid team, which I’ve seen work really well (led by that guy I was so impressed by in an earlier paragraph). The issue here – beyond ensuring executive leadership is comfortable both paying for outside expertise and reassigning internal staff to this effort – is that the team has to work together seamlessly. I’ve seen that work really well and really badly and it honestly boils down to who is leading the team more than who the members are.

Lest you think my Thanksgiving dinner analogy fails here, note that I have ordered part of the meal from ‘Whole Paycheck’ before and simply ‘doctored it up’ (as my SO describes the process) to match the tone of the home cooked foods I had time to make.

How you choose to execute your marketing transformation will depend on your organizational needs, budget, and so on. Just be sure everyone has the same understanding of the pros and cons and can either find a way to adjust for that or at least accept it.

Comments welcome, especially if you have some examples of how things worked out for you using on of these models.

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