The Limits of Outsourced Publisher Models

Date Published: December 18, 2020

Firms that operate on publishing models face significant challenges in today’s information services world.  Outsourcing and use of white label agencies have become a standardized practices to some extent but one should carefully evaluate the trade offs.

The outsourced model does have its advantages. Some tasks such as secondary research collection, surveys (at least elements of the IT and execution portion of the process) and even market development can be farmed out. If you aren’t a large multi-location firm with local analysts and sales reps then partnering with an agency or local partner makes a lot of sense. The cost savings considerations cannot be forgotten because in the end, that’s what drives most of this discussion.

But there are real risks to outsourcing.

Brand Impact: Your brand is your unique identity in the market and you and your colleagues are 100% responsible for every aspect of it. You get what you do, what you offer and what your customers want. (Or at least we all think that we do, right?) You have taken some pains to establish yourself in the market but by partnering or outsourcing you may wind up placing reputation at risk by working with entities that do not match your standards. 

Lack of subject matter expertise: Unless the group writing your report has market-specific knowledge and experience your ultimate output is likely a watered down product that relies upon generalization and conventional wisdom. That’s doesn’t help you at all.

Recruiting and personnel: In some sectors and in local markets turnover rates can be quite high. If the agency you are working with lacks expertise they may wind up farming out work as well. The means to verify the employee quality control, training and management practices can be limited.

Language: This is a huge issue for the outsourced model. Lack of common language means you will spend a good amount of resources bringing the content to your standards. The person reading the content derives the most value from it when they see a high quality version of their native language or a common acceptable format.

Cultural difference: People do things differently. In the outsourced model the differences become issues to manage carefully. Sometimes you can’t overcome them. Some cultures are fine with direct communication, others thrive upon subtlety, conflict and/or shame avoidance with a veneer of politeness. Some are happy to say no while others are loathe to.  It takes time to learn about and appreciate the differences within different people and their cultural norms.

Context: In today’s content driven world, what you say, how you say it, where you say it and in what context are all important factors. Data collection, assembly and assessment can provide multiple meanings or have different relevance to different audiences. Are you and your outsourced partner and you aligned sufficiently ?

Quality: The old saying of “you get what you pay for” couldn’t be more appropriate here. Cost reduction is nice but not if what you receive back damages your brand. What systems will you need to employ to maintain quality and in the end is what you have to spend to accomplish this ultimately saving you anything?

Focal point: And lastly, the lack of an identifiable face to front the product is near impossible to overcome as a weakness. Someone credible has to be presented as the research lead. Your customers are not going to find anonymity attractive. Companies want a name and a face that they can tune into. Yes, articles, PowerPoint decks and press releases show the content but the thought provider is incredibly important. If the analyst writing the report isn’t prominently featured then the client can safely assume that the report is an offshore product. 

If you are using the outsourced model for a substantial portion of your content then you have a lot of factors to manage. Some firms can work quite well with it while others will fail to properly master it and it becomes rather obvious to everyone else. If you are using it today, consider both the costs and benefits to your business and be willing to rethink how it impacts your brand. If you are thinking about outsourcing tread carefully. It can help your business but it can also kill it.