Firms that operate on publishing models face significant challenges in today’s information services world. While it has become a standardized practice to outsource research and writing services to overseas agencies, one has to think as to whether to cost savings in the short term are worth it in the long run.
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 makes a lot of sense. Oh yes, 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 over reliance upon outsourcing.
Brand Fail: 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 and have set your reputation on the line. So tell me, how does your outsourced model fit with your ideals here? And how do you make sure that your use of this practice isn’t hurting you?
Lack of subject matter expertise: Unless the group writing your report has market-specific knowledge and experience your ultimate output is a watered down product that relies upon generalization and conventional wisdom. That’s not what companies want, now is it?
Recruiting at the agency: In some markets the talent hops from company to company. In other instances they are having to recruit people who can handle your project. Factor in time delays and potential for people who don’t have the real skills needed to be assigned to your project.
Language: This is a huge issue for the outsourced model. Lack of common language means you will spend a good amount of time resources bringing the content to your standards. The person reading the content derives the most value from it when they see it in a high quality version of their native language or a common acceptable format.
Cultural difference: People do things differently. We all know this but apply it to the outsourced world and 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 or a veneer of politeness. Some are happy to say no while others are loathe to.
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. This points back to some of the issues I raised earlier but data collected and assembled can provide multiple meanings or have different relevance to different audiences. Does your outsourced partner really get this notion?
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?
And lastly, the lack of an identifiable focal point for the market which, in my opinion, is damned near impossible to overcome as a weakness.
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. A lot harder to sell that in today’s market. Who do they follow or engage with socially? How do they monitor the commentary or develop a relationship with someone who sits in a modern information factory and writes about IT this month, health care the next month then on to energy next quarter?
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.