Let’s keep it real for a minute: If you’ve taken a look at the website you’re on, you’ll know we are a digital marketing agency, which you would assume makes us biased. A marketing agency is obviously going to tell you that using a marketing agency is better, right? Well, this case, it’s a bit more complex than that.
Over the past ten years, I’ve had the opportunity to work for digital marketing agencies and as part of internal marketing departments. As an internal marketing employee for companies such as healthcare plan providers, telecommunication distributors, government agencies, and online publishers, I was able to experience both flat and red-tape-covered marketing teams which themselves either worked independently or with outside marketing agencies. As an ad agency employee, I was able to experience the environment of both startups and global conglomerate agencies. The diversity of my experience on both sides of the boardroom has allowed me to be able to provide you with a fairly impartial view of each marketing structure. This blog aims to summarize the observations made along the way, and won’t try to sell you marketing agency services. Both agencies and in-house departments are great solutions for different sets of companies. The goal of this blog is to spark a conversation for you to consider your options and to find what works best for you.
Let’s start with the option to build out your own in-house marketing department. There are a multitude of pros and cons to consider, especially ahead of such a large investment; let’s review some of the major ones.
Pros of building an in-house marketing team:
- As it’s the case with every other department living within your company, building an internal marketing department means you get a great deal of control over your brand, your message, how it’s envisonned, and communicated. Internal marketing teams can follow the exec team’s vision closely and execute it as planned. If you prefer having close direction over your marketing initiatives and have creative ideas you want to test in collaboration with creatives and strategist, an in-house team will allow you to be more agile to execute last minute requests.
- Utilizing employees to execute marketing strategies allows you to have constant access to your teams, using the same modes of communication as any other department (Gmail, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype…) for an easy and open flow of communication.
- Those employees will also utilize 100% of their time on executing your marketing strategy: they will live and breathe your brand, day in and day out, focusing all of their efforts to turn the planned vision into actionable insights.
Cons of building an in-house marketing department:
- Building a great team of marketers within your business takes time. To find proper talents, one must carefully select their hires, as you would expect for all other hires. Budget constraints will have to dictate how large that team may be. If you’re looking to hire just a few employees, you’ll have to find talents who have expertise in more than one area. For example, one person could be in charge of all the online experience, from your website to social media, SEO, and paid search. The big downside of this would be to build a team with “jacks of all trades, masters of none”. Sure they’ll be able to do the work, but won’t be able to fully immerse themselves into one specific marketing channel.
- Employees are costly. From training and mentoring to health insurance, paid time off, and expenses, as you know, the cost of an employee goes far beyond their yearly salary, which can make an internal marketing team quite expensive to run.
- Considering efficiencies, it is difficult to truly evaluate employee time spent on projects, making your ROI tougher to calculate, as opposed to working with agencies who charge a fee per exact hours spent on your projects.
- Overtime, it is easy to become comfortable with the status-quo and the state of your brand. By standing close to something for so long, we tend to lose a sense of the greater picture. This can hurt not only your brand, but your business as a whole, letting competitors with edgier ideas gain a competitive advantage. Some companies find themselves being seen as the “old school” boring brand, without a clue how that might have happened. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s fairly easy to see that some longer-term marketing employees who are set in their ways can hold back the entire company’s ability to maximize revenue.
Let’s now turn over to the marketing agency world. Just like an internal team, there are numerous pros and cons to consider; let’s review some of the major ones.
Pros of hiring a marketing agency:
- Marketing agencies are experts in their field and offer specialized teams to focus on each individual marketing channel you may want to explore. Those specialized teams have close partnerships with the marketing platforms used (such as Google Ads, Facebook, & more…) which allows your company to reap the benefits of those relationships, such as faster support and most up-to-date information.
- Working with a marketing agency allows you to get a fresh perspective on the state of your brand and what your industry looks like. Agencies can either shake things up or maximize efficiencies of the campaigns you’re already running: there’s never an absolute need to reinvent the wheel. In any case, a marketing agency acts as a consultant for the greater health of your brand: they know what they’re doing, they’ve done it for others like you, and usually have the case studies to prove it.
- Looking at costs, your company will save on employee hiring, salary, and benefits, in order to adhere to an hourly fee or fixed project budget. Additionally, marketing agencies pay to have access to professional tools (SEMrush, Google Certification, Dashboard reporting…) which you would have to pay out of pocket if you wanted your employees to use them. They can also outsource tasks to partnering companies for a one-stop-shop solutions to all your marketing needs.
- Marketing agencies are driven by results. It is their job to do everything they can do make sure they get as close to (or above) the goals you’re looking to achieve. Agency employees will often work longer hours than planned, to make sure they can accommodate client needs, since your marketing results are one of the ultimate drivers of their success. (Please note this is not a requirement, but rather something I’ve observed over the years.)
Cons of working with a marketing agency:
- Establishing trust with a third party agency can be tough for some companies, which is directly tied to the feeling of “loss of control of your brand”. Until the agency can show results, there may be a feeling of “being left out”, especially if the client is not a savvy marketer.
- Communicating with marketing agencies sometimes requires a period of adjustment, should they use a system you’re not familiar with. Some clients never end up using the platforms recommended by agencies and will be stuck in their ways, which can hinder the open flow of communication.
- The physical distance between a company and a marketing agency can sometimes slow down communication. An agency only has an assigned amount of hours to give to each client, which means it can often take more time to get a response back from an agency rather than walking up to an employee’s desk. (We’re talking about a few hours, not days, of course.)
All in all, working with an ad agency vs. building an internal marketing department comes down to cost, sense of control of the brand, communication, and performance. Luckily, a combination of the two is usually the most common structure. A company can employ a marketing manager and a marketing coordinator, who then can work with an agency to focus on specialized brand channels.
Whether you want to go all-in with a marketing agency or an internal team, we recommend weighing your options, through internal budgeting and getting more information about the most successful marketing agencies around you, which may be *cough* Art & Science Marketing *cough*.