So, should you hire in-house or hire an agency? When it comes to digital marketing, it’s a question you want to get right.
I’ll admit, as an agency owner myself, I’m a bit biased. But before I was an agency owner, I spent 18 years on the client side in different marketing roles. In that time, I hired dozens of marketers. I also worked with over a dozen agencies. These varied from small boutiques to large agencies with offices throughout the world. I’ve been able to see firsthand when having internal staff works best and when using agencies is the better choice.
For this article, I’ll remove my agency hat and do my best to be impartial. Here are my 4 reasons why you should hire a digital marketing agency. And to provide I’m not completely biased, I’ll give a couple examples where it makes more sense to hire someone in-house.
Reason #1: You Get Specialists
Each digital marketer has a specific skill set. Usually a digital marketer is good at one thing… and one thing only. That may be online video, SEO, Facebook Advertising, Google Ads, Social Media, UX Design, or Email Marketing. I’m sure you can name others.
Digital marketing is WAY too complicated for one person to be an expert in all. In fact, it’s like finding a unicorn when you find someone that masters more than one.
To me, this is the most compelling reason why companies benefit from hiring a marketing agency. They can access a specialist or a team of specialists.
For example, let’s say a company needs to develop a new website. A website developer usually has some training in both design and programming. But even with that training, it’s hard to find a developer that is good at both. There are great website designers and great website programmers. But just looking a website developers, it’s hard to find someone that’s also great at programming.
Now, let’s look at digital marketing more broadly. What happens when a very good marketer is asked to fill another marketing role?
I recently saw an example of this happening with a company that sells consumer goods. Their social media expert left the company for another job. Rather than hiring another person or using an agency, the company filled the vacant role with a graphic designer they had on staff. This designer was great at designing Facebook posts and was confident he could get up to speed with Facebook marketing.
What happened? As you’d expect, posts were beautiful. As for performance metrics, things took a turn for the worse… and fast! Engagement rates (the number of people liking, commenting and sharing a Facebook post) fell from 12% (pretty darn good) to less than 1% (below average). What was worse, the flow of new customers from social media dried up within a few weeks. Before the old social media marketer left, the company was getting 4x sales return on the investment. Now, there was no measurable ROI from the effort whatsoever.
I don’t share this story to be critical of the graphic designer – he gave his best effort. The point here is that being a good Facebook marketer is a full-time job. It can’t be figured out by taking a three day seminar or watching YouTube videos. It takes months, even years to master.
Some companies are large enough and have big marketing budgets. They can afford to hire and train a team of 10 or more marketing specialists.
But for most companies, using an agency gives them instant access to a team of specialists. These specialists know their niche and how to get results.
When Does Having an In-House Marketer Work Best?
For middle or large businesses with hundreds or thousands of employees, having a marketing generalist inside the company can be a big asset.
That person knows the business very well and is in the trenches each day. He or she has the best vision of how marketing strategy can meet the goals of other departments and the company as a whole. These companies often work with different marketing agencies, so it can be valuable to have someone coordinate the work and make larger decisions on budget and marketing strategy.
Reason #2: You Diversify Your Marketing and Maximize ROI
A lot of companies hiring in-house marketers struggle to diversify their marketing. This is a problem because they lack the ability to test and learn which marketing channels produce the best return on their marketing investments. What’s more, if they focus on just one channel and something happens to that channel, they’re in trouble.
Companies want their marketing programs to be successful and produce results. When they’re small, they often start with a single hire that wears several marketing hats. Here’s the problem. There’s an unrealistic expectation that this person will do a great job.
Is this the marketer’s fault? Of course not! Putting the marketer in this position creates an impossible situation to perform well at several complex roles.
So then what happens? The company hires a specialist and ends up sticking to just 1 or two marketing channels the specialist is familiar with. This may or may not be the best channel for the company.
If the company gets a great hire and gets lucky and picks the right marketing channel, they win. But that’s a risky bet.
What’s more, if that person is to continue performing at a high level, they’ll need continued investments in training. The rules of the game change that often! So, without continued training, skills become obsolete.
Good agencies have access to the collective wisdom and training of a team. They also have a wide range of skills and experience. This helps keep marketing performance at a higher level.
For example, each team member at Bear Marketing is good at what they do, but the team together as a whole is of more value than any single person.
Reason #3: It Costs Less
What’s the first word that comes to mind when your boss hears the word “agency”? Chances are, they’ll think “EXPENSIVE”.
The thinking here is that if a company can’t afford to hire a marketing person in-house, they certainly can’t afford to hire an agency!
This simply isn’t the case.
The question really comes down to resources. For large companies, it may be worth the investment to hire its own staff to diversify its marketing efforts.
However, for most businesses, agencies are a great way to get the experience and help they need without significantly adding to their overhead.
Let’s say that a company needs the full-time services of a Facebook marketer, a designer, and an online advertising expert.
Chances are the company doesn’t have the resources to hire all three on a full-time basis, but they could really benefit from the services of having all three.
The company has a couple of choices.
First, it can hire a single person to try to do all three. As was mentioned before, we know this is a bad idea as the quality of work suffers. The marketer either becomes a “jack of all trades and master of none”, or they’ll need to settle on just one or two marketing channels and the company becomes captive to a marketing channel that may or may not produce.
Hiring an agency is the better choice. By doing so, the company has access to a handful of specialists often for less than the cost of hiring just one. Agencies work with several clients which allows them to spread the cost of one specialist over several clients.
Here’s an example. According to Salary.com, if you were to hire a website manager in Denver, Colorado, you’d need over $100K to cover the salary, not including equipment, benefits, etc. For most companies, going with an agency will save them money. At the same time, they’ll get access to a team of other experts in branding, UX design, programming and video – all of which can help create a better website.
Reason #4: You Have More Stability
It’s true that digital marketers don’t usually stay with a company for long.
Maybe it’s in our blood, but creative types get restless. Doing the same thing everyday for the same company can get boring quick. Digital marketers are in high demand, especially good ones and they know it. Just as you feel like you’ve trained a new person, your digital marketer just gave his two week notice. He’s now working as a freelancer for a sexier employer that offers all kinds of fun perks.
All that time and money you spent finding and training that person is down the drain. What’s worse, you have to start all over again to find someone new.
Maybe it’s human nature, but I’ve learned that a new person taking over a role rarely just comes in and picks right up where that last person left off. They’re better than that. They want to prove their worth and start fresh! They want to try something shiny and new. New can be good, but what happens too often is that the new person throws out or ignores a lot of the good that has been done. They’ll ignore important lessons the company has learned. As a result, they’ll have to fail on their own first in order to learn some of the same lessons all over again.
As an agency, we’ve seen some clients leave us after they hire a new marketing person. That new hire usually wants to clean the slate and handle things themselves. Then when that person moves on to bigger (and newer) things, the company will come back to the agency.
Digital marketers feel at home within an agency. At Bear Fox Marketing, we try to hire people that are great at what they do, work well as a team and are committed to always learn. So we attract people that have a similar mindset.
Inside of an agency, digital marketers get the variety they want. They work with different clients and can take on a project that they are passionate about and that matches up with their experience. All of this helps with employee retention.
When they do leave, the agency already has several people working on your account. You don’t have to wait for an agency to get someone new up to speed on your business. There are already people in place to keep the ball rolling.
Here’s a good rule of thumb. If marketing employees tend to leave your company frequently, using an agency is the way to go. This is especially true for small businesses where the loss of a marketing person can really slow things down.
If you’re a small to mid-sized company, there is a strong case for choosing a digital marketing agency over hiring internal talent.
You’ll have access to a team of skilled specialists. You will have greater ability to scale your marketing efforts and maximize ROI (return on investment). You’ll be able to weather the ups and downs of having good marketing talent. AND you’ll save a lot of green in the process.
By the way (speaking as an agency owner now), if you’re wondering if working with an agency is right for you, let me or someone at our agency know. We love helping companies grow and have a great team of specialists to help answer your questions.
Also, if you have any feedback on this article, we’d love to hear it!
What’s your experience in working with in-house marketing staff vs. agencies? What influences your decision of whether to hire your own person or an agency?