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How to Decide Between an Agency and an Internal Marketing Team

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angry and internal marketing team

Yes, as the owner of a marketing agency I’m clearly biased on this topic — but not in the way you might think. Our agency is interested in partnering with clients long-term; when we get an account that is not a good fit, it costs us time, money, and team morale.

Instead of looking to collect tons of accounts, we’re looking to partner with clients to whom we know we can provide real value, and for whom we feel confident that we’re the best solution. Often, when we turn clients away, it’s because they’d be better off hiring an internal Marketing Director (or developing an internal marketing team) instead.

Not sure which category of your business fits into? Here are a few considerations:

1. Size of Your Firm

This test is pretty basic (with some additional considerations below): the larger your firm, the more likely you’ll be able to successfully hire and utilize an internal marketing team. Why? Again, the answer here is pretty simple: resources. Larger firms have more time, space, and capital to invest in growing their own team. Smaller firms don’t, and they can realize the benefits of outsourcing marketing work instead.

So, is there a rule of thumb to help know when you’re “big enough” to support an internal marketing team? In my experience, most companies under $10 million in revenue would be in the “smaller” bucket, while those over $10 million can be large enough to successfully hire enough marketing professionals to get the job done.

If this describes your company, then you’ll likely realize a higher ROI from having an internal team to handle your marketing efforts. If not, you should think about developing a relationship with a high-quality agency, so you always have the marketing support you need to grow.

That being said, there are definitely some benefits that larger companies can realize when working with a marketing agency as well. In some cases, you may still need to outsource highly-specialized services that you don’t have an in-house expert in (like design or development). In other cases, you may have all the staff you need, but find they lack direction to execute your vision — an outside agency can serve as a consultant or fractional CMO to help manage. So take your firm’s size into account, but also consider your specific needs.

2. Ability to Make Multiple Hires

Regardless of your firm’s size, another factor to consider is your company’s ability to make multiple marketing hires. This obviously relates to resources, but you should think beyond just revenue here too: if you believe you’re large enough to support an internal marketing team, consider also how many people that team could realistically involve, and whether you can afford to hire ALL of them.

If you envision a single Marketing Director coming on board and handling everything themselves, this question may be simpler. But if your marketing workload is bigger than one person can handle (or if it involves more varied tasks than one person can realistically complete), you’ll likely need to think about hiring more than one person. Even if you believe you’re big enough to hire internally and have it make financial sense, are you really big enough to support an entire team if that’s what your marketing efforts necessitate?

To consider this question accurately, think about the costs associated with different levels of marketing hires you may need. A single Marketing Director with the skills and experience you desire can cost upwards of $75,000 per year. If you want this person focused on marketing strategy instead of day-to-day tasks (like creating social posts, writing blog content, and designing graphics), you’ll also need to hire marketing assistants. Depending on the skills you’re looking for, these positions could cost you $40,000+…and don’t forget about taxes and benefits that come standard with hiring every full-time employee.

If these figures seem daunting, and/or you don’t think you’ll have the full-time marketing workload to support them, hiring an agency will likely be your stronger option.

3. Capacity of Your Employees

If hiring an entirely new marketing team isn’t in the cards but you’re not yet sure an agency is the right solution, maybe you’re looking at having existing team members take on some marketing tasks. If this is the case, you should carefully consider their capacity for current work, future projects, and skill-building time.

For example, let’s say you’re willing to invest in a marketing director, but can’t afford to hire them any dedicated support staff. Instead, you think it could work to shift some responsibilities around, and maybe eventually hire a new admin or two. While your current employees are probably awesome, it’s unlikely that they’re already experts at the marketing side of the equation you’re looking to balance — which means you’ll encounter some tension as this transition is sorted out.

While your current employees may technically have a few hours in their week to dedicate to new marketing responsibilities, can you also afford to lose their time to training and other skill development tasks? Who will be doing this training? (External trainings cost money, but internal trainings cost time…which is still money.) How quickly will they be able to get up to speed? Have you budgeted for raises commensurate with their new expanded roles?

If your teams do have capacity and you think they’ll respond well to some new marketing responsibilities, then hiring only a Marketing Director may be a great way to expand your internal capabilities. But if you can see your employees are already stretched to the limit, this solution probably isn’t the one for you. Instead, you might find that hiring a marketing agency actually reduces their workload, giving them more time to focus on other valuable tasks that can grow your firm.

4. Tolerance for Flexibility

Similar to considering your team’s current workload, it’s also critical to consider your organization’s tolerance for flexibility. The decisions you make about how to proceed with marketing will either bend it to the breaking point, or keep things running smoothly.

First, consider your corporate culture and how quickly employees can usually shift between tasks. If they’re used to handling a diverse array of projects efficiently, then it’s likely you’ll be able to effectively integrate marketing tasks (or an entire marketing team) into their workday. On the flipside, if you notice your team members get stressed out by having multiple deadlines pending…this is a sign that your environment might not be conducive to housing an internal marketing team.

Also consider the relative lack of flexibility inherent in a choice to hire an internal Marketing Director and/or marketing staff. Hiring can be a time-consuming process, and if the person you hire doesn’t work out…you’ll be starting from square one (minus your investment in time and money).

If you desire more flexibility, think about hiring an agency. Since they focus only on marketing tasks, your account will have their undivided attention for the time and projects you’ve contracted. They’re also likely to have more depth of professional marketing staff, so if the person you’re communicating with isn’t meeting expectations, you should have simple options for working with someone new without dumping the whole contract.

Finally, consider how rigid or flexible you expect your marketing workload to be. If you know you’ll have full-time work for one or more people, hiring them internally may be a good option. But do you want to have to let them go when marketing work dries up? If it’s possible your marketing needs will be changing, I’d encourage you to start with an agency first. Altering your contract with an agency will definitely be an easier process than firing your own employees if your priorities shift!

5. Marketing Project Needs

Thinking about your marketing workload leads us to one last point you should consider when deciding between an agency and an internal marketing team: your own project needs, including timelines and creativity level.

If you often see yourself needing rapid-fire changes to your marketing collateral at the last minute (or you have a habit of asking for things right before you need them…), having an internal team at your disposal could be a better option. While agencies are focused solely on marketing work, they maintain a book of business that includes other clients with other needs too. Though your account manager may be responsive and timely, if you prefer to have dedicated people available 100% at your beck and call, you’ll probably want those team members in-house if you can afford it.

That said, though a marketing agency typically can’t offer same-day or same-hour response time on changes, some large projects can often be completed much faster with a huge agency team dedicated to a rushed project. So if you envision needing all hands on deck during your project scope, an agency might have the resources your internal team doesn’t.

If you’re comfortable managing your firm’s deadlines in advance and delegating tasks to expert third parties, an agency relationship could be very productive. You’ll still be assisted by a dedicated, experienced team — but you’ll need to be realistic about deadlines for drafts, revisions, reports, and other deliverables. If your project timelines are usually conducive to this (and you’re willing to work ahead maybe more than you’re accustomed to), you’ll probably be satisfied with your agency’s support.

Finally, make sure to consider how creative your projects are and what type of support you’ll require to complete them. While your internal team may be able to handle a well-defined project with clear deliverables, a more creative project may require different expertise. In my experience, extremely creative projects lend themselves better to agencies to who have vast experience with lots of diverse projects. Having an entire agency team ready to brainstorm on your behalf can be a clear edge in this department if that’s the kind of support you’re looking for.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you’ve seen that deciding whether to hire a marketing agency or develop your own internal marketing team isn’t as complicated as you may have thought. While there are many moving parts to consider, you should be able to consider your firm’s position on the above questions and have a pretty solid conclusion about which is best for you.

Still stuck? I’d be happy to chat and offer my own professional advice on whether your firm sounds like a good fit for a marketing agency or internal team. Contact us for a free.