Is it better to do your digital marketing in-house or partner with a digital marketing agency? It’s an important question for every business owner to consider, and there is no universal right answer. In fact, we’ve found that a combination of the two is often the best solution. Hiring a digital marketing agency to work in tandem with your in-house marketer or team can be the most effective way to optimize your marketing budget.
Choosing between an internal or external marketing team can sometimes feel like a lose-lose dichotomy. In reality, it’s more of a spectrum, and the perfect balance of internal/external is different for every company. It’s common to have a mixture of both; the 2017 In-House Creative Industry Report shows that over two-thirds of in-house teams partner with external agencies.
We’ve made a list of some of the reasons that hiring an agency can be beneficial, especially for small-to-medium sized businesses looking to supplement a single in-house marketer:
1. BROADER SKILL SET
The primary reason that businesses choose to partner with a digital marketing agency is that they get an entire team of specialized, experienced professionals working on their project for significantly less than it would cost to build that same team in-house. Most small businesses don’t have enough work to justify bringing on a full-time developer, full-time SEO expert, and full-time social media account manager. However, a large majority of companies would benefit from the services of each. Partnering with an agency brings those skills and more to the table without any additional investment. Having such a vast range of skills at your company’s disposal also makes it easier to diversify your marketing efforts.
Not only are there more people with different skill sets within an agency, but also those people generally have a greater depth of experience. Agency professionals are typically specialists in a particular area, plus your company benefits from the competitive landscape in which agencies are hiring talent. In-house marketers often adapt to be more like a jack-of-all-trades in order to cover all of the company’s needs. Agencies devote resources to educating employees and keeping them on the cutting edge of their respective discipline. Additionally, the team environment within an agency fosters continual learning and growth.
Generally speaking, it’s significantly cheaper to partner with an agency rather than bring on a full in-house team. That being said, total cost can vary greatly based on the size of your business and how much you’re looking to accomplish. Both internal and external marketing can amount to a sizable investment. A full in-house group requires significant overhead, including salaries, benefits, office space, equipment, training, recruiting, and more. An external agency can be one of the largest line items in a marketing budget, and because of that can be an easy target for cuts and renegotiations. All things considered, a digital marketing agency is usually the most cost-effective solution for high-quality marketing work. For the same price as one or two full-time salaries, you gain access to a complete team of professionals across multiple marketing specialties.
Using a hybrid approach allows you to take advantage of having lower-cost internal creative help full-time, while also gaining the flexibility and skill diversification from a digital marketing agency when needed.
4. LOWER COMMITMENT
Partnering with a digital marketing agency is much less commitment than hiring a full in-house team. Your company isn’t responsible for any recruiting, interviewing, onboarding, or any of the other time-consuming and often expensive tasks that come along with a new employee. Marketing agencies are easier to hire and also easier to fire than an in-house employee (or at least, they should be), which means it will be easier to find a good fit between an agency and in-house team. Trust and communication are the foundation of a successful agency partnership, and finding an agency with which you can build that relationship is paramount.
When you partner with an agency, 100% of your investment goes toward the production of deliverables. None of your marketing budget is being spent on benefits, equipment, ongoing education, PTO, etc.
Agencies are also driven by efficiency. Managing multiple accounts means that agencies have a proven process in place that makes it possible for them to produce high-quality work that meets both deadlines and budgets. Typically, they can get this type of work done more quickly than an in-house team who might be working through it for the first time.
One of the biggest challenges for internal marketers is proving ROI. Agencies are results driven, and therefore want to make sure that they are gathering accurate, insightful data to guide the marketing strategy. Reporting is a crucial part of strengthening the partnership and for making informed decisions moving forward. Providing meaningful data is valuable to both the digital marketing agency and your company; it illustrates a mutual investment in success. Agencies are held accountable to all of their clients, and it’s another process that they have down to a science.
7. LARGER NETWORK & ACCESS TO ADVANCED TOOLS
Working with multiple clients builds a large network of vendors and channels that can lead to further partnerships for your company, too. Agencies also have access to a vast number of tools and resources that either aren’t practical to have for only one company or that are exclusive to industry professionals. In addition to building a network through partnerships, agencies often exhibit work and are featured in publications, which can offer your company even more visibility.
Aside from the skill-gap, one of the biggest challenges in-house teams face is employee turnover. Marketing employees can be especially prone to burnout when working internally for one company for a few years, and their creativity can stagnate. As a result, many junior-to-mid-level marketers change jobs every 2-3 years. When an employee leaves, not only are there recruiter fees, interviewing costs, and training to account for, but also the work burden that falls on your other in-house employees while a replacement is found. That can mean a delay or halt in your marketing campaigns. With an agency partner, you can be certain that your marketing strategy will still be consistently executed month after month.
9. SCALABILITY & FLEXIBILITY
In order to increase overall production from an in-house team, you’d need to hire on more employees or contractors. Partnering with a digital marketing agency gives your company the flexibility to ramp up engagement (or slow it down) as needed. If you want to launch a new website, you can quickly increase the agency to create it. Once the website is live, you can allocate that time to another aspect of your campaign.
10. CREATIVITY & OBJECTIVITY
One of the greatest advantages that collaborating with an agency can offer is their creativity and objectivity. Keeping all marketing efforts in-house can sometimes lead to groupthink and tunnel-vision. A digital marketing agency isn’t influenced by any internal biases or assumed knowledge, so it’s easier to distill a clear message to the target audience. Internal teams often have such an in-depth knowledge that they try to say too much, and the core message is lost on the audience. An unbiased perspective can help sift through all of the unnecessary information, while remaining grounded enough to communicate clearly to the outside world.
Striking the right balance between internal and external work might take some adjustment. Perhaps it will make the most sense to hire a large internal team, only bringing in an agency for big-picture projects such as rebranding, strategy planning, or long-term campaigns that always take a back seat to immediate internal work. Or, maybe it will make more sense for your company to hire one or two in-house marketers to create daily deliverables while being the point of contact for your digital marketing agency, and then outsourcing most of the strategy and production to your agency partner. Even having one marketing manager in-house is a huge advantage. It provides a clear channel of communication, keeping other departments focused. It also means that your company has a dedicated person to review the reports, and who can then provide insights both internally and to the agency while they plan the next month’s strategy.
Wherever your company lands on the spectrum, it’s clear that there are many advantages to having a digital marketing agency work with your in-house marketing team. In our experience, these partnerships work best when the final product is a reflection of your team’s expertise in the company and our expertise in planning and executing a top-notch digital marketing strategy.