in-house marketing vs. hiring an agency: which is right for your business?

Is It Worth Hiring a Marketing Agency?

11 Minute Read

“We live in uncertain times.” This phrase has been repeated ad nauseam by people and brands over the last couple of years, and the sentiment shows no signs of being any less true.

First it was the pandemic. Now we are grappling with the mounting threat of a recession.

Seemingly untouchable tech brands (Amazon, anyone?) are posting huge Q1 losses. After losing subscribers (200,000 of them) for the first time in a decade, Netflix announced layoffs mainly focused on the streaming titan’s marketing department.

Of course, most small and medium-sized businesses don’t have their own large in-house marketing departments. Most businesses have one employee dedicated to marketing and advertising, usually with support from contractors and freelancers.

The alternative to bringing on marketing employees is to hire an agency. But, if you are concerned about an economic downturn, is hiring a marketing agency a wise investment?

Being budget-conscious is crucial for all business owners. However, there are a number of important benefits to keep in mind if you are weighing the decision whether to have an agency handle your marketing:

marketing agencies bring expertise to the table

1. Marketing Agencies Bring Expertise to the Table

Say you have one dedicated marketer on staff. Even if that person is the greatest marketing expert in the world, he or she will likely only have somewhere between 10 to 30 years of industry experience.

What’s more, nobody is good at everything. Your marketing employee(s) might be well-versed in a wide range of marketing and advertising, but logic dictates that the point person or people on your team will have some shortcomings, knowledge gaps, etc.

The best marketing agencies have multiple employees with a wealth of experience in the marketing and advertising channels that can help your business thrive. At the very least, your agency should have demonstrable expertise in the following:

These are the “basics” of digital marketing, the fundamental services just about any business needs to succeed online. However, digital advertising encompasses a broad array of strategies for reaching customers, many of them on the cutting edge.

If you rely on just one employee to make a cohesive plan, execute your marketing campaigns, and validate the results, you are likely to miss out on opportunities and fail to meet your goals for business growth. By hiring a marketing agency, however, you can benefit from decades or more of combined experience, as well as specialized knowledge and skills far beyond what one individual employee can bring to the table.

with marketing, the skill set will always determine the outcome

2. With Marketing, the Skill Set Will Always Determine the Outcome

We highlighted the “basics” of digital marketing and advertising above. But, if you are looking to grow your business, do you really want just the basics?

Didn’t think so. You want to drive more leads and sales, boost your profits, and become a dominant force in your market and industry. To achieve these lofty goals, you need to invest in talent.

Naturally, you want to have the best people working for you. However, if you are positioning yourself for growth, your team may be mean but lean. Some of your employees might have some skills in marketing, but lack of time and resources could make it difficult for your team to effect a concerted push.

An even bigger obstacle is the fact that most business owners don’t know what questions to ask when they hire employees to fill marketing positions. Instead, they look for someone who fits their company culture (which is good) and who demonstrates acumen (which, unfortunately, can be faked).

We have seen countless so-called marketing directors who don’t know the first thing about the industry in which they claim to have expertise. They throw around buzzwords and adopt the attitude, but they’re faking it till they make it on the business owner’s dime.

You don’t need a faker. Instead, you need people who know what they’re talking about and are committed to getting results. This is what you get when you hire a reputable marketing agency.

Agency founders and genuine experts know talent when they see it. They also know which people are full of crap. By embracing the former and avoiding the latter, they build capable teams who can help clients maximize their success.

hiring a marketing agency may be more cost effective than you think

3. Hiring a Marketing Agency May Be More Cost Effective Than You Think

Small and mid-sized business owners may experience sticker shock when it comes to the cost of hiring a marketing agency. However, when all factors are taken into account, you might be surprised how much handling your marketing in-house can cost compared to a marketing company.

The cost of hiring a marketing manager is substantial. In Colorado, for example, the average salary for a director of marketing is nearly $125,000 per year.

screenshot showing director of marketing salary in Colorado
Source: Built In Colorado

Of course, this doesn’t include other costs associated with bringing on a marketing director. First you have to factor in the cost of advertising the open position and recruiting. You also have to take into account the additional costs inherent in bringing on a new employee. From health insurance to office supplies to additional cash compensation, the price of a marketing director, manager, or whatever title you use is much higher than just base salary.

Now compare these costs to what you spend on a marketing agency. There is an investment of time in speaking with agencies and finding the right fit, but you don’t have to advertise. You don’t have to pay any benefits with an agency, nor do you have to invest in additional supplies and equipment. All told, your monetary investment is what you pay the marketing agency hourly or on retainer.

The cost of hiring a marketing agency will vary based on location, experience, and the services you purchase (among other factors). A survey published last year by Databox found that approximately 40% of marketing agencies charge a monthly retainer fee of $1,000 to $2,500.

what is the average size of your monthly retainer?
Source: Databox

Compared to all of the costs involved in bringing on and keeping a marketing manager, you would spend a fraction if you decide to partner with a marketing agency. Even if you choose an agency that charges a premium retainer (Ex: $10,000 to $15,000), you would still end up spending less money on marketing than if you were to add a new employee.

marketing agencies can leverage advanced insights

4. Marketing Agencies Can Leverage Advanced Insights

One of the major advantages of hiring a marketing agency over an employee is the “brain trust” effect. In addition to the diversity of skills, experience, and expertise of the employees at the marketing company, the team at the agency can provide you with data-driven insights and, perhaps more importantly, put the information in context to your marketing and advertising.

Solid analytics and reporting is essential for marketing success. You may be dependent on your marketing director to share performance data, and that could be OK if he or she is well-versed in the various free and paid platforms for evaluating KPIs.

For small and medium-sized businesses, however, the more likely scenario is that even the most skilled marketing manager will become overwhelmed by the glut of different data sources available. Battle-tested marketing agencies, meanwhile, will not only know the best tools for collecting data but how to interpret the numbers in a way that helps you understand the strengths, limitations, and opportunities in your market.

This leads to accountability. When you meet with your marketing agency, you should leave feeling informed and satisfied that your money is being spent well. Your rep should strive not to blind you with science but dig into the data and explain how the agency will leverage the trends and performance to drive more conversions and sales.

One employee can only do so much. Hiring a marketing agency gives you access to multiple minds with in-depth knowledge of various reporting tools. This, combined with the agency’s experience in your industry, can lead to opportunities that a marketing manager alone might not recognize.

marketing agencies help you avoid tunnel vision

5. Marketing Agencies Help You Avoid Tunnel Vision

Whether it’s other businesses you see as competitors or ranking in search for specific keywords, it’s easy for businesses to get stuck on particular aspects of your marketing and advertising. Sometimes this obsessiveness can be a good thing; your understanding of the market and industry might be telling you what you need to do in order to grow and dominate.

In other cases, however, business owners sabotage themselves with false beliefs – particularly when it comes to marketing KPIs. This tunnel vision can be compounded if you don’t have a knowledgeable director of marketing to push back and refocus your efforts.

Marketing agencies take a more comprehensive view of your market and industry. They identify competitors based on data, not emotion, and they base campaigns on consumer behaviors rather than assumptions.

Often, an outsider’s perspective can make all the difference between middling marketing and advertising and robust campaigns that are optimized to drive conversions. If you are seeing diminishing returns from the “same old” strategies, it might be time to branch out and partner with a marketing company that can help you take advantage of newfangled ideas and options for expanding your business.

questions to ask before hiring a marketing agency

10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Marketing Agency

Just like hiring the right employee, finding a marketing company takes time. It is important not to do an Internet search and just pick the top result; you need to dig a little deeper, do your research, and find the best fit.

Here are the top 10 questions to ask when speaking to different marketing companies:

1. What Services Do You Offer?

Obviously, the first consideration is whether the agency checks all the boxes for the marketing and advertising channels you want to use. In addition to the “basics” of SEO, web design, social media, etc., it is important to know if the agency handles other, more specialized campaigns that align with your goals (such as email marketing, traditional media, etc.).

Don’t just take the rep’s word for it. Ask for examples of the work the agency has done.

2. How Are Contracts Structured?

You need to know how you will be billed for marketing and advertising services. Does the agency work on retainer? Are you billed hourly? Confirm not only how payment works but whether you are locked in to a contract for a particular amount of time (e.g., month to month, yearly, etc.).

3. What Is Included in My Bill?

Some marketing agencies charge a la carte. When work is completed, you are charged based on the hours and costs involved.

If, on the other hand, you pay a retainer or you get a set amount of hours per month, you need to know what is included in those hours. Knowing what you pay for and what you get in return is essential not only for budgeting, but to build trust with the agency.

4. Do You Have Experience with Businesses in My Industry?

Experience matters. This is true not only of the years the agency has been in business or the combined experience of the employees but the knowledge the agency has serving your industry.

5. Do You Outsource Work?

You’re already entrusting your marketing to an outside party. If the agency then turns around and hires yet another person or group to handle your campaigns, this is a red flag.

For the purposes of responsiveness, quality control, and more, you should only hire a marketing agency that works on your account directly.

6. Who Will I Be Working With?

At the very least, you should have a dedicated contact person you can reach out to with questions and concerns. If all you get is a main phone number where a different person answers every time, this could signal that the agency doesn’t have dedicated support for its clients.

7. How Often Will I Be Able to Speak to My Marketing Rep?

Questions and concerns can arise any time of day. You need to know that your agency is available to address your needs promptly.

8. What Marketing Tools and Software Do You Use?

There are countless different platforms businesses and agencies employ to manage marketing and advertising campaigns and validate the results. Instead of brand names, familiarize yourself with key metrics such as website traffic, conversions, first-page rankings, ad impressions, etc.

When you are shopping for a marketing agency, each one you contact should be able to tell you how they track and report results.

9. Will I Get to Preview Content Before It Goes Live?

Your business is your baby. Naturally, you want to make sure any agency you hire is respectful of your company’s identity (especially when it comes to highly visible assets such as visuals and branding).

The marketing agency should have a process in place for you to review written content, marketing collateral, etc. before it gets put out into the world. You should also confirm how the agency handles revisions.

10. When Will I See Results from My Marketing?

This is the big one. You want to see a return on your marketing investment, and you want it sooner than later. However, any marketing agency worth its salt will tell you that many campaigns take time – and they will be honest about how long it’s going to take.

For example, SEO tends to be more of a “slow-burn” strategy. It can take time for Google to recognize your website as an authority and reward your content with first-page rankings.

Other strategies, meanwhile, can have a bit more of an immediate payoff. A well-tailored proximity marketing campaign around a specific store location, for example, can almost immediately start bringing in new customers.

Ultimately, asking “when will I get results?” is as much about assessing the agency’s honesty and establishing trust than it is about setting a timeline for performance. The marketing agency you pick should be able to have an honest discussion and update you on the progress as campaigns get underway.

is hiring a marketing agency right for you?

Is Hiring a Marketing Agency Right for You?

Marketing and advertising is a complex and ever-changing field. Some businesses hire extremely capable people who can take on the inherent challenges with aplomb and drive real success for their employers.

In many cases, however, in-house marketers at small and mid-sized businesses can run into a number of obstacles that lead to lost opportunities and ROI that falls short.

You need to feel confident in your ability to advertise, capture more attention, and drive growth for your business. In this situation, you will likely need to hire a marketing agency.

At Twelve Three Media, we live the following values:

  • We are your partner in marketing and advertising.
  • We focus on the success of your business; we win when you win.
  • We roll direct. All work is handled by our in-house team, not outsourced to contractors overseas.
  • We don’t take shortcuts and we skip the excuses you hear from other marketers and agencies.
  • We build every campaign on three pillars of success: Plan, Target, and Validate.

Our agency was founded to combat the waste and frustration countless business owners face when they work with cookiecutter companies that employ the same strategies and sink clients’ money into campaigns that don’t connect with customers and don’t generate revenue. Twelve Three Media is committed to your success and achieving maximum growth for your business.

Thinking of hiring a marketing company? See how our agency stacks up. Contact Twelve Three Media to gain the unfair marketing advantage!

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