I’m going to admit something.
Some companies grow quite successfully without an intentional marketing plan. In some cases, the owner is a great networker and salesperson, so she or he has no issue finding new work. Sometimes the company is so good at serving its clients that referrals end up feeding leads to the business. Some companies have a truly revolutionary product that everyone needs, so getting business is easy at first.
But as an organization grows, the effectiveness of these growth strategies begins to wane. The owner can only sell so much and training new sales staff doesn’t net the same results. Not to mention, eventually, your network of relationships is tapped.
At this point, you realize you need an intentional focus on marketing to generate demand. How are you going to manage it? As the owner or manager, you may not be an expert in marketing.
Do you start hiring staff to oversee marketing?
Or should you hire a marketing agency to assist?
While we have our preference (we are an outsourced marketing department after all), both choices have their merits. There is no right answer. It comes down to choosing what is best for you.
Here are some thoughts on each option:
IN-HOUSE MARKETING DEPARTMENT
Building your own marketing department will take time, but it can lead to great results – if you can find the right people. The most challenging part of this approach is building the team.
The danger lies in what you don’t know.
- What skills will you need?
- Do you need a generalist or a specialist?
- Should you set the strategy and have someone else execute it?
- Do you need someone else to build a plan you can follow?
If your expertise lies in operations or finance, marketing may be outside your skill set and comfort zone. How can you hire people to do a job if you don’t know what will make them successful? How will you help them grow and develop?
Then you must consider the amount of staff necessary to execute.
As a marketer, I can tell you; we are not all great at everything. Some of us are writers. Others are designers. Some prefer to sit behind their computers writing code, while others are more comfortable sketching on paper. Most marketers tend to be specialists and tactical, choosing to focus on executing tasks and creating content. Then some think in terms of strategy and 5-year plans.
Depending upon your marketing communications plan, picking the right people to execute it could get expensive. The truth is, very few companies find a way to handle all of their marketing in-house without some help—those who do consider themselves blessed to have found the right mix of talent.
Still, an in-house team will be more responsive and adaptable to your needs. If you want to change course frequently, expect an immediate response, and require participation in every meeting, you’ll need your own team.
OUTSOURCED MARKETING TO AN AGENCY
On the other end of the spectrum, some companies look at what it will take to hire and manage all that staff and decide to outsource. Hiring a vendor is the preferred approach for many, and can be less costly than hiring internal staff.
Just like marketing employees, not all agencies are created equal. Each has a unique mix of talents. Some tend to niche down into a skill such as Logos and Branding Identity or Website Development. These teams tend to excel when in their particular lane, but may not have the right internal staff to handle other marketing tasks.
Others niche into industries, focusing on helping construction services or realtors or some other segment. These firms become highly focused and knowledgeable on how that particular industry operates and can create marketing strategies quickly. Depending upon how niched they become though, their marketing can become cookie cutter or boilerplate and fail to take advantage of different techniques.
Choosing the right marketing partner requires understanding their strengths and how they operate. Since you’ll be working together, likely for an extended timeframe, you’ll want to make sure the two organizations are a good fit. No one wants to get three months into a contract and realize they shouldn’t have started working together to begin with.
We recommend settling on a scope as opposed to buying a block of hours. If you’re fully outsourcing your marketing, the first couple of months will be all about building a cohesive go-to-market strategy, so each company knows its responsibilities. When you’re buying a block of hours, often the relationship becomes more about ‘how can we use up our time?’ instead of ‘what should we be doing to grow our business?’.
Ultimately, if your expertise lies well outside the realm of marketing or is outdated, it may be a smart idea to bring in a team that can help you build and execute an effective marketing strategy.
It’s also a safer approach when it comes to getting the right skill sets. A full-service marketing agency has a mix of talent it can pull from. Instead of hiring a full-time graphic designer or managing an outside contractor, the marketing agency can apply the necessary bandwidth to your project, and it can adjust as needed based on the monthly scope.
However, if you’re looking to maintain complete control over the marketing efforts, fully outsourcing your marketing may not be ideal. You won’t be able to set the schedule of your partner directly, and they won’t be as responsive as someone on your payroll. Still, by setting the right scope and expectations upfront, and adding in a dose of patience, outsourcing might be your best friend.
Going all-in on one approach or the other isn’t the norm. Most companies find the ideal option is some blend of these two. Let’s look at two different methods used most frequently by companies.
Your company manages the strategy, a Marketing Agency executes.
In this case, you know how to market your business, but don’t have the time, capacity, or particular skills to execute.
Perhaps you are the VP of Marketing or the Marketing Director and you understand what it takes to build a fully integrated marketing communications plan. Even for a professional with plenty of experience, writing, designing, and implementing everything can be too much. In this case, having a marketing agency allows you to build your virtual marketing department. You decide what to do, and they execute.
Going this route allows you to control the vision, but the agency manages the execution. It’s important to remember that since they aren’t payroll employees, it won’t be as easy to direct them as an internal staff member. However, you’ll likely get better quality and more cohesive work across a breadth of disciplines as opposed to piece-mealing a contractor force.
The Marketing Agency sets strategy, you execute.
Less frequently, your company may already have someone on staff who can do most of the things you need to be successful: perhaps a Marketing Coordinator who is task-oriented and can follow directions, but isn’t strategy-minded.
In this situation, a marketing agency could come in and build a marketing plan, then hand it off to your staff to execute. The agency could then provide some oversight to guide execution or let you take it from there.
You know you’re getting a proven approach to marketing your business, but you get to control how it gets done. If you want to be involved in the minutiae (e.g., copyediting every piece before it goes out, making recommendations on specific graphics, or changing tactics), this may be your best option.
Still, it will be more time-consuming for you as the manager of the marketing efforts. And, without the additional support of a marketing team, there may still be certain things your staff can’t handle.
CHOOSING THE BEST APPROACH FOR YOUR COMPANY
There’s more than one way to grow your company. You just need the right blend of work style and skillset to meet your company’s marketing needs.
As an outsourced marketing partner, we truly believe we can make a more significant impact when assisting with more than just executing a list of tasks. Our team has skills that range from high-level strategy development to tactical implementation. The fun part is finding the right mix of marketing elements to make the market move for you.
We’re always happy to discuss your options and find the right mix for you.