Digital marketing is kind of a big deal. A year ago, US companies spent close to $50 billion, and that number is growing fast. In fact, according to a study conducted by Contently and Adweek, nearly 70 percent of marketers see the value of original content over licensed content, and nearly 80 percent believe they could drive two to five times more ROI if they had an experienced content team. That said, the choice becomes clear when you’re transitioning from the realization you need content marketing to the question: “How the hell do I get this all accomplished?”
Should you hire and develop full-time employees to focus solely on your company’s content marketing, or do you seek help from a digital marketing agency?
Let’s weigh the options together, look at the tale of the tape, and go blow by blow between these. . . OK, this is ridiculous. How about we skip the boxing analogies and simply compare agencies to dedicated in-house marketers—then you can choose a champ.
Round 1: Expertise
There’s a lot to consider when comparing the expertise of in-house marketers to that of agencies and, of course, it hinges greatly on the experience of the individuals. Generally, however, there are a few differentiating aspects to be aware of.
Needless to say, the marketers you hire on staff will have a set number of skills and services they can provide. If you hire a designer, don’t expect him or her to write copy—you’d need to hire a copywriter for that. Ramping up your in-house team quickly for a release or marketing push is difficult because your ideas are bound to your specialties. With an agency, ideas can flourish, and strategic direction can be set without limits based on a team’s proficiencies. What’s more, when working through a problem with an agency, you gain its collective wisdom. Established agencies have not only encountered a wide range of scenarios and challenges, but also have tested and experimented with an assortment of tactics and channels—turning your emergency into just another day at the office.
Brand and Industry Knowledge
Nobody understands your business better than your own people do. Although agencies can profess their impending commitment when you sign the contract, they can’t hold a candle to the on-staff marketer who has an unyielding grasp of your company’s product, industry, history, vision, goals, and competitors. Your people live it every day and what agencies can provide in outside perspective, they lack in background knowledge. Depending on how niche your industry is, it may take an agency some time to get up to speed, and even then, internal staff will always have more immediate access to in-house experts and can, in turn, produce more in-depth, technical, and authoritative content.
Advantage: In-house team
Ever wonder why so many brands wind up producing content that feels overly promotional? The answer is tunnel vision. Some in-house marketers struggle to take a step back and think objectively about their brand, which makes it incredibly difficult to truly get in the heads of their audience. The result is content that speaks to the company’s goals, not the audience’s needs. A digital marketing company can provide an outside perspective on the content interests of your target audience(s) and isn’t influenced by internal biases that may affect the strategic direction. On top of that, experienced agencies will also identify areas in which your company needs improvement along with missed marketing opportunities, most of which can be difficult for internal teams to notice.
Although a digital marketing agency will only devote a portion of the time that a full-time staffer could dedicate each month, the time it does spend is amplified. Seasoned agencies have firsthand knowledge of marketing trends across their entire client list—for decades. While on-staff marketers bring their personal comprehension and experience, that can’t match the insight agencies provide after spending thousands of man-hours testing new channels, techniques, and concepts, for not only their customers but also their own marketing as well.
Round 2: Efficiency
Beyond quality of work, another metric to measure a marketer’s worth is speed. How quickly can work be turned over? How long does it take to get an email answered? What about quickly scaling for an event or emergency—how quickly can your team respond, and is there a process in place?
Agencies use clear end-to-end processes as the foundation for every client relationship. They keep projects on schedule, reduce cost overages and hour creep, and help motivate creative minds to continually produce compelling content. Process provides structure—from planning to delivery—a systematic approach to control the chaos, ensure strategic decision-making, and avoid missed opportunities and deadlines. Although internal marketing teams can certainly develop and refine their own processes, they often rely upon other departments and priorities that compromise a methodical approach.
Quick communications and turnarounds are crucial to a marketing campaign’s success. With in-house production, you can meet, collaborate, and exchange ideas on the fly rather than wrestle with conflicting schedules and timelines. While agencies attempt to loop clients in and collaborate often, it’s never as efficient as being under the same roof. Nothing is more satisfying than walking down the hall to have a conversation, and sometimes the games of phone and email tag with an agency can slow everything down significantly.
Advantage: In-house team
When marketing the same business internally, day after day, it can become easy to lose sight of the overall goal and what matters most to your customers. In-house staff can suffer from debilitating stress caused by job demands, role conflict or ambiguity, and lack of support and feedback. The result is a burned-out, inefficient, and cynical employee. When you’re marketing content through an agency, however, you don’t need to worry about the people involved, just the outcome. Agencies have large teams to pull motivated creatives from, constantly mentor and guide employees to reduce stress, and even have “non-burnout” policies in place that encourage career development, ongoing education, and a healthy work-life balance.
Round 3: Expense
OK, we’ve danced around the elephant in the room long enough—let’s talk about how much an in-house team costs compared with an agency and which will provide a better ROI in the long run.
Consider all the costs that come with hiring full-time content marketers. There’s the recruitment, base-level salary, benefits (about 30 percent of an employee’s overall cost), software licenses, onboarding support, and ongoing training. Then there is always a risk the employees won’t work out, and then you’re back to square one. By comparison, agency pricing typically falls under one of three models: monthly retainer (70 percent of agency/client relationships), per project, or per hour. This model gives businesses much greater flexibility in their marketing dollars and allows you to determine the precise level of support and services you require.
In-house teams are rigid and incapable of scaling for a company’s growing demands. To be effective, content marketing must ramp up quickly to meet customer and business demands. If you need a team of extra designers and writers for a product launch push, it’s as easy as increasing your monthly hours with an agency—as opposed to the costs and time it takes to find and train just one capable employee.
This isn’t an “agency or bust” situation. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to digital marketing, and every business is unique. In fact, many companies allow their in-house and agency teams to collaborate, outsourcing certain tasks while keeping others internal. For example, under this hybrid model, your in-house team may handle strategy and promotion while production is run through an agency.
Wrap it up
You may have noticed we’re a bit biased on this topic. Let’s be real—we wouldn’t be working at an agency if we didn’t believe in the value it brings to our clients day in and day out. Sometimes shifting from in house to an agency can feel risky. Sometimes it’s simply tricky to shift budget from staff to vendor partners. And sometimes it’s just plain difficult to execute change. Understanding the benefits and growing pains of bringing in an agency partner puts you one step closer to making the right decision for your company so you can reach your marketing goals the most cost-effective way possible.