As companies grow, there are common inflection points that accelerate change. In the early stages, the founders and managers do the marketing and business development themselves, maybe with the help of a staff member or two. That works for a while, but then something happens: the company's growth demands more time and attention.
At this point, marketing and development priorities get deferred, either because the company is busy serving current customers or because team members haven't been able to nail down and execute a plan. If this sounds familiar, and your marketing is a source of disappointment or frustration, it may be time to re-examine your approach.
Whatever your growth stage, there are three choices for marketing infrastructure:
- Expand/build an in-house team
- Outsource to a full-service agency
- Take a hybrid approach
Here are some considerations for making the best decision for your organization.
As a collaborative group that has multiple hands on each project, we understand the benefits of having an in-house team. From an ownership perspective, you can hand-select team members and anticipate that you have their full attention. As "insiders," employed marketing staff know your company and can be expected to work in a way that’s consistent with your company culture.
In-house marketing teams work well if your organization's needs are predictable and straightforward. This is especially true if you are fortunate enough to find "jack of all trades" employees who can handle multiple functions at once. These individuals are creative, tech-savvy, organized, and good communicators.
It can also work if your company can support a larger budget to hire staff with all the competencies that you need, including a talented leader who can ensure your investment is producing results.
However, some organizations struggle to manage an in-house team. There's competition for marketing talent, and the best people can be hard to retain. In other cases, talented marketing veterans may struggle to keep up with evolving trends, causing the organization to underperform. If operational leaders also have marketing responsibilities, they may not have the time or experience to provide good supervision.
Benefits of Working with a Marketing Agency
A Cost-Effective Solution
The first benefit of working with a marketing agency is simple: it’s cost-effective. The hourly rates of an agency may seem higher than what you pay in staff salary, but with in-house employees, you also have to account for the cost of benefits, overhead, recruitment, training, and IT. Meanwhile, your budget with an agency goes directly to the programs, time, and deliverables negotiated in the work plan.
Executing an integrated marketing plan demands a wide variety of skill sets. You need experts in everything from how to design a compelling brand identity to how to conduct targeted market research, make a beautiful and intuitive website, and write content that will captivate humans and win over search engine algorithms. Full-service agencies spend years building cohesive teams of:
- SEO experts
- Social media managers
- Project managers
Hiring an agency gives you on-demand access to these professionals and their extensive expertise, without having to employ them full-time.
Another source of savings is the efficiency that comes with experience. Your organization directly benefits from the skills that agency staff acquired for other projects. Having already journeyed through the learning curve, marketing experts complete projects in far fewer hours than someone encountering a challenge for the first time.
Finally, marketing tools are expensive, and those costs are prohibitive when those tools aren't heavily used. You also need to consider the significant time investment needed to learn marketing tools such as the Adobe Creative Suite and Semrush's SEO toolbox. With an agency on your team, you won't spend extra funds on new marketing technologies and all the training it takes to master them.
Scalability on Demand
Marketing needs ebb and flow throughout the year. For example, a seasonal orchard may have a lot going on in the warm months but go quiet during the off-season. Meanwhile, a professional association may promote itself much more heavily during conference season.
Marketing agencies provide scalability on demand, letting clients only use the hours when they need them. This avoids the feast or famine cycle that leads to employee burnout and turnover.
Hiring an agency promotes flexibility with timing and budget. Need more assistance during peak season? The agency is there to help. Need to put the marketing budget on hold while some issues get worked out? No worries, the agency will sit tight until you need them. No need to lay anyone off or hire under pressure.
Life changes and organizations must adapt--we all learned that lesson during the pandemic. Working with a marketing agency lessens stress when those changes occur.
Fresh Perspective and Objective Party
Have you ever returned home after an extended absence and seen things as if for the first time? You notice clutter, scuff marks on the wall, or even outdated window treatments.
It's hard to see things objectively unless you have something with which to compare. Contracting with an agency brings fresh eyes to evaluate your current business, marketing strategy, and brand. With its experienced, outside perspective, the agency team can develop creative and original ideas that elude an insider.
An agency is an objective business partner that provides recommendations to help you make the best decisions for your organization. Seasoned marketers will expect expansion in some accounts and contraction in others during a typical year. The better agencies are good stewards of your resources and will give you options to manage costs in hopes of growing with you over the long term.
Hybrid Approach: Support for your In-house Team
In many small to medium size organizations, in-house marketing staff are responsible for much more than marketing. These conflicting responsibilities cause marketing projects to fall to the bottom of the to-do list as other more immediate needs demand attention.
Ironically, this happened to us just last year. We needed a brand refresh but were too busy tending to client work and our operational transition to make it happen. After several months, we treated ourselves like a client and finally got it done!
The beauty of having a marketing agency work with your internal staff is that someone on the outside is held accountable for reliable execution of prioritized deliverables. Of course, partnering with an agency doesn't just ensure the work gets done. It can also empower your staff to do more and better work.
Empowering your Employees
Full-service agencies create more than specific content like websites, brochures, videos, or graphics. They can also create a marketing plan and brand guide for your company, complete with guidance and tools for everything from a website homepage to external signage.
A brand guide will have a unified aesthetic backed by strategic insights and creative, cutting-edge design. Armed with this, your team can focus on your campaign’s messaging and big-picture ideas, while secure in the knowledge that your ads and communications will be eye-catching and cohesive across all platforms.
If you want to increase your team's ability to handle marketing and communication, a full-service agency can also hold workshops for your employees to bring them up to speed on marketing best practices and the latest trends for your industry. This increases your human capital by empowering your employees to do better work.
Freeing You to Focus
On the other hand, when you want your team to focus on the core elements of your business, an agency can take care of a greater share of marketing components on your behalf. Then you can focus on what makes your business great and let the creative and talented team at the agency do the work needed to highlight and communicate those strengths.
The important thing is that the nature of the partnership can be flexible and attuned to your needs. Some of our favorite clients are in-house teams that are quite capable of maintaining normal marketing operations, but just don't have the bandwidth for special projects such as website overhauls or a rebrand.
Partnering with an agency to wrap around the in-house team addresses your need for speed and grants you access to valuable skill sets. Be sure to look for an agency that welcomes partnership with an in-house team and has a history of friendly collaboration.
Making the Decision
Every decision has trade-offs, but good marketing is as close to a foolproof investment as it gets. It's an investment that multiplies your business's potential. It can revitalize your image, bring you attention from new market segments, and give you the tools to keep improving your marketing and outreach well into the future.
Identifying your needs and goals is the key to getting the most out of your partnership with an agency. Do you need a full rebranding? Do you primarily need market research and industry-specific content? Are you focused on creating a powerful and appealing new website?
Or maybe you want to consult with someone who can evaluate your situation and suggest the specific steps that would best meet your goals and budget?
We love the challenge of telling each partner's most authentic and effective story and of finding ways to meet and exceed their goals. From our research and the feedback from our partners, we also know what an incredible return on investment our work can provide.
If you think Ivy may be the right partner for you, we'd love to have a conversation.