Is it better to do your online marketing in-house or through an agency? It’s an important decision to make.
Now, you should probably know that I’m a founder of an online advertising agency, so I might have a bit of a bias. But I have worked in-house and done my own fair share of hiring agencies throughout my career, so I’ve seen the good and bad of both options.
With that in mind, I’m going to try to take off my marketing agency hat and tell you the honest differences that come with both approaches.
So, agency or in-house? There are basically three differences between marketing agencies and in-house marketing:
1. Diversity of skills
Generally speaking, most online marketers are like Liam Neeson in “Taken.” They have a specific set of skills.
Some are perfect for paid search, while others are masters of social media, mavens of content marketing or rulers of conversion rate optimization. But as good as someone might be in one area of digital advertising, online marketing is simply too complex for a single person to be an expert at everything (and still have human social skills).
That means you could end up hiring a paid search specialist only to find out that your competition is getting way better results from content marketing.
What now? Well, you could hire a content marketer, but most companies don’t have infinite money to throw around. So, what should you do?
Keep your marketing diversified
It can be hard to find the right team of in-house marketers for your company. Investing in any new marketing channel is a risk, and what happens when you hire someone whose skill set doesn’t fit your company’s needs?
Situations like this lead to lots of companies getting stuck with one marketing channel. And all too often, it’s not the optimal channel for them to be using.
In addition, one-trick-pony marketing can land you in situations where you have a fantastic landing page designer, but your ads are struggling and bringing in the wrong traffic, which will make it hard to get good results from your campaigns.
Can your designer do much about that? Probably not.
As good as your designer (or other marketer) might be, having a limited number of marketing skills on staff will keep you from getting the online marketing results you want.
This is one area where a good marketing agency truly shines. Your business might not be able to pay for a designer and a PPC expert and a testing guru and a… you get the idea. But for an agency, it makes a lot of sense to hire people with a diversity of online marketing skills.
At Disruptive, my employer, for example, we organize our account managers into marketing teams that have a wide range of specialties: site testing, design, Facebook, AdWords and so on. Each member is great at what they do, and having them in a team allows them to adapt to the needs of whichever client they’re working on, giving the team far more value than any single person — and more social skills.
In addition, each member of the team actively works on multiple accounts, giving them a breadth and depth of experience that can be applied to new campaigns and situations with ease.
Is diversity worth paying for?
The question is, doesn’t all that diversity come with a stiff price tag? I mean, if you can’t afford to hire more people in-house for diversity, can you afford to pay an agency to do it?
To put it simply, yes, but let’s take a deeper look at things.
Most companies won’t need a full-time AdWords expert, designer and Facebook manager — but they would definitely benefit from all of those services.
When you’re hiring in-house, finding experts in any of these fields who are willing to work for just a few hours a week will be tough. Agencies, on the other hand, can hire experts to manage multiple accounts, giving them enough work to justify their full-time employment and give their expertise to any given account that needs it.
As a result, working with an agency gives you access to a variety of high-level experts without needing to hire them full-time, which is more economical than hiring those experts yourself.
Agency vs. in-house
So, agency vs in-house… which would be better for your business? Ultimately, this is a question of resources.
Larger companies may be able to make the investment to hire in-house and diversify their marketing. If your marketing needs are significant enough to justify hiring a team of experts who are dedicated, you might get good results from hiring in-house to work on that channel full-time.
However, if your business doesn’t have the funds to pull this off, you’ll get more diversity for less by using an agency.
Great online marketers are incredibly creative, but that same creativity makes them deathly allergic to boredom. And can you blame them? Think about staring at the same set of keywords set day in and day out, while being expected to make them interesting. Exciting, right?
This is part of the reason why a lot of junior- to mid-level marketers will end up changing their jobs every two to three years. It keeps them sane, but it might drive the businesses they work for a little up the wall. In fact, at Disruptive, we’ve had quite a few clients leave us for a new internal hire only to come back when that person leaves for something new.
Turnover for online marketers often isn’t nearly this bad at an agency. At an agency, online marketers can work with a variety of businesses where they’re challenged more and get to be more creative.
And if your point of contact does leave the agency, at a good agency you should have several good people involved on your account. As a result, your online marketing won’t have to suffer while you wait for someone to get up to speed on your business.
Agency vs. in-house
If you don’t have to worry about employee turnover, hiring your own marketing team can work out great. You can see this at big businesses that have a lot of challenges and opportunities to offer their employees.
On the other hand, employee turnover is a common problem in smaller businesses. Employees might be seeking more in the way of compensation and variety, so they are more likely to leave.
However, in either case, hiring in-house is kind of like putting all of your eggs in one basket; if the basket’s big enough to adequately keep your eggs from rolling out, that’s great. But, if your basket’s on the smaller side and losing one or two eggs would cause major problems for your marketing, you might be better off with an agency.
3. Partner perks
The majority of businesses don’t spend enough money on any online advertising platform to really catch that platform’s eye. Even spending $200,000 a year on AdWords likely won’t show up on Google’s radar.
Crazy, right? But hey, they’re Google.
Still, even Google cares when there are millions of dollars at play. Advertising agencies often manage many millions of dollars in monthly ad spend on Google AdWords, Bing Ads, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and beyond. As a result, advertising platforms have a vested interest in the success of an agency and are willing to work to help them deliver the best results possible to clients.
Think about it. If Disruptive decided that AdWords was a waste and recommended our clients give up on it, Google would have a lot to lose.
That’s why agencies will often get a lot of perks that most businesses won’t — and they can pass those perks onto their clients.
Here are some of the perks of working with an agency:
- Quicker support. If you’ve tried to talk about account problems with Google or Facebook, you know it can be hard to get your needs addressed. An agency, however, can quickly get real people on the phone to help with irregularities in accounts, policy concerns and any number of support items.
- Earlier access to new advertising options. Agencies can often get their clients new marketing options before public access. Remember RSLA campaigns, extended headlines, Gmail sponsored promos and so on? Yep, most agencies were able to get their clients early access to those options.
- Further account supervision. Ad platforms want agencies to succeed. To help with that, they’ll assign their own top people to watch an agency’s managed accounts and make sure the accounts are getting the right amount of attention. Additionally, these reps will add their insight and ideas they get from internal data that the general public won’t be able to get to.
Good agencies have lots of advantages that the general public just can’t get. These perks can give you a real leg up on the competition. On top of that, online marketing agencies will often have partnerships with other marketing companies that will allow them to offer additional premium services and discounts to their clients that they may not be able to access otherwise.
Agency vs. in-house
If you’re not Amazon or Walmart, you might not be getting the same attention that ad agencies receive from ad platforms. That doesn’t mean you won’t be successful, but it does mean it won’t be as easy. What really matters is how important those perks are to your company and what sort of competitive advantage they can give you.
There are a lot of reasons people will choose an agency or do things in-house. Either way can work, but which route you choose will depend on where your priorities lie.
But if you’re looking for skill diversification, reliability and partner perks, choosing an agency might be the better way to grow your business.
You’ve heard my two cents; now it’s your turn.
Do you use an agency? Do you do things in-house? What was the main reason for that decision? Do you have any advantages or disadvantages to agencies that you’d add?
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.