Online marketing is an increasingly important part of almost every business. Even though the concept is simple (promoting products or services on the internet), the day-to-day execution can be complex. SEO, website design, content creation, display advertising, public relations, social media, and direct email are only a few of an ever-increasing, ever-evolving array of factors that can make internet marketing a challenge, to say the least.
Deciding how to handle online marketing is a big decision. For most business owners, the question comes down to this: Does it make more sense to manage online marketing in-house, or is it better to outsource it to a marketing agency? There are pros and cons to both, with a variety of factors that should be considered for individual businesses such as scope, expertise, flexibility, efficiency and cost.
Choosing who should handle a business’s online marketing may be a simple matter of what the business needs. Is a straightforward email campaign called for? Maybe that could be handled in-house. Does the business need an ongoing marketing analysis with a multi-faceted campaign of display advertising, social media and public relations? Then it may be time to hire an agency.
It’s important to define the needs and goals of the business to make an effective decision. Some agencies don’t have the customer’s best interests at heart and upsell them on services they don’t need. At the same time, employees or freelancers may not have the time or the skill set required to successfully tackle the necessary steps of a complex campaign.
Additionally, it’s important to consider long-term plans. It may be easier to scale up a marketing campaign with an agency than with an in-house team. As the company grows, having an agency in its back pocket becomes critical.
One big argument for keeping marketing in-house is that through surging social media use, online marketing today is becoming more and more segmented and individualized. No one knows a business’s brand like an employee and no one knows customers like people working with those customers on a regular basis. These are the people who know what their customers will be interested in and therefore can connect with them in an authentic way—especially on social media or direct emails. A big marketing agency may deliver a more formulaic, less dynamic approach and not be able to reach that level of customer awareness, missing a big piece of understanding that leads to success.
On the other hand, online marketing is becoming more complex every day. It doesn’t matter how well someone knows their customer base if they don’t have the technical skill to work their way through all the fast-moving elements of the online experience. Agencies have a staff of people who are completely up-to-date with all the latest technology—social media, PPC, SEO, marketing analyses, etc. Experienced marketing agencies should also have an established process of conducting market analyses and designing an effective strategy for implementing their findings. Hiring an agency means being able to tap into very specialized expertise.
Marketing agencies can also offer a new perspective and fresh ideas to complement their expertise. In-house staff may not be able to present new ideas to the CEO with the same freedom that an agency can. An agency can also provide a broader perspective that takes into consideration the market trends, competitors, and other outside factors that together have a significant impact on a business’s success.
On the internet, things can change fast and marketing campaigns often need to adapt on the fly. Unfortunately, scheduled Tweets have shown how important it is to have a finger on the pulse of a company’s marketing efforts. An in-house person focused on their company may respond quicker than a marketing agency with many clients demanding attention.
However, marketing agencies can assign a specialist to deal with whatever problem may arise within a campaign. This could result in a faster solution than an in-house person with knowledge but without the expertise that comes from handling multiple crises over and over again in a wide variety of circumstances.
In-house marketing can be handled differently from business to business, so efficiency can vary widely. Depending on the needs of the marketing campaign, someone within the company can be assigned to handle a one-time effort or an ongoing project. Is this someone whose primary job is something else who must also handle marketing? Do marketing efforts take time and resources away from that person’s primary job?
Hiring freelancers can be an efficient solution for piecemeal marketing needs, but there is a risk of both finding the right person to fit the needs of the company and with being able to access that person when a need arises. However, finding a good freelancer can be an efficient solution to meet short-term needs.
A marketing agency might be a better long-term solution: there’s no training time required, no time drained from other necessary tasks and no time spent hunting for people to fill individual needs of a campaign. The agency should already have an experienced team of experts ready to apply proven solutions that save time and money.
For most people, the natural assumption is that it’s much more expensive to hire an agency with all its accompanying overhead than to hire a few freelancers or one dedicated online marketing manager. In some cases, that’s true—marketing agencies do have a higher price tag.
However, it would be a mistake to dismiss an agency out-of-hand without comparing the value received for the cost of its services and comparing the cost of similar services delivered from a company-organized team. How much would it cost to hire a freelancer? How much would you pay a social media manager? What’s the going salary for a digital marketing manager? These things must be taken into account and compared with the cost of working with an agency.
When considering whether to keep online marketing efforts in-house with a piecemeal team or hiring an all-in-one marketing agency, it’s important to consider a variety of factors in light of the needs and goals of the business. An in-house team may be a good fit, or it may prove to be inefficient for your business’s needs. It may cost more at start-up to hire an agency, but it may be more cost-effective in the long run. It pays to carefully consider needs and benefits before making a decision.