Should you hire in-house or hire an agency? When it comes to online marketing, this can be a critically important decision.
Now, as the founder of an online advertising agency, I’ll admit to being a bit biased on this issue. However, having worked in-house and hired numerous agencies over the course of my career, I’ve also learned a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of each route.
With that in mind, I’m going to take my agency hat off for a bit and give you an honest breakdown of the differences between hiring in-house and hiring an agency.
Basically, there are 3 reasons why companies typically pick an agency over hiring in-house.
1. Skill Diversification
In general, online marketers tend to have very specific skill sets. You have paid search specialists, social media masters, content marketing mavens, conversion rate rulers…and the list goes on.
But the thing is, online marketing is too complex for one person to be an expert at everything.
So, if you hire a paid search specialist in-house, you can expect them to do a great job at paid search. But what if paid search isn’t panning out? Or what if the competition is driving great results with content marketing?
What do you do then?
Obviously, you could just hire a content marketer, but that may not necessarily be in the budget or you may not be completely sold on the idea yet. What should you do?
Diversifying Your Marketing
Companies that hire in-house often struggle to diversify their online marketing efforts. After all, investing in a new marketing channel is a risk. If you hire someone and it doesn’t work out, you’ve just created a very difficult situation for yourself.
As a result, these companies often end up stuck in one marketing channel. And, often, that channel isn’t even working that well.
For example, if you’ve got a great landing page designer but terrible ads that are driving the wrong traffic to your site, you may have trouble getting good results from your campaigns.
Is that your designer’s fault?
Of course not! But, if you’re siloing your marketing skills like this, you probably won’t end up getting the results from online marketing that you’re hoping for.
On the other hand, with a good agency, you have access to a wide range of skills and experience.
For example, at Disruptive, all of our account managers are members of marketing teams that include experts with a wide range of online marketing specialties: AdWords, Facebook, design, site testing, etc.
Individually, each team member is good at what they do, but collectively, they provide much more value than any single person could.
And, as an added bonus, since each team member is actively working with a number of accounts, they have a depth and breadth of experience that gives them insights they can apply to new campaigns and situations.
As a result, our clients don’t end up with account managers who have tunnel vision or who lose creativity over time. Instead, our clients get 7 sets of eyes on their account on a regular basis.
Paying for a Diverse Skill Set
At first glance, this might seem like a more expensive way to do things. After all, if you can’t afford to hire an extra person to diversify your marketing efforts, can you afford to pay an agency to do it?
However, this simply isn’t the case.
In general, most companies don’t need the dedicated services of a full-time AdWords expert, a full-time designer and a full-time Facebook account manager. But, they would benefit from the services of each.
Unfortunately, if you’re hiring in-house, it can be hard to find an AdWords expert or web designer who is willing to only work a few hours a week.
In an agency, though, that same AdWords expert could manage multiple accounts. That would keep him or her busy enough to justify full-time employment with the agency, even though any given account might not require his full time and talents.
As a result, when you work with an agency, you get the skills of high-level experts in a variety of specialties without having to hire them full-time—that’s great news for your business.
Agency vs In-House
So, when it comes to skill diversification, should you go with an agency or hire in-house?
Really, when you get right down to it, this is a question of resources. For larger companies, it may be worth the investment to hire someone in-house to diversify their marketing efforts.
After all, if your marketing needs are significant enough that they justify hiring a dedicated expert, you may get the best results from hiring someone to work on a channel full-time.
However, for most businesses, agencies are a great option for diversification.
Most companies don’t need (or can’t yet afford) to hire a full team of dedicated marketers, so working with an agency can be a great way to widen your marketing net without significantly increasing your overhead.
Great online marketers are brilliantly creative, but with that creativity comes an aversion to boredom.
Imagine looking at the same set of keywords every day and being expected to make magic happen. It’s possible but it can get boring.
As a result, many junior-to-mid-level marketers change jobs every 2-3 years. That might keep the marketers sane, but it isn’t great for the businesses they are leaving.
After all, it takes a lot of time and work to get a new marketer trained and your online marketing dialed in.
If you have to get someone new up to speed every time your in-house marketers get an itch to try something new, you may find yourself struggling against a marketing “glass ceiling.”
In fact, we’ve had many clients leave us because they hired someone internally to manage their online marketing…and then come back when that person leaves for bigger and better (or at least newer) things.
On the other hand, at an agency, digital marketers get to work with a variety of businesses. This challenges them and keeps their creative juices flowing, which helps improve employee retention.
That being said, even an agency doesn’t have 100% employee retention. But, when you work with a good agency, the agency should have multiple people involved with your account.
As a result, if your primary point of contact moves on, gets sick or goes on leave for some reason, you won’t have to wait for the agency to get someone up to speed on your business. They’ve already got people on hand who understand your company and know how to keep the ball rolling.
Agency vs In-House
Generally speaking, if employee turnover is a problem (or a potential problem), it’s best to go with an agency.
This is especially true for smaller businesses. Smaller businesses have less to offer—both in terms of variety and compensation—and typically experience more turnover.
Bigger businesses, on the other hand, can offer a lot more to their employees, so if they are smart about keeping their marketers focused and happy, they can usually keep people on staff for longer.
In either case, though, hiring in-house is like putting all your eggs in one basket.
If you’re sure none of the eggs will roll out, you’re probably in a good situation. If losing an egg or two would cripple your marketing efforts, it might be good to use an agency.
3. Partner Perks
Most businesses don’t spend enough on any given online advertising platform to merit that platform’s attention.
For example, spending $200,000 a year on AdWords might seem like a lot of money to you, but it’s not even a blip on Google’s radar.
Okay, so that be a bit harsh, but really, a couple hundred grand really isn’t that big of a deal to Google.
However, an agency like Disruptive manages many millions of dollars of monthly ad spend on a variety of ad platforms like Google AdWords, BingAds, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and more.
Since agencies manage such large amounts of ad spend, advertising platforms work hard to help them deliver the best results possible for their clients.
After all, if Disruptive suddenly decided that AdWords is a waste of time and money and recommended that our clients stop using it, Google would lose a lot of revenue.
As a result, agencies often get special perks that aren’t available to most businesses—perks they can then pass along to their clients.
For example, here are a few of Disruptive’s agency perks:
- Early access to Alpha and Beta programs. Often, we’re able to provide our clients with access to new marketing options prior to their general public release (think extended headlines, RSLA campaigns, Gmail sponsored promotions, etc).
- Even more eyes on your account. Since ad platforms want us and our clients to succeed, they assign some of their own top people to oversee our client’s accounts. That way, they can ensure that our accounts are getting the time, love and attention they need. In addition, these reps provide additional ideas and insights from their internal data that the general public does not have access to.
- Faster support. Anyone who’s tried to contact Google or Facebook about problems with their account knows that it can be an uphill battle to get your needs met. Thanks to our partner status with various ad platforms, we can quickly get a real person on the phone to address policy concerns, irregularities in accounts and many other support items.
A good agency is able to provide their clients with numerous advantages like these that are unavailable to the general public. As you can probably imagine, these perks offer companies a real leg up over their competitors.
Lastly, in addition to the ad platforms themselves, online marketing agencies often have partnerships with other marketing companies that allow them to provide their clients with discounts and premium services that they might not otherwise have access to.
Essentially, because agencies deal in volume, they can get and pass on volume benefits that are unavailable to most businesses.
Agency vs In-House
Unless you are working for a mega-company like Wal-Mart or Amazon, it’s hard to merit the attention that ad agencies get from ad platforms.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful without this level of support, but it is going to be much more difficult. It all boils down to how important the competitive advantages of these perks are to your company.
If you’re in a close-fought race, working with an agency might just give you the advantage you need to pull ahead of the competition.
There are a lot of reasons why people pick an agency or simply decide to keep things in-house. Both are completely viable ways to grow your business.
However, agencies offer a lot in the way of skill diversification, predictability and partner perks, which is why many businesses find that going with an agency is the best way to grow their business.
By the way (putting my agency hat back on now), if this article has made you wonder if working with an agency would be right for your business, let me know here or in the comments. I’d be glad to take a look at your business and give you a fair appraisal of your situation.
You’ve heard my two cents, now it’s your turn.
Have you chosen to hire in-house or use an agency? What was the biggest factor in your decision? Are there any advantages or disadvantages to using an agency that you’d add to this list?
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