Marketing Agency vs. In-House: a 2019 Perspective

When trying to decide between partnering with an agency or keeping it all in-house, what really matters? How do you know which option will help you move fastest toward your goals? Glad you asked.

Planning for 2019 is already here, and it’s time to decide between a marketing agency and hiring in house. The decision comes down to the return you can get on your investment. Here are the three questions we here at Rogue think you should be asking in order to make that decision.

It’s not three questions because that fits well in a blog post, and it’s not three questions because there aren’t other questions you could be asking. We’re going to review three questions that help you focus on what really matters, and what you really need in order to move your organization forward with either route you choose.

Beyond these questions, you may struggle with analysis paralysis. These questions are simple; the solutions are not. But you aren’t looking for the solutions—you’re looking for the team that will find and execute the solutions for you.

“You aren't looking for the solutions... you're looking for the team that will find and execute the solutions for you.”

1. What Is My Biggest Obstacle to Making More Sales?

We’re all playing the same game: the dollar bill is our ticket to food, clothes, and shelter. So with so many people trying to get into the exchange of dollars for goods and services, and goods and services for dollars, you have several barriers between you and your “golden”—or should we say “green”?—ticket.

  • Would more people buy from you if they knew about you?
  • Do you already have a stream of people coming to you, but you aren’t getting the business you need from them?
  • Do you have a history of customers, but not many repeat customers?
  • Is a competitor “eating your lunch” every day?
  • Is acquiring new customers too expensive?
  • Are you unsure why someone ultimately decides not to purchase from you?

Marketing is about preparing an audience to take an action that benefits them and you.

A marketing agency worth its salt won’t just fire off ads for you—it will provide business consulting to help you find the obstacles to conversions, and identify challenges on the horizon. You’ll likely pay more than you would by hiring another full-time employee; but when you need to plan for quick pivots in strategy, you need access to several resources instead of just one or two.

You would not want a marketing agency in this situation if you know you have a problem that can be solved by pulling a single lever (e.g., paid search marketing, or social media marketing) from now until the day you retire, and you have the budget for a senior employee, possibly with a team.

An in-house marketing team will be able to make measured progress in a highly specific direction. In fact, you probably already have a marketing leader—and if you don’t, then you should strongly consider getting an in-house director. If you choose to add to the team, then you’ll likely make that decision because you know that Google Ads, or social media marketing, or some other function is your biggest path to revenue. But you have to know that it’s a constant need that you will never want to turn down or turn off.

You would not want an in-house resource if your budget is limited. When most of your dollars need to go toward paid media, for example, you’re better off paying 20% to an agency with a whole team capable of managing your account. Otherwise you’re shorting yourself the ad spend in order to handle 40 hours every week, plus all the accoutrements that come with equipping and paying a person.

2. How Can I Be the “Obvious Solution” to My Audience’s Challenge/Problem?

Some brands have become so obvious that they’re genericized—Blue Book, Post-It, Kleenex, even Coke, to name a few. But you don’t need to be “big”...you just need the right people to think about your brand at the right time.

You can accomplish that with a strategy that has a few steps:

1 PRE-solve a problem
2 Tie to an emotion
3 Generate community

First, you need to help an audience solve the problem before the problem arises. For Coke, the problem wasn’t thirst...it was togetherness. When the audience is faced with that problem (wanting to be with people you love), your brand is already the solution they need. You’re already building your audience—they come to your site and fill out forms every day. But what are you doing to nurture that audience? What value are you giving them before you ask value from them? If marketing automation and retargeting aren’t integral parts of your marketing strategy, then you may have just found your next big move.

Second, you need to tie emotion to the solution...otherwise, you’re selling your competitors’ products or services. Flint McGlaughlin teaches about tying emotion to facts in order to increase sales in this 2-minute clip.

Third, and closely related to the second, you have to help them feel like they are part of a community. Coca-Cola hit the community aspect on the head long before other brands did; Apple followed suit as well before social media could easily connect brands and customers. Not all the “old” brands relied on community to get where they are now, but brands today cannot become a de facto solution if customers are disconnected from each other and from the brand itself. This is part of the evolution of marketing. The rules always change. Are you changing with them?

You would want a marketing agency in this situation if you need a large campaign with small funds. Writing, videos, ads, social media, email, landing pages is expensive no matter which way you go, but an agency gives you a piece of all the right people rather than hiring the entire team outright.

You would not want an agency to help solve this problem if you already have the majority of the team in place, and they have the bandwidth to maintain their current revenue-bearing work while taking on new responsibilities.

You would want an in-house marketing team if most of the assets you need are already created. You need the hands to place the assets in the right places at the right time.

You would not want to hire in-house if you are struggling to identify key problems; create assets to respond to new problems; need to move in a new direction (new channels, new audiences, new challengers); and/or want to prove out a new concept. In each of these instances, outside eyes can see opportunities that may be in your internal team’s blindspot.

3. What Do I Not See?

As a leader, you’re in the driver’s seat. You’re aware of performance, traction, capabilities, competitors trying to cut to the inside, and future challengers drafting off you. You see your organization the way a driver views the engine.

But you aren’t the mechanic.

Sometimes it’s the internal problems that are your biggest obstacles. And while you’re never completely unaware of what’s happening in a department, you can understand problems without understanding (or having time to come up with) solutions.

A marketing agency is much like a pit crew—a team that keeps you on the track, driving at peak efficiency and staying ahead of the competition.

An in-house marketing director is the mechanic—the person with the vision to build the entire engine and direct the pit crew.

In this case, you want both. No driver has the time, the perspective, or even the expertise to shout instructions out to the pit crew. Even if you are an experienced marketer, you have to focus on everything happening around you. You need to rely on others to keep your engine in peak condition so you have the power you need when you need it.

So there you have it. What choice is most right for you?

There's room for either option.

In the end, it may be a simple distinction and an easy choice for you... But as our team has discovered simple is hard(er) than it looks.