This post seeks to outline some of the things to consider when choosing between in-house and a digital marketing agency. Whilst there is no right or wrong answer, we hope this will provide some food for thought when you consider approaching an agency.
What exactly is a digital marketing agency, and what do they provide?
Agencies provide a service. Agencies provide solutions to problems, and provide both creativity and innovation where appropriate. Ultimately an agency is a collective of creatives, techies, strategists, writers, and planners. We all work together to tackle a problem and achieve a successful outcome. Most of the time, of course, we’re commissioned by clients to solve their problems. A digital marketing agency simply works across digital channels, as opposed to more traditional channels.
Over a period of time an agency will develop credentials and a track record of success. This could be in the form of testimonials, case studies, speaking slots, awards, and thought leadership, all of which help to build trust and to de-risk the investment for the buyer. It’s important to check these out before engaging in conversation with an agency.
An agency should seek to understand your challenges and desired outcomes before devising a solution. A strong agency should consult the client to help them visualise the destination and the roadmap to get there.
A goal without a plan is merely a dream, right?
What skills can I find within a digital marketing agency?
Digital marketing has become increasingly diverse, requiring a collaborative effort of multiple people and/or teams in order to achieve success. Typically an in-house team simply wouldn’t have the blend of skills and expertise, and would also lack the challenge and ideation that comes from lots of brains working together. In-house teams and marketing departments tend to lean towards more strategic personnel or organised project managers who can manage one or multiple agencies.
Some of the roles that you might see at a digital marketing agency include the following:
- Digital strategists
- Digital designers
- Social media experts
- SEO specialists
- PPC specialists
- Front-end developers
- Back-end developers
- Conversion rate optimisation experts
- User-experience experts
Where many digital disciplines were once in their infancy, many have grown into their own individual career paths, creating specialists. It’s important to have a mix of both: generalists (for competency across a wide range of channels) supported by specialists (for specific, in-depth knowledge).
Without consideration for this dynamic, you risk a Jack-of-all situation that benefits nobody.
Digital marketing is forever evolving. Less than ten years ago from time of writing, Apple had only just introduced the iPhone. Think what’s changed since then – it’s staggering!
Agencies have the responsibility of keeping pace with the latest industry news, developments, strategies, and tactics. The tooling, training, conferences, daily activity, and passion all contribute towards this.
Where brands often suffer is resourcing. They hire a bright spark but simply do not give them the tools, time, or training necessary to succeed. The other side, of course, is internal progression. If there is no clear route for progression, your bright spark will take their skills and knowledge somewhere else. If you’re considering building an in-house team, it’s really important that you map out these things, in addition to process, before you even begin to interview.
Map out the progression, tooling, training, and succession planning before jumping into any in-house team building exercise.
Taking on a digital agency doesn’t mean you have to relinquish control. An agency should be able to remain flexible enough to work with the client as a partnership. It takes time to build trust between an agency and a client. Frequent communication, reporting, and measurements or indicators towards success all help to shorten this period.
It’s important to note that totalitarian control is a risky business – for both parties. One suffocates the other, and it’s likely to end in tears. It’s advisable to agree where each party has the control, and to make best use of the skills available.
There are few occasions more frustrating than someone telling you how to do your job, with little to no experience at all to justify their position. This is the same across any profession, and agencies are no exception.
Conversely, handing over total control is almost always a bad idea. An agency will need guidance to help them understand the problem, the intricacies of the business, and other details integral to planning and implementing successful campaigns.
Work with your agency to detail out who is responsible for what, and watch your campaign(s) flourish.
Ideas are priceless
Sometimes when you’re in the thick of something, you cannot see the wood for the trees. This is so often the case with in-house individuals and teams who spend all day thinking about one business, problem, product, or other.
With the ability to look at their client’s business from an outsider’s perspective, agencies are in a great position to view, advise, suggest, question, or challenge the status quo. This can often provide valuable insights that would otherwise not exist or may have missed the boat.
Sometimes it takes some fresh perspective to find the answers. You’ve heard the story about Swan Vesta matches and the opportunist employee who saved them millions (and took a large share), right? There’s a reason why they only have sandpaper on one side of the box…
Consider the value of fresh perspective.
Get your time back
There is no resource more valuable than time. Application of time is just as important, and smaller in-house teams need to be super-organised to run effective campaigns. Being bogged down in other work is one of the main killers of in-house campaign success, probably sitting next to lack of measurement.
In an owner-manager situation, it’s normally counter-productive to be working on running a business, selling, keeping tidy finances, and… Oh, all the marketing too! It is worth noting that agencies also outsource. We use accountants, HR consultants, recruiters, and other agencies in order to make the most of time constraints and maximise on efficiency.
Where is your time best spent?
Make the most of your budget
Having a definitive budget is often seen as the means for an agency to spend all of it. That’s mostly true! You have a budget, and a budget should be used up by the activities that will make it go as far as possible. The important part to note is that an agency will work to the limitations of a budget, but they will have an indicator for what’s feasible and what isn’t. There is an agency or freelancer to suit any budget, so have no fear in sharing your budget.
Digital marketing, like all marketing, has expensive routes to market and lower-cost routes too. Some reach HUGE audiences very quickly (those slots during halftime of the Superbowl final, anyone?) but at a considerable investment. Or, you could do something genius for a fraction of the price, just like Oreo did with their “dunk in the dark’” improvisation during the 2013 Superbowl final. This was the brainchild of their agency, 360i, but it gave Oreo huge brand awareness and publicity. Oh, and it cost a lot less than the $4m primetime ad spots…
Ernest Hemingway once bet his friends that he could write an entire story in just six words. Here’s how he did it:
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
The story, characters, emotion, and everything in between. Working to constraints is a good thing…
Accountability and shared success
Using a digital marketing agency enables you to increase the output of your marketing activity and creates accountability both ways. As the in-house coordinator, a good agency will hold you accountable for getting the right assets, answering questions, and understanding the business dynamic. The agency will be accountable for achieving results and the activity that surrounds the attainment of. Without both parties delivering, success will be limited.
Defining the right objectives upfront and whittling these down to key performance indicators (KPIs) is key, enabling you to gauge your agency’s progress. It’s important not to overdo the amount of metrics and data that you want reported on. Clarity is important here. It’s a big time sap and expensive to not have any idea about what to measure. Somebody has to calculate and report on all of those figures, remember…
Stick to a handful of KPIs that define success and progress toward them – and don’t be afraid to ask your agency to help you set these.