Should you Hire a Marketing Agency?

03.11.19 // Alex Jackmond
You just got hired as the new Demand Generation Manager at company X, now what?

I’ve worked with a lot of Demand Gen Managers over the years, and if there’s one thing I know, they wear a lot of hats.

Why is traffic down?”. “How come we aren’t getting more leads from our email campaign?”, “When are we going to integrate our Marketo instances?”.

If it has to do with sales, leads, or marketing, the Demand Gen Manager is likely responsible for it. And because Demand Gen Managers generally like to keep their sanity, this often leads to a common question “should we hire an agency?”.

Full disclosure, I’ve worked at an agency in some capacity since 2013 and I’m knee deep in the Kool-Aid.

But that doesn’t mean I think agencies are for everyone.

If you find yourself in this position, hopefully the following questions, benefits, and drawbacks help you come to a conclusion that makes sense for you and your company.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency

Deciding whether or not to hire an agency first requires a quick look in the mirror.

Understanding your company’s own strengths and weaknesses will help make this decision easier because you can then focus on what you actually need from an agency.

Below are a couple of questions I’d highly recommend considering before you begin your search:

Do I need strategy

Some companies/Demand Gen Managers know what they need to do, but don’t have time. This is a much different solution than needing an agency to build your entire digital marketing strategy.

When you first begin your search for an agency, make sure you know where you sit on this question.

There are hundreds of agencies to choose from, some are strategists, some specialize in leg-work, and some can give you a combination of both. Make sure you look for an agency that fits your specific needs.

Do I, or someone in my company, have the bandwidth to help get things approved/changed?

Seems like a silly question, but you would be surprised by how many times this question alone is the pitfall of an otherwise beautiful agency partnership.

An agency can only do so much (and likely doesn’t have access to the backend systems), so if there is no one internally to help push along projects, or develop assets, etc. then your partnership can be doomed to fail before it even begins.                                                                                                 Ideally, you will have an agency that specializes in the areas of expertise you don’t have in-house, and you/your coworkers can help direct the agency towards the right department when questions/issues arrive.

Do I need someone available 24/7?

When thinking about bringing on an agency, there are essentially two groups of companies; those who need an agency to focus on a specific section of marketing, and those who need the dedicated 40hrs/week from an in-house employee. Which one are you?

Do I have content?

This might be a foreign question at first, but it’s pretty simple. Unless you’re hiring a partner to develop content, this is critical. Even the greatest marketer in the world can’t get someone to engage with your content… if there is no content.

Depending on what your goals are, your content might look different, but in general, a digital marketing agency will need some type of whitepapers, ebooks, blog posts, or quality organic content if they’re going to be tasked with enticing your prospects with this material.

Make sure you think about this (or go with an agency that can develop content for you), before moving forward.

Actual photo of Demand Gen Managers looking at their content library

Do I have other job functions that I need to focus on?

Sounds like a simple one, but an agency partnership works best when we’re working as a team.

For example, if you have 10 hats that you have to wear (event marketing, email marketing, SEO, Paid Search, etc.) and your agency is covering 5 of those, then you can balance each other out.

If you have one job function and you’re looking to get an agency to cover that, you might want to reconsider…

Disadvantages of Hiring a Marketing Agency

As with anything you do, there are inherent disadvantages to hiring an agency. Again, I’m biased, but I do see the pitfalls with agency life.

In order to be successful, It’s important to understand these areas and determine if you’re okay with having them present.

If you can live with these disadvantages, or figure out how to alleviate them, you’re golden.

You don’t have a dedicated person for 40 hours/week

This seems to be the biggest shock/issue when working with companies who didn’t think about this prior to working with an agency.

If your company is small and you need all hands on deck at all times, maybe an agency isn’t the best solution for you.

Some agencies will have different models that try to account for this, but if you actually need a body available to work on something at the drop of the hat, in-house is usually going to win.

Even if an agency can offer more hands, every agency is working with more than just you…

… which can cause issues if you’re looking for one ‘dedicated’ person.

Lack of specific industry knowledge

Some agencies will focus on a specific sector (tech), a specific audience (B2B), or a specific industry (healthcare), but knowledge of your specific product/competitors is almost always going to be lacking to start.

Any good agency will take the time to research the industry, create some sort of SWOT analysis, and get better at understanding you and your customer’s plight, but your company’s workforce will always be the true experts.

At Obility we know the B2B space, and we do a lot of research to make sure we understand all of our client’s specific industries, but we still rely on the expert (you) to help guide/direct when necessary.

If this is something that you find unsettling, then an agency might not be best, or look for an agency that’s hyper-specific to your product (if available).

Additional expenses

And the kicker… $$$. Agencies cost money…

There, I said it. For some reason, talking about pricing/money is almost always the most uncomfortable conversation between agency partners.

Unfortunately, there’s no ‘fix’ for this one. There are a lot of different pricing models out there, but when it comes to the bottom line, agencies are going to hit the books in a way that irks AP/AR teams in a way that an employee’s salary doesn’t.

The key here (after determining budget) is to make sure you and your team are clear and comfortable with the sales agreement.

The more questions you can bring up about the billing process/SOW breakdown at the beginning, the less likely you are to get surprised when the invoices start flowing in.

Benefits of Hiring a Marketing Agency

Now if you can stomach the drawbacks, and you’ve already asked yourself the pertinent questions, the decision to move forward should start to become pretty clear.

Every agency is going to have some unique aspects that make them appealing (for example, Obility specializes in only B2B companies), but there are also some inherent advantages that come with agencies.

You’re not hiring 1 specialist, you’re hiring an entire team

This will fluctuate at any agency, but by and large, you’ll be working with at least a handful of subject matter experts that have their own experience and creative touches.

As such, when you have issues/questions about the areas your agency is covering, you’ll get to use the knowledge pool of the entire company, rather than relying on the expertise of one person.

This is often the greatest benefit any client sees with an agency partnership and that value fluctuates depending on the size and experience of the agency.

You get the learnings of dozens of clients and thousands of scenarios/tests

Not only do you have the benefits of a small army working on your account, but you’ll also be dealing with individuals who have done similar work for dozens, hundreds, or thousands of client projects.

That expertise will help in crafting strategy, but it will also help you (hopefully) abide by better than best practices and utilize the learnings that someone else already paid for.

Whereas one new hire has limited work experience, an agency’s experience is usually vast and not easily replicated.

You are hiring a team with dedicated skillsets; you don’t have to hire a unicorn

I bet you’re starting to see a pattern. More = Better. When you hire an agency, you’re getting experts in multiple disciplines.

Whether that’s landing page design, SEO, Paid Social, or SEM strategy, having an entire team with dedicated areas of expertise will set you up for success when building your demand gen programs.

Even if an in-house employee can give you more dedicated hours/week, the likelihood that they’re going to be able to mimic what a team of experts could do is minimal at best.

So what should you do?

Unfortunately, this isn’t a question anyone can answer for you. As long as you take the time to ask the right questions, and truly understand what you do/don’t need, you should be in a position to succeed regardless of the choice you make.

Now go out and start crushing those lead goals…

About Alex Jackmond

Alex is a Customer Success Manager at Obility and helps drive strategy for clients. In previous lives, Alex has served in similar roles for PR, communications, and digital marketing agencies across Portland, Or. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter, as well as staying active via basketball, golf, or snowboarding. View all Alex Jackmond’s posts >