In recent times, businesses are starting to ask the question – should we undertake the planning and activities of digital marketing with internal and freelance resources or should we hire an external agency?
Why is this question being asked? Well, firstly the rise of the ‘gig-economy’ - where everyday work for many is now characterised by short-term contracts and or freelance work makes the required labour more readily available. And the ‘democratisation’ of software tools and digital marketing skillsets has reduced capability requirements and thus has advanced this question for many businesses. So the goal of this blog (despite being an agency with inherent biases) is to explore the pros and cons of DIY versus employing an agency to help you with your digital marketing initiatives. Hopefully, you will be armed with some insights to make an objective decision that’s right for your business.
Please remember that your approach to Digital Marketing should be based on a foundational set of strategic thinking and a direction that sets the tone for the medium and long-term calendar of digital marketing initiatives. In other words…before you go searching for an agency or employing your own people, decide on what you want digital marketing to achieve and how you plan to achieve it.
Before we look at the pros and cons of doing it yourself versus employing an agency, first reflect on the following two questions.
Do you have clarity around what digital marketing is and what you want it to do for your business?
Digital marketing, inbound marketing, growth marketing, content marketing… there are many names for the plethora of digital marketing approaches and activities available. More important than what name all this activity falls under, is the strategic framework you employ. For example, considered purchase products ideally suit an inbound framework that nurtures strangers to visitors, to leads and to customers. While for retail and fast moving consumer goods a penetration strategy is more appropriate.
The key question to ask, is this framework that you can use for advantage in your business? While different types of businesses will have slightly different needs, all businesses and their brands certainly want to engage with their customers and digital marketing offers to do this in a targeted and measurable way. Understanding what your emphasis should be and what you want to achieve is a key criteria for whether go DIY or not, as you don’t want to start learning on the job if your outcomes are significant.
What skills, tools, and processes do you need to consider having for an effective digital marketing capability?
An important decision you should confront early on is whether or not your business possesses the capabilities to continuously run effective campaigns. And let’s be clear that a core capability comprises of deep understanding, a mastery of the tools and processes and availability of time, the most precious commodity of all. So let’s look at the key considerations in detail.
Time and quality
Digital marketing sounds like it’s a set of automated activities, however in reality it is a process driven, time consuming activity that requires the brain engaged to avoid GIGO (Garbage in, Garbage Out). Having a good handle on the many tools required to execute is also a mandatory if you want to again avoid wasting time, ensuring quality and the reputation of your brand is kept intact. Digital marketing is based on a strategic set of choices you make for the achievement of your objectives. At the heart of this strategy is continuity. These will not be set and forget actions and as such, consistency of effort is critical to the building of followers, engagement and authority with the search engines.
Understanding and processes
Fundamental to time and quality is mastery of understanding and processes. Any form of marketing these days requires absolute customer centricity. It’s easy to say yes we are customer centric, however this needs to be challenged because without absolute focus on the customer, the temptation to start talking about one’s self will be too much. Avoid going down this path by making sure you have people with the right levels of experience and understanding and you will see your conversion rates trending in the right direction.
Speaking about conversion rates. Digital marketing involves the creation and promotion of content on a continuous basis. Doing these things perfectly everyday requires excellent processes and workflows. Consider what’s required - everything from blog writing, to optimising, to promotion, to digital PR, works more effectively with a process that you can apply to your everyday in a checklist format.
Pros and Cons
Let’s start with the pros and cons of undertaking digital marketing in-house.
DIY Digital Marketing – Pros
- You are in the box seat! You control everything from the day-to-day activities to the setting of the strategic direction.
- You will learn by doing, participating in the journey of all process and workflow iterations. Depending on the size and scope of your in-house team you might be in the ‘trenches’ so to speak or acting as an informed helicopter pilot! Either way, you’ll know the complete narrative.
- Speed to action.
- Flexibility and adaptability to change. You’ll know everything including the results as they come in meaning can take advantage of the speed to action to reduce risk and amplify success.
DIY Digital Marketing – Cons
- Attracting the best talent may be difficult if you are starting up and the lack of diversity in the work maybe a drawback for potential candidates who like to work on multiple categories at any one time.
- You’ll be limited by your own experience, knowledge and will possibly lack mentors for the new staff member. And you’ll miss the rich learnings that come from working across multiple clients
- Digital marketing staff members are specialists and will be working in a business where what you do and its purpose are not aligned completely.
- Appreciation for your role and function by the wider business may vary, meaning that you can easily be diverted to other more important priorities of the business.
- Because you are part of fixed overhead and not on the time clock, you may not be held to the same levels of accountability with slower results being the outcome.
Let’s now review the pros and cons of undertaking digital marketing via an agency.
Employing a Digital Marketing Agency – Pros
- You can review multiple agencies to ensure you get a team of experts across different capabilities working to your direction.
- You can sometimes hold a third party to commitments (and KPI’s) better than internal staff.
- The agency model is scalable, as more work is more revenue for the agency, plus your costs are variable.
- Your marketing team can focus on other critical requirements without distraction.
- It’s difficult to be an effective ‘chief cook and bottle washer’, so with an agency you can play the helicopter pilot role with those executing helping to drive higher levels of accountability.
Employing a Digital Marketing Agency – Pros
- Agencies require management, despite their expertise.
- Agencies can be expensive – especially if the arrangement doesn’t go well.
- You lose some control and visibility of the journey.
- The voice of the company is not purely within company employee hands.
- You may lose flexibility and speed to market as agency staff work across multiple clients and are not at your complete beck and call.
So there you have the pros and cons of DIY vs employing an agency. I’m sure there are many more pros and cons, however the above captures the big questions and issues for consideration. In the end you need to assess your business needs – What level of control do you require? Do you have the beginnings of an internal capability that will achieve your goals? What would it cost to build? Is the culture of your business ready? Can you retain Digital Marketing staff and or a Digital Agency? The questions for your business should write themselves. And who knows, the solution you come up might be a hybrid solution where an agency could set up the plans, processes, reporting and best practices. Perhaps it’s not an us versus them situation! Agencies could help train employees to be self sufficient, showing tips/tricks/hacks that really help in-house staff take the reigns in the long term. Food for thought for a debate on another day perhaps!