Bringing in an outside agency to partner on creative work and/or marketing can be a stressful experience. What pieces of the work should you hire internally for or outsource to an agency? Getting the blend right can be the difference maker. You don’t want to overstaff internally and have no budget left for marketing/ad spend – but you don’t want to lose your identity and brand voice by outsourcing it to an agency.
So let’s look at the first fork in the road: what to insource versus outsource. When should you add people to your team or find an agency? To make this decision I suggest you ask yourself the 5 following questions:
Do you have a clear marketing strategy that identifies outcomes as well as tactics?
If you don’t have a marketing strategy, even a simple one, you'll want to start here. This could be a great time to bring in an agency to walk you through strategic planning exercises, ask the right questions and push you to get clarity. Or you may need to hire a VP or Director of Marketing that can help you define this strategy. If you are a larger organization (100s to 1000s), I strongly recommend the VP/Director hire before hiring an agency. A smaller company might benefit from starting with an agency and then adding staff with an agency's guidance.
Do you need help with Ongoing or one-off projects?
If your marketing project is ongoing, or something that happens daily, you might want to consider making a hire. Conversely, you may want to consider outsourcing if it is a one-off project. For instance: the days of needing a full-time “webmaster” are mostly behind us. Not that there isn’t real value in having a team member that can code, but there generally isn’t enough coding work on a modern website to keep someone occupied full time. Hiring full-time employees to design and build your website is almost never a good bet unless that is your primary mode of commerce.
Are you looking for a strategic or vendor relationship?
This is an important distinction. A strategic relationship is a partnership where both sides are always looking ahead and invested in each other’s success. A strategic relationship is built on trust and shared values. A vendor relationship is centered around a clearly defined scope of work and very little deviation.
Both types of relationships are valid and needed at different times. Think of your home – a plumber is a vendor and an architect is a partner. A vendor wants to do quality work quickly and complete the transaction profitably. A partner wants to bring long term value and be seen as a collaborator. We recommend erring on the side of strategic partnerships. There is more upfront work needed by both sides, but the end result is often a symbiotic relationship that creates lasting value and outcomes. For instance: a partner agency can jump in to help with tactics when needed since they already know you and your brand. This can really matter when needing to move fast.
Are you staffed for an agency relationship?
Make sure you are ready to manage an agency relationship. Generally speaking, the CEO can’t be the project partner. Make sure you have someone on staff with designated time to work with the agency you have hired. Otherwise it will almost certainly be a frustrating experience for everyone – and fail to achieve results. This is one of the most common mistakes we see. We have often consulted with prospective clients on this hire, and found that we can’t be as effective without a dedicated project stakeholder.
WHAT KIND OF STAFF SHOULD YOU HIRE?
We believe that a modern marketing hire should be “T” shaped as much as possible. They should have depth in a key area or two that align with a daily need (for instance: development or design or copywriting or data analysis) but be able to work across many zones. Great communication and project management skills are almost always a must for any marketing hire. Test for these skills and qualities during the job interview process.
I hope these questions have helped you navigate the difficult decision around in/outsourcing for creative and marketing work. Any questions I missed?