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Having spent most of my career on the client-side of marketing, I can confidently say that working with an agency is usually a good move for most companies. The reason I say this is that a large majority of businesses who hire in-house marketers are going to have a difficult time finding the talent that is readily available at an agency. And when you really get down to it, that’s what makes marketing agencies so damn appealing.
You see, the best agencies bring industry and channel specialists to their clients’ projects. These specialists often come with varied work experiences and collaborative mindsets, which are two keys to success in contemporary marketing. When you combine these attributes with data, creativity and a customer-centric approach, there are a lot of great things about working with an agency. That is, unless you’re just not ready.
Now, I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone looking for the assistance of a skilled agency. Beyond adding customers, value and ingenuity to your business, a good agency can serve as an inspirational partner that coaxes you out of being inward-focused and uninteresting to your audience. But, it’s not for everyone. In my experience, there are a few scenarios that may indicate your business isn’t quite ready for an agency relationship.
You have a good idea, but no product.
It’s perfectly normal, and many times practical, to tap a marketing firm while your product is being designed and manufactured. This is especially true if your product is an app or a service, as messaging and information architecture teams often work together seamlessly with development and sales teams to refine a finished product.
A capable agency can help your business understand industry trends and steer product development in the right direction to meet your potential consumers’ needs. What can be problematic, however, is when you make the mistake of leaning too hard on your marketing agency to spin a broad idea into a successful product. Sure, agencies have certainly done it in the past, but unless you have an unlimited budget, your time and money will be better spent investing in your product concept than engaging with a marketing firm before you’re ready.
You have no internal resources.
Are you the only person at your company? Who will be tasked with answering the questions your agency has during the strategy process? Who will be available to give feedback on audience targeting, messaging, creative and spend? Is someone managing organic social media and customer service, or will you be paying a premium to have your marketing agency handle the day-to-day operations of your business?
Again, if your budget is truly unlimited, then by all means hire a marketing agency that can dedicate an account director to own every aspect of your brand. In most cases, however, hiring a marketing coordinator in-house to manage the relationship between your business and the agency makes a lot more sense. Especially if you plan on getting sleep any time soon.
Your website isn’t marketable.
A website is the signage, storefront and business card for your brand. In many cases, it’s also where a user will make a conversion, whether it’s a form fill to capture a lead, or a checkout on an ecommerce shop.
If your website is outdated, doesn’t reflect your brand values, or is the opposite of user-friendly, then it shouldn’t be marketed. Nothing wastes more money than putting good marketing in front of a bad website, even with a well-optimized marketing program.
Yes, decent template websites can be put together for a few thousand dollars, but that usually means you’ll be managing and updating it yourself (see “You have no internal resources” above as a reminder). A full-service digital agency with a strong marketing arm will always take the marketability of your web presence into account when developing your website. Only when your website is presentable should you invest marketing dollars into driving traffic and sales.
Your budget ends at web design.
Okay, so you’ve decided to go all-in on a new website design. Pretty solid idea, if it weren’t for the fact that the days of building it and expecting visitors to find you online are long over (if they ever existed at all).
Not only is a website never finished, but a website that isn’t marketed rarely helps a business grow. If your yearly budget doesn’t set aside a considerable amount towards getting your brand in front of customers, then you’ve essentially wasted your money on a website no one will visit. The reality is that the heavy lifting starts after your website is launched, not before, and it comes at a cost.
Along with carving out spend for agency support on your marketing initiatives, consideration must be made for investing in working media across ad networks like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and others.
You expect magic.
Agencies tend to employ some of the most talented marketers, and they retain them by having a variety of cool industries and stimulating projects to work on. If you’re hiring an agency, you can expect a pool of talent with vast knowledge and fresh business perspectives touching your project. Talent and experience, however, doesn’t equal magic.
Consider how your budget translates into the number of hours an agency spends on your project in a given month. Honestly examine your working media budget and consider how impactful it is against what your competitors might be spending. While many smaller or mid-sized agencies may be nimble, they can’t always turn on a dime. Strategies should be followed and realistic goals should be set against what you are willing and able to spend, both in dollars and manpower. Expecting to overtake your competitors in a short timeframe, with a limited budget, simply because you’ve hired an agency, may not only leave you disappointed, it could leave a bad impression on what should be a productive client-agency relationship.