Should you hire a marketing agency or in-house employees? Do you need a team of contractors to bring your digital strategy to speed? What’s the best marketing team mix to serve your company’s needs now and in the future? This blog post, a recap of a recent Found Friday episode, will touch on the pros and cons of various types of marketing teams, and best practices for building your marketing workforce: from contracts, agencies, full-time employees, or something else entirely.
I’ve worked in all of these types of teams, and there’s no “one best team” type. But, I can talk about some of the pros and cons of agencies, in-house employees, contractors, and a mixed-model approach.
A great team should cover the full marketing ecosystem. This isn’t about having just a good social media team or SEO team: you need someone in charge of short-term campaigns, as well as long-term reputation management and branding. One solution may not fit all of your needs, so keep in mind that most companies work with a varied set of teams. Let’s look at the main types of marketing teams: agency, in-house, contractor, and hybrid.
Types of marketing teams
Agencies tend to fall into two categories: full-service or specialized. If you’re considering hiring a marketing agency, think about scope.
A full-service agency will handle all aspects of your strategy: graphic design, branding, social media, content creation, digital strategy, email marketing, and everything else your brand needs. For most orgs, hiring a full-service agency means hiring the marketing agency – the single entity that will handle the entire strategy. Because full-service agencies typically charge a hefty retainer, they tend to serve large and enterprise-level clients..
Specialized agencies focus on a specific piece of the marketing ecosystem, either because the agency has specialized experience or because the organization has chosen to farm out a specific task, such as media buying and planning, SEO, social media or email. Specialized agencies may be smaller, or an organization may choose to hire a larger agency to work in a particular function area. Larger organizations may have several specialized agencies managed by in-house marketing teams.
In-house teams may consist of a team of specialists, or a hierarchy of specialists, generalists and supervisors.
Specialists address specific needs, usually bringing practical experience or high-level skills to the project. Specialists may be subject matter experts, or simply experts at performing a specific function, like influencer marketing, email or SEO. Orgs may choose to have multiple experts of the same type working together, breaking down the specialization further – for example, holding both a structural SEO specialist and an SEO content creator.
Generalists typically work across multiple task types within a single team, or across multiple teams. They may report on multiple KPIs, or have titles indicating a wider groups of objectives – these are your “content marketing” or “inbound marketing” folks. In smaller organizations, marketing professionals may find it necessary to wear multiple hats; in larger organizations, generalists tend to work on holistic, whole-brand marketing.
Marketing managers or supervisors oversee the execution of marketing functions. They’re generally responsible for making strategy decisions, and for team communication within the function group. There are also lots of working managers – who may both supervise teams and personally perform a hybrid of generalized and specialized tasks.
Third-party contractors typically fall into three major categories: full-time, part-time and project-based.
The typical reason for using a full-time contractor is that an organization has a long-term project, but it cannot justify adding the overhead and salary of full-time employees to the project’s budget. A contractor dedicated full-time to a project will act somewhat as an extension of the team, and may even work from the organization’s office. You may want to test out a contractor’s aptitude and, when a bigger project becomes available, onboard that person as a full-time employee. However, some organizations run teams comprised entirely of full-time contractors managed by employees of the company.
Part-time contractors are typically used for projects that don’t create a sufficient workload to justify a full-time contractor or full-time employee. Smaller organizations may find part-timers useful for smaller projects, or bigger orgs may use a variety of part-time contractors because they need a variety of voices. For example, if you have an ongoing need for content creators, designers or social media influencers, but the workload for each is under forty hours per week, using part-time contractors may be a good way to go.
Project-based contractors are brought on for short-term needs with a definite start and end point. Temporary contractors might also be used for specialist roles that aren’t needed long-term. Some examples include launch tasks like analytics integrations or Adwords setup, or for specific, one-time campaigns. Agencies tend to do a lot of project-based contract hiring for specific clients who may need a subject matter expert, or a designer with a certain skill or background.
The hybrid situation involves having both a platform or tool provider, and a services provider. Hybrid solutions are a newer way of handling staffing – and it’s what DemandSphere does. Hybrid solutions are becoming are popular way for marketing teams to expand their capabilities without making full time hires (recruitment is rough!), training and onboarding, management, and overhead.
In a good hybrid model, there is a platform or solution provider that has a team of strategists and implementation specialists who can act as an extension of your marketing team. They may be there just for a few projects on an ad hoc basis, or they may be a regular part of your workflow.
DemandSphere’s hybrid model allows us to work with client’s in a more symbiotic relationship – with agencies, e-commerce organizations, B2B and B2C companies. The hybrid model is also a great way to tie together agency and in-house solutions that can share a platform and data management system.
Benefits and drawbacks of each marketing team type
Now that we’ve considered the types of teams used by most companies, let’s look at the reality of marketing teams: they’re not one-size fits all. In fact, most companies use multi-solution teams: SEO may be handled by a hybrid solution like DemandSphere, branding is farmed to an agency, a full-time employee manages social media, and content for the website which is created and maintained by a contractor. When you consider hiring out SEO, or hiring employees to handle branding, you might not be looking for the best singular solution, but the best combination of marketing solutions.
Why hire an agency? If you’re looking for cutting-edge digital marketing trends and a wide variety of outlooks, the agency model might be for your marketing team needs.
- Agency professionals tend to be very in-tune with what’s going on in the channels in which they operate.
- Because agencies work with multiple clients, they have experience with digital best practices, lots of tools and platforms, and up-to-date marketing methodology.
- Agencies are stacked with the variety of their employees’ perspectives. They’ll also present you with options, since they can bring in multiple agents and fresh ideas from across the spectrum of specialists.
What are the cons?
- Agencies are notorious for high turnover and role-changing amongst their ranks. The person who is your social media specialist today? She might be gone tomorrow.
- I’ve had issues with what I call the “client pecking order.” If an agency is trying to snag a big client, it’s all-hands-on-deck for that client. And, clients who make up a bigger share of the agency’s revenue may get their top talent. It’s not unusual for the biggest-spending client to get the best and brightest agency employees assigned to their accounts.
- The cost of a marketing agency is hard to overlook. Agencies are usually expensive, with a minimum monthly retainer fee and a non-negotiable set of services (you may be paying for social media management whether you need it or not). And, I’ve known agencies to access certain enterprise platforms at discounted costs, but pass on the non-discount costs to clients.
Why go in-house? There’s no place like home. In-house marketing team types makes sense for companies with a long-term strategy and the budget for full-time employees.
- Accountability is a huge perk of using your own employees. If you need to hold someone’s feet to the fire, it’s easy to figure out who that is (and, since they’re your direct employee, you get to tell them what to do).
- Continuity is another major plus. Hiring and retention bottlenecks are a problem for many clients I’ve met, and employees tend to stay on an in-house team longer than contractors.
- Cross-team communication is easier when your company owns the entire team (and its affiliate departments). If you’ve got twenty different agencies and lots of contractors, you’ll be sending updates to, and receiving feedback from, collaborators who may never have met one another. The employee all-call is a great tool when everyone on the project is, in fact, an employee.
Cons of in-house marketing:
- Employees may not be as motivated to perform as outside workers who have to earn your business with their performance. Complacency does happen.
- Politics and team dynamics can be a bit of a thing. Employees tend to jostle for roles within the company or airtime on a project.
- The cost of hiring employees is greater than the cost of hiring contractors, because of overhead costs. Employees require desk space, healthcare and benefits.
If you’re looking for a cost-effective way to place a subject matter expert – or a variety of subject matter experts – onto your team, contracting may be the best solution.
When to hire a contractor:
- You can hire contractors who are subject matter experts. You can even bring someone in just to answer questions, do a rebrand, or provide content for you directly.
- Contractors are typically more affordable than full-time employees. You may be able to hire someone to work from their own office or home, and you can pay by the project. For example, blog posts delivered on an as-needed basis will typically be much less expensive than a full-time employee filling a cubicle.
- You can hire a variety of contractors! If you’re looking for a variety of languages, or even if you’re just wanting a variety of voices, contractors are the way to go.
Reasons not to hire a contractor:
- Reliability and accountability can be tough, especially if you’re working with someone juggling lots of gigs.
- Because a contractor isn’t your employee or your agency, availability can be an issue. Sometimes contractors are fully booked with other clients, or have personal reasons for not being able to focus all of their attention to your project.
- As with agencies, contractors may not be on-site and may not know everything going on within your company. Sometimes, communication with someone working out-of-house can be an issue. Some contractors may have limitations on how they’re able and willing to communicate.
A hybrid solution is great if you’re looking a one-stop shop that provides both tools and a managed services team.
Reasons why hybrid is great:
- You understand data a hybrid group is using for strategy, because you’re seeing that same data through the platform. Because this is the team that’s actually mining the information, the data quality is usually great.
- They’re more affordable because they have an internal team that already knows the platform and your company’s preferences regarding the use of your data.
- Efficiency is another plus: everyone working under this model is trained on the enterprise tool you’re purchasing.
- You don’t have to do the hiring of individuals! You chose to use a platform, a hybrid team will simply help you use managed services in response to the data the platform delivers. A hybrid approach will cut the hiring bottleneck problem.
Downsides to the hybrid model:
- The communication between your in-house team and the hybrid team might not be face-to-face.
- Staffing or managerial changes at your office might mean that management wants to change enterprise software or tools.
Choosing the right marketing team model for your business
Remember, most companies use a multi-solution model. So, how do you choose the best model, or combination of market models, to handle each piece of your marketing ecosystem?
First things first: your hiring process should serve your end goal: revenue, along with any other exposure or branding goals your company may have. Let’s look at some considerations that may help you determine what makes sense for your SEO, content marketing, and other projects:
Are you hiring to fill a permanent need, or just trying to complete part of a short-term project? Projects can be months or years long, but it may still make sense to hire an agency or contractor to whom you provide an end date, rather than a long-term employee. Or, you could use a hybrid provider and tack a limited project to your existing platform.
Does this role need to be filled immediately, or could you transition current team members to perform the new role? If there are KPIs or deliverables waiting to be addressed by a team member, timing may be important.
What skills, and what level of expertise, is required to perform this piece of your strategy? Can the role be learned quickly by an existing employee or someone familiar with the subject area – or would it be prudent to hire a subject matter expert?
How regularly will you and other team members need to communicate with the person handling this project? Could they be remote, or do you want a person in a seat, at your office, working face-to-face? Are there internal channels which the new team member will need to access?
Where does this role fit into the organization? If they need access to sensitive materials, a short-term contractor or agency might not make sense. If they’re managing other team members, how does that role fit into the organization? Many contractors, agency folks, or hybrid marketers may have the ability to provide, and oversee, their own stable of specialists – not all managers need to be in-house.
Any project – whether it’s a specific email campaign or your company’s comprehensive brand – needs the right people to create, implement and measure. By creating a marketing ecosystem that fits your strategy, you’re setting everyone up for success.
If you’ve got a mixed model right now and you’re having trouble tying all of the pieces together – let us know. We are happy to help figure out the right “glue” to create a cohesive solution, whether that’s better integrations between tools and platforms, communication improvement in teams, better report building, or something else!
Want to find out more about creating dynamic content? Check out our recent Found Friday video on using agile marketing strategies to create better content. And, Join us for upcoming episodes of Found Friday by registering here; your registration means that you’ll be admitted to all future Found Friday videos.