As your business scales and evolves, there’s an ever-present question about whether or not you need agency support across key disciplines.
The in-house vs. agency argument has raged on for decades, and there are strong arguments for both in-house and agency staff leading strategy and execution.
This article will serve as a decision making guide for any in-house marketers currently considering how a content agency might fit into their strategy. It will pose some of the questions you’ll need to ask yourself whilst you make this decision. Though the focus is on content, the consideration process is the same for hiring most specialist agencies.
Despite my current agency-side position, I aim to give a balanced view on the pros and cons of hiring an agency, drawing on my previous experience both sides of the table. When a brand hires an agency before they’re quite ready, nobody wins, so it’s in everyone’s interest that brands only go out to tender when they are totally ready to commit to working with an agency.
So, if you’re looking into hiring a content agency at present, I’d recommend sitting down with your team to consider each of the following questions:
Do you have the internal resource to support an agency?
This is incredibly important – whilst an agency shouldn’t take up a wealth of your time, you will need an internal stakeholder to work closely with whoever you hire. The best agency/brand relationships are true partnerships, which means consistent and clear communication and dedication from your side to collaborate closely with your agency team.
When simply treated as outsourced resource, agency relationships are weaker, and the work suffers. You need an in-house brand advocate to ensure relevance and brand sensitivity, not to mention needing someone internally to provide clear sign-off and guidance on projects. When considering hiring an agency, take into account how much of your team’s time you’re willing to dedicate and what that means for your current set-up.
Is the brand you work for invested in quality content?
Though at the point of hiring an agency you will no doubt be convinced of the value of content, it’s vital that the entire leadership team are just as bought in. No channel works in total isolation, and so it’s essential for the success of any agency hire that you have the internal backing to get things done.
It’s simple: if you don’t have that, don’t hire an agency on retainer until you do! I say ‘on retainer’ as if you have a trusted partner in mind that you’d like to commit to, they should be able to help you make the case for investment.
Do you need specialist or generalist knowledge?
This is one of the most important clarifications to make when you’re navigating the decision around hiring. If you’re at a stage where you need a generalist to come in and build strategy from scratch, the right decision is likely going to be to keep this in-house.
Most value in working with an agency comes from the diverse knowledge and deep specialism of having an external team. When you hire an agency, you’re hiring a team of experts, whose breadth of understanding will naturally cover far more ground than any individual.
Typically, the pillars of a marketing strategy will be led by internal champions, whilst the unique execution of this strategy across individual channels is where agencies come into their own and add real value to a brand.
Are you able to invest in the correct tooling?
Of course, it isn’t as simple as hiring an internal specialist and letting them get on with it – most channels require specialist tools which allow them to accurately measure impact and success.
If you’re taking the route of hiring internal specialists to run a certain channel, do some research into the tooling they’ll require before you submit your hiring budget. Each and every channel will have its own tooling stack, and whilst you can make cost efficiencies depending on the scale of your business, it’s often the case that tooling can add up to more than the salary costs associated with hiring internally. Make sure you have all the information at your finger tips and give your internal team the budget they need to run their channel properly.
When working with an agency they should have a full toolset from which you’ll reap the benefits. If, upon looking at the costs of tooling, you’re having doubts about affordability, this is a cost saving to consider when bringing an agency onto retainer.
How important is it to have an on-site team?
Finally, if you anticipate any friction, or a lack of engagement from your brand, then it’ll be very important to make sure there is an on-site presence when it comes to marketing.
This will mean either hiring internally, or ensuring you work with an agency that can commit to coming in and working from your office for some of their retained hours. The best way to introduce a new channel or improve the reputation of marketing internally is with lots of exposure and communication so strong internal partnerships can evolve. You can read more about the importance of on-site consulting here.
The main message to take from this is that it’s very important that if you do choose to hire an agency, you’re ready for it.
You’ll never do your best work and get the best out of an agency team unless the internal case is solid, and you have buy-in across marketing and beyond. Your brand needs to be in the right position to really take an agency seriously and be dedicated to building a durable partnership that lasts. Time and again we have seen this as a critical success factor and the only way to achieve the win-win scenario we all strive for.
If you need help building a brief, get in touch.