Should I Hire a Digital Marketing Company or an In-House Marketer?

This is not an inconsequential decision; it’s a dilemma that businesses struggle with for good reasons—typically born from specific motivations such as budget, diverse needs, growth, expansion, increased competition, or even discord with existing marketing means.

Both options have pros and cons, but determining which solution fits the specific reason for the consideration and has the best chance of creating revenue (what marketing is meant to do) starts with understanding the challenges and strengths of each option and, ultimately,  which choice puts you in the best position to win.

When to Hire a Digital Marketing Company

Let’s assume you want to hire a proven and reputable digital marketing company. Let’s first accept the premise that not all agencies are equal; there are bad, good, and great agencies. We’ll agree on the following agency criteria for the purposes of determining whether to hire a marketing agency or an in-house marketer.

  • They should be a real agency, meaning it’s not one person working in their footy pajamas in their parent’s basement. 
  • They have experience in your segment (not necessarily your exact business).
  • They do not outsource marketing; their teams work for them directly, so they are responsible for the outcomes (or lack thereof).
  • Most importantly, they don’t work for your competitors. Hiring a marketing agency that works for your competition puts you in a position to be a proxy for someone else’s success. Marketing companies have access to your data—a lot of data about your company, goals, clients, targets, success, etc. You do not want one iota of that precious data used to further the cause of a competitor.

Three Reasons to Hire a Digital Marketing Company

  1. Multiple Complexities.
    When marketing has multiple complexities, such as extreme or aggressive competition, numerous locations, complex services/offerings, varied value propositions, and diverse customers, your needs often transcend the capabilities of an internal-only marketing team and require a competent external team with a wider breadth of experience.
  2. Formidable Teams.
    When your business requires a broader breadth of digital marketing services, good digital marketing companies will have specialists across various marketing services who collaborate on a unified outcome-focused strategy, which is very difficult to do with an internal person. Diverse specialized teams across a broad spectrum of marketing, SEO, paid media, social media, content marketing, conversion rate optimization, etc., all working in a productive order toward a singular goal. This is challenging to replicate effectively internally. Not to mention the intrinsic value of the experience agencies have in working with other organizations outside of your sector. New ideas, competition-beating ideas, routinely come from different industries, not from isolated marketers who cannot expand their knowledge base beyond the confines of your brand/industry
  3. Protecting What’s Yours.
    As non-competes are becoming obsolete, your internal marketers can now work for a direct competitor, while a well-structured non-disclosure still binds an agency to secrecy. Consider the hit your marketing could take from the time an in-house marketer exits until you locate a suitable replacement and get them fully onboarded. Marketing agencies are contractually obligated (the good ones) to have the resources you need at all times; someone leaving is not your issue and will not suffer a reduction in results or momentum. Even if you have strong internal marketing resources, an agency can always act as a safety net, handling the load of a staffer who is exiting or on leave, which keeps your brand out of jeopardy. 

When to Hire an In-House Marketing Person

    1. Are you qualified to assess and manage a marketer’s skill and experience? An internal person could be a fit if you have the expertise to evaluate their skill, assess their approach, and mentor them. Suppose you’re hiring internally for SEO services. In that case, you need to understand the complexities of SEO, from algorithms to website usability to the technical underpinnings, as well as all the malevolent SEO practices that can cause more harm than good. If you cannot determine if someone is skilled enough for the task or just competent enough to get the job, hire a marketing consultant with the expertise to distinguish between those who are formidable and forthright from emboldened incompetence.
    2. Marketing may have many facets throughout your organization, including cross-department needs, internal communication, training, events, etc., and marketing is better served within the organization than an external agency. With large organizations, internal teams are always helpful; just go into it with the right expectations.
      A quick story. I was in a meeting with a mid-sized financial services firm that hired an internal marketing person. The expectation was that this person should fill every need labeled as “marketing.”
      This lone person was expected to handle website updating, creative, internal communication, SEO, paid search, print, events, training, ideation, data management, and more. If this is what you believe an internal marketing hire is, brace for catastrophic disappointment. No person can do all of this in a silo. Hire the internal person, but give them the budget and ability to manage and bring in experts.
    3. Internal talent is helpful in specific segments of an organization’s marketing. Social media, for example, relies on timely communication and the ability to identify and leverage in-the-moment events in an organization. An internal marketer can prove beneficial in this category. Internal communication, marketing to staff members, email marketing to existing clients, podcasting, and even recruitment. An internal person may be better suited to achieve nearfield success than an outside agency.

Transparent Conclusion Statement

In the spirit of full disclosure, we’re a digital marketing agency; of course, we’re going to lean toward external hiring! We come to that conclusion honestly, not to create discord with internal marketers or sway organizations, but with sound and viable reasoning.

“It’s harder to break a stick in a bundle.” 

An external team of marketers will, in theory, be stronger and more resilient than any single person internally could ever be. 

Nothing says that the bundle should/could not include a mix of internal and external resources (as is the case with many of our clients) or even a solitary internal marketing coordinator to “wrangle the resources” and provide depth and scope from an internal perspective, working and communicating in tandem with the outside marketing agency. 

Ultimately, there is no singular answer that fits all scenarios; you have to examine all points of view, but one constant is the need for your marketing to produce tangible results, revenue verifiably born of marketing, and that should be your ultimate guiding light for any marketer you hire, inside or out.