Marketers have mixed feelings regarding digital marketing. On the one hand, it seems super easy. On the other hand, it does not seem to yield any results.
If you believe in giving digital marketing a serious effort, you may want to seek professional help. Either hire an in-house digital marketing team. Or hire a digital marketing agency.
We think that you should understand both the options in totality before taking a decision. Most advice around choosing between having an in-house team and outsourcing to an agency revolves around budget consideration.
This blog gives you a comparison in terms of logistics, quality and cost. If your deciding factors fall into any or all of these criteria, do check it out.
This blog advises you that for small- and medium-sized businesses, outsourcing digital marketing more sense. Primarily for the reasons of cost.
We think it’s not necessarily about cost. if you’ve been talking to any digital agencies, you’ll know their charges. You can do the math for yourself.
There are also very good resources on what an in-house digital marketing looks like, what roles it should absolutely have. Here is one. And here is another. The bigger your budget and the more your resources, the closer your team can come to the suggestions and best practices explained in these blogs.
We think the decision of whether you should hire an in-house digital marketing team or hire a digital marketing agency depends not just on your resources.
Because if money were your only true criterion, your answer would be simple: Yes, I can’t afford a full-fledged, ideal in-house digital marketing team today. Right now, I don’t even have the space to house their workstations! I can’t hire an in-house team. But once I grow, once I become more profitable, once I have more revenue, it’ll be easier.
But that’s not true.
Your decision depends on your own organizational structure and specific details like:
- How well do you understand digital marketing?
- How many of your resources (budget, infrastructure etc) do you currently dedicate to digital marketing?
- Whom will your digital marketing report team report to?
Your answers to these questions will help you focus better on your priorities. And once, you begin to get clarity, you may consider the following 3 broad models that companies use to handle their digital marketing investment.
Option 1. How to Hire an In-house Team.
Let’s say you decide to hire a digital marketing team comprising 5-7 members.
The questions in front of you will be two-fold:
01. Do You Have Enough Work to Keep You In-house Team Occupied?
What your digital marketing team will do depends on what your core business is. Your digital “workload” depends on the product or service that you offer.
For example, if you know you’re planning to write a lot of blogs, you know you have a lot of content writing work lined up for your content writer. The same will apply to the designer and the SEO expert in your team.
But would you be making a new website or app all the time? The developer in your team will not have a website or an app to develop everyday.
Once you sit with work profiles, you might be able to find many such blind spots.
You might think a lighter workload would make your digital team happy. Think again. Because employees do not always quit their jobs because they get paid less or they face a lot of work pressure or they don’t like their bosses and colleagues.
Employees also quit because they don’t have enough work to keep them challenged and feel occupied intelligently.
Here’s what an article from HBR says:
When employees don’t have enough to do, they can lose motivation and experience negative emotions. If they suppress those emotions, they can become physically and emotionally exhausted. The net result is a lack of work satisfaction and engagement, forcing employees to finally ask whether this job is the right fit for them.
So if you are not sure if your team will have enough to do, you may not want to get into hiring a digital team.
If you think you’ll manage by hiring only a designer, a writer, and a social media account manager, it’ll still involve a lot of coordinating with an outsourced partner anyway.
You’ll face another dilemma: who will head this team? Would your content writer head the designer and account manager? Or would your designer do the job? Or would you let the SEO expert do the job of heading the team?
These are tough questions. And we didn’t say there are any easy answers.
02. Do You have the Wherewithal to Hire and Manage an In-house Digital Marketing Team?
Hiring and managing a team in the domain of digital marketing can be quite challenging. For example:
a) Do you understand a writer’s and a designer’s KRAs?
b) Can you evaluate their portfolio or past experience?
c) Can you spot talent across areas like analytics and UX?
If a senior designer leaves and the junior designer has to step up, there’s a chance that there’ll be some dip in the quality of your creatives. Do you have the patience to let people learn at their own pace, especially because you cannot directly guide them about domains like design?
The situation gets worse when you have just one person per role. If a writer quits, would you know how to hire another one immediately?
03. Do You Have the Willingness to Mentor Your In-house Team?
Will your digital marketing team be reporting to you? If you have worked with digital teams before, it should not be a problem.
If you don’t have expertise and experience in digital marketing, you’ll need a qualified digital marketer to head the team.
But mentoring goes beyond immediate work profile. You or your digital marketing head would need to think beyond your immediate deliverables. A job might look like a job to you. But to your employee, it’s much more than tasks, projects and deadlines.
Your employees must be having several long term goals or a vision for their career growth. You must think if you can help them find greater satisfaction or fulfill their ambitions. Think about questions like:
a) Does your company have the means to help your content writer or designer become grow into becoming heads of their teams?
b) How would you make space for their teams if your digital marketing requirements can’t even fully engage one writer or designer?
This is another reason why many people with backgrounds in the creative arts like writing or designing leave. They don’t see why they should spend their lifetimes writing about your business and yet have no scope for growth.
In other words, are you able to show to your digital marketing team employees why they should stay with you when you can’t promote them?
This report by Gartner quotes an expert:
“If employees don’t see you investing in their future with you, they’re going to look somewhere else.”
As we said right at the beginning, hiring doesn’t just depend on cost. It depends on several things that great leaders and managers alone are able to visualise.
Option 2. Outsource to a Digital Marketing Agency
If you choose to outsource your entire digital marketing work to a digital marketing agency, you do not have to deal with the various aspects of managing a team whose KRAs you have no in-depth knowledge about.
Agencies know how to spot writers, designers, or SEO and UX experts. They see such talent constantly moving from one organization to another.
You also don’t have to worry if one team member quits. Since agencies have different teams specializing in different things, there’s always another team member taking care of your account.
But you have a different set of questions before you.
One set of questions revolves around your resources and workflow:
- Do you have the right resources to help you get the best out of your agency?
- Do you have a Digital Marketing Head to collaborate with the agency? And to understand the digital marketing strategy, to understand how to evaluate the agency’s work?
- Do you have the digital marketing budget in order for your agency to do well for your digital marketing?
- Do you have a smooth review and clearance process for the work that your agency asks you to approve?
- Do you have the time to contribute to research and brainstorming processes that your agency undertakes while framing a content strategy and creating content?
Another set of questions revolves around the kind of company or brand you are:
- Do you have a digital vision/map/goal?
- Are you marketing-oriented, or sales-oriented?
- Do you have the clarity regarding what you expect from your digital agency?
- Do you look forward to a long-term relationship with an agency?
Working with a digital agency is not a one-off requirement. It is not restricted to producing ads once in a while to launch offers. Digital presence requires constant content creation, nurturing and optimization.
Having the budget is not enough. If there are too many stakeholders approving and rejecting the agency’s ideas and creatives, there’ll be a lot of problems.
You may think you can always hire another agency but that’s only going to tamper with your digital vision. Every agency will have a different way of interpreting your marketing strategy.
If you change partners at your whim, you end up creating inconsistent messages for your audience. That can be harmful.
Option 3. Incubation
This option involves hiring an agency but with a difference.
As part of your understanding with the agency, they allot their own resources – content creators, account managers and so on – to work closely with you from your premises for a certain amount of time. That could range from 6 months to 1 year, for instance.
Both you and the agency get to learn from each other and teach one another about what needs to be communicated and what’s the right way to go about it.
You need to understand the rationale behind the strategy your agency proposes. You also get the benefit of analyzing it face-to-face with an agency representative. The in-person communication eliminates misunderstandings and conflicts that tend to arise when communicating over email.
There’s also another HR-related advantage you get out of this arrangement. When you hire an in-house team and find some team members incompetent, you may not be able to fire them one after the other. Your HR policy will stop you from doing that.
But if you find the agency representatives not good enough, you can always ask them to be replaced.
Incubation is a practice internationally followed. When multinational companies work with agencies that have global presence, they choose to work with this model rather than look for new local agency partners.
So Which Option Suits You Best?
Every option has its own advantages and challenges. You may have tried one option before and now you may want to get into an alternate arrangement.
Or you may be confused about what to do because you’ve never given digital marketing any serious thought beyond posting awards or pictures of birthday parties on your social media accounts.
Consultants can help you identify what works best for you after looking at your requirements and resources. Perhaps they may suggest grooming your top level management and empowering them with a checklist of what to look for in the digital marketing team or agency you wish to hire.
Do share your thoughts and questions about what has worked and what has not worked for you. What do you now think about the options in front of you?