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  • John Callanta

In-House vs Agency vs Digital Marketing Freelancer - Choosing Your Firm's Solution



In January of 2019, a publication of over 50 years stopped printing. Before 1998, if someone needed a service, they opened a giant book of phone numbers from every businesses in their city. If a businesses was relevant and enticing enough to capture the attention of the person looking for a service, they picked up the phone and dialed that number.


Today, it's a bit different but the process is the same; a person opens a directory (Google) and searches a solution to their problem. The business that's most relevant and if possible, enticing enough to garner attention gets selected. But how?


The role of digital marketing in business success today cannot be overstated. With the world becoming more interconnected through online platforms. Companies that fail to embrace digital marketing risk being left behind as the ability to reach, engage, and convert online audiences has become a key determinant of a company's growth trajectory. To achieve this growth, it must be managed.


Should a company opt for in-house digital marketers, partner with an agency, or collaborate with freelancers? Each choice has its own set of merits and drawbacks, and I will touch on the pros and cons of each option to cultivate an informed decision that aligns with your business objectives.



In-House Digital Marketers


An in-house digital marketer is employed by a company to handle various aspects of digital marketing strategies and activities directly within the organization who work exclusively for the company. They are responsible for developing, implementing, and managing digital marketing initiatives to promote the company's services in the digital space with their deep understanding of the brand.


Pros


Deep Understanding of the Brand

In-house digital marketers are fully immersed in the company's culture, values, and brand identity. This deep understanding allows them to create marketing campaigns that resonate authentically with the target audience. This familiarity extends to understanding the nuanced preferences of the company's customer base, enabling the creation of highly personalized campaigns that foster stronger connections.





Example: A water company selling sparkling water.

If the task to create search campaigns were given to an agency, they might also include terms like mineral water, spring water, infused water, distilled water, and other variants that although share the same keyword (water) are not the same and could cost the company marketing budget if not corrected by an internal team. An in-house digital marketer will understand to segment out or even create negative keyword lists to prevent ads to show to users searching for something similar but different.


Immediate Accessibility

In-house marketers are fully present within the company, making communication and collaboration faster and more effective. Urgent tasks and last-minute changes can be addressed promptly. Their close proximity also allows them to interact directly with other departments, ensuring alignment and synergy across various functions.


Example: Cancellations

In the world of conferences and guest speakers, sometimes cancellations happen. Even the fastest agencies can take up to a day to execute on last minute changes whereas an in-house digital marketer can make adjustments quickly and stop hemorrhaging marketing budget.


Tailored Strategy

The in-house team's dedicated focus on the company's goals enables them to develop marketing strategies closely aligned with the business objectives. This personalized approach yields impactful campaigns yet can pivot quickly to adapt to changes in the market landscape while leveraging real-time insights.




Example: Recycling audiences.

Agencies may have access to audiences they created on platforms but what about customer data pulled from your own CRM? An in-house digital marketer has access those these confidential information and build campaigns without breaking any consumer laws or data leaks.


Cohesive Messaging

In-house marketers have direct access to various departments within the company, ensuring that marketing messages remain consistent and aligned with other aspects of the business, such as product development and customer service. This collaboration minimizes the risk of conflicting messaging and enhances the overall customer experience.


Ownership and Accountability

In-house marketers take full ownership of their projects and campaigns. This sense of responsibility can drive greater dedication and commitment to achieving positive results. In-house teams are drive and desire to see their strategies directly impact the company's success, motivating them to consistently deliver high-quality work. Instead of relying on one account manager that has a portfolio of clients, an in-house marketer manages a portfolio of projects within the company.


Cons


Costs

Employing even just one in-house digital marketer comes with significant costs including salaries, benefits, training, and risk. This financial investment might be challenging for smaller businesses with limited budgets. Additionally, overhead costs such as office space and equipment add to the overall expenses.


Skill Set Limitations

In-house marketers might excel in certain areas but lack the diverse skill set that agencies or freelancers can provide. This could lead to gaps in executing comprehensive digital marketing strategies. As the digital landscape evolves, staying up-to-date with a broad range of skills can be demanding for an in-house person. If there is budget for multiple specialists, it may be feasible to hire multiple specialists and a digital marketing manager such as an SEO specialist, social media specialist, and ppc specialist to work under an overall manager.



Risk of Tunnel Vision

Being solely immersed in the company might result in a narrow view of the industry and market trends. External insights might be lacking, leading to missed opportunities for innovation. Collaborating with external partners can help inject fresh perspectives and disruptive ideas. The advantage of an agency is an account manager can learn from their portfolio of clients which solutions can be applied to your campaign without having to incur losses.





Example: Serving multiple car dealerships

A local car dealership with a modest budget saved themselves from having to test campaigns because the agency they hired had over 20 automotive clients already in rotation. The agency simply copied the campaign structure of their most successful campaigns and was able to optimize from there.



Digital Marketing Agencies


Pros


Expertise and Diversity

Agencies consist of professionals with diverse skill sets, from SEO and content creation to social media management. This collective expertise can enhance the quality and effectiveness of marketing campaigns. This diversity ensures that all aspects of digital marketing are well-covered, leading to comprehensive strategies.


Example: Search & Social

One digital agency specialized in paid search and paid social campaigns that had a team of specialists for each vertical. The agency managed paid social campaigns, graphics, and transferred the assets to paid display advertising which allowed an omni-channel strategy to launch before a major conference.


Scalability

Agencies are equipped to handle projects of varying sizes, adapting their team and resources to accommodate your changing business needs. This scalability is particularly beneficial for companies experiencing rapid growth. As your campaigns gain momentum, agencies can seamlessly scale up their efforts.


Fresh Perspectives

External agencies provide an outsider's viewpoint, injecting innovative ideas and insights into your marketing strategies that an internal team might not consider. This external perspective can challenge the status quo and lead to breakthrough strategies that set your brand apart.


Example: Modern strategies

In SEO, tactics that worked 5 years ago may ruin a website's credibility and banned from search engines. Digital agencies are aware of critical updates in the industry and can adjust strategies before their clients encounter issues.


Access to Advanced Tools

Agencies often have access to cutting-edge marketing tools and technologies, allowing your campaigns with a competitive edge in terms of data analysis, targeting, and performance tracking. This technological advantage can yield more data-driven decision-making and optimized outcomes.





Examples: Partnerships

Some agencies have partnerships with platforms such as Meta, Google, LinkedIn, etc. where they have internal experts working with agency account managers to ensure their client's campaigns are running optimally. An in-house marketer can also acquire these types of services but must meet minimum spends. Agencies usually meet these minimums through their portfolio of clients.


Reduced Workload

Partnering with an agency can alleviate the burden on internal resources, enabling your in-house team to focus on core business activities while the agency handles complex marketing tasks. This division of labor allows your team to work efficiently on their core competencies.


Cons


Cost Concerns

While agencies offer specialized expertise, their services can be costly. The financial investment required for hiring an agency might prohibit smaller businesses and startups. The initial investment deters businesses from reaping the long-term benefits. Along with minimum monthly spends, onboarding fees, and other expenses, partnering with an agency have huge start-up costs.


Example: Onboarding

Generally, onboarding a new agency will require them to run an audit. The audit will research and report their findings for a one time fee on top of the monthly management fees. Also, there are margins depending on the platform such as display advertising that has a markup for running ads.


Communication Challenges

Clear and consistent communication between your company and the agency is essential. Miscommunication or misalignment can lead to ineffective campaigns and wasted resources. Misunderstandings can arise due to the organizational distance between the agency and your company. Depending on the agency's workload and policies, urgent requests might not receive immediate attention, potentially impacting time-sensitive campaigns. Prioritization challenges might arise due to the agency's existing commitments.


Limited Brand Immersion

Agencies, while striving to understand your brand, may not achieve the same level of brand immersion that an in-house team can. This could result in marketing campaigns that feel less authentic or fail to capture the essence of your brand identity. Over-reliance on an agency could lead to dependency issues. If the agency's performance declines or their services are discontinued, your marketing efforts might suffer. An abrupt severing of ties could leave your company in a difficult situation.


Freelance Digital Marketers


Pros


Flexibility

Freelancers offer the flexibility to engage them as needed. This is particularly advantageous for businesses with fluctuating marketing needs or sporadic projects. This flexibility allows you to tap into specialized skills only when required. Unlike hiring an in-house marketer or committing to a long-term agency contract, freelancers are engaged on a project-by-project basis, allowing for greater flexibility. You have the freedom to select the right freelancer for each specific project.


Cost Savings

Freelancers typically have lower overhead costs compared to agencies, making them a more cost-effective option, especially for small to medium-sized businesses with budget constraints. Freelancers often offer competitive rates due to their lean operational structure.


Specialized Skills

Freelancers often specialize in specific areas, allowing you to handpick experts for tasks such as SEO, SEM, or paid social ensuring high-quality output. This specialization guarantees a level of mastery that might be challenging for a generalist team to achieve. Working with freelancers enables a more personalized and direct working relationship. This allows for stronger communication and a better understanding of your unique business requirements. The one-on-one connection can foster open dialogue and collaboration.



Cons:


Limited Availability

Freelancers may not always be readily available due to other commitments. This could lead to delays in project timelines, especially during peak demand periods. The availability of freelancers can vary, impacting project schedules.


Solution:

Hire freelancers in your timezone or willing to work when the rest of the team is online.


Coordination Challenges

Managing multiple freelancers for different tasks requires efficient project management and coordination to ensure cohesive and aligned marketing campaigns. Effective project management becomes crucial to maintain consistency and timing.


Solution:

If there is a digital marketing manager, VP, or growth marketing expert in house, assign freelancers under their supervision and form a mini agency. A weekly sync is enough to get through campaign planning for future marketing pushes.


Scope Limitations

Freelancers may have limitations in terms of the scope of work they can handle, which might hinder your ability to execute complex or multifaceted campaigns. This can be a limitation when dealing with larger projects or campaigns requiring diverse skill sets.



PPM's Approach to Digital Marketing


If your organization decides to use freelancers, consider my skillsets as I can cover various platforms across Google search and paid social campaigns. I specialize in paid search for Google and Bing while strategizing for omni-channel campaigns across LinkedIn, Meta, and display advertising. With other freelancers that have specialized skills, I have experiences in-house and agency roles which I provide my clients with the best of approaches.


By recognizing the paramount importance of digital marketing and selecting the right professionals to execute your strategies, you can position your company for success in the digital realm. Regardless of your choice, a strategic and well-informed approach to digital marketing is indispensable in today's dynamic business landscape.

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