Marketing agency, marketing consultant or in-house marketer

Does your business need a marketing agency, a marketing consultant, an in-house marketer or some combination of the three? Our easily digestible guide highlights the differences between them, how they might work together and how to figure out what you really need.

Marketing agency

What they are: A marketing agency is a business that offers marketing services to other businesses.

What they do: What makes a marketing agency different to a marketing consultant or an in-house marketer? A marketing agency is staffed by a team of specialists, with each specialist bringing a specific set of skills and expertise to bear when helping your brand. Typically you can expect marketing strategists, planners, designers, writers and support staff like project managers and account managers whose job it is to keep you informed and make sure your work is done in a timely fashion.

Pros: When you work with a marketing agency, you are not reliant on a single person. There’s a team of people ready to serve your business at any time. So, apart from public holidays you will always have help on hand. In addition marketing agencies offer the benefit of there being a whole team of marketing specialists working on your business. This means you get expert design, copywriting, marketing strategy and planning etc. all from a single source and without paying 6-10 different salaries.

Cons: A marketing agency brings unique skills and abilities to your business, but they don’t know it as well as you or someone who works for you would. They also don’t have access to your internal systems. This means, at least at first, you’ll have to spend time connecting them with the information and assets they need to support you. Marketing agencies are a very cost effective way of accessing the services of a full marketing team without hiring one, but depending on which services you require, you can expect to pay more than a single marketer’s salary.

See what a marketing agency can do for you.

Marketing consultant

What they are: A marketing consultant is someone who provides expert advice on marketing to your business. They may be a one man band or part of a larger consulting firm.

What they do: Marketing consultants provide senior level, expert advice on marketing strategy, planning and tactics. A good marketing consultant will familiarise themselves with your business and provide bespoke guidance, rather than just talking in general terms about best practices. After all you could get that from a book for far less money. Some marketing consultants also offer to help implement some of the strategies and ideas they share with you.

Pros: Good marketing consultants have a deep understanding of their craft and give you access to the kind of experience and expertise that usually comes with a 6 figure salary price tag, for a fraction of that cost. In addition to the salary saving, you only access the expert knowledge you need when you need it. This means you can often use them to augment the output of an in-house marketer who will probably be much more junior.

Cons: As with a marketing agency, they can’t know your business as well as you do and you can expect to have to pay for the time they spend familiarising themselves with your company. In addition, their wealth of expertise and experience is usually in marketing strategy and planning, so they won’t also have the specialist skills needed to execute your marketing plan in full. It is virtually impossible for one person to be expert in strategy, design, copywriting and technical digital skills.

In-house marketer

What they are: An in-house marketer is a permanent member of your staff. They will have relevant marketing qualifications and/or experience that make them suited to the role.

What they do: In-house marketers in SMEs tend to be generalists to one degree or another. They take responsibility for the full spectrum of marketing activities and lean on 3rd party suppliers for specialist skill sets, be than marketing agencies, consultants or other niche specialist firms. The main difference between the in-house marketer and a marketing agency or marketing consultant is that they are part of the business and so assume greater responsibility for day to day logistical and administrative responsibilities around marketing.

Pros: An in-house marketer is solely focussed on your business, to the exclusion of all else. Provided they are not out sick or on holidays, they are working for you 100% of the time and you have total control over their availability and area of focus. Being an integral part of your team, they have access to all internal systems and assets, they can communicate more easily with other team members and they have a deeper knowledge of the business that can reasonably be expected of an outsider. They can also take responsibility for providing that access to knowledge, assets etc to third parties.

Cons: If you’re not in the position to have a multi-person multi-disciplinary in-house marketing team, there’s only so much one person can do. Both in relation to time and skill set. They will pretty much always still need help from 3rd party vendors to operate effectively. This means you cannot consolidate marketing into a single cost base and still bear the exposure of hiring a permanent members of staff.

Deciding on the optimal mix for your business

Many start ups begin with a marketing agency or marketing consultant. As the business grows and evolves, this is often supplemented by an in-house marketer and as the business grows, more of the specialist skills are brought into an in-house role.

When looking at your own business, you need to evaluate what your priorities are in order to make a smart decision about the right team (virtual or otherwise) for your marketing function. In businesses where a high degree of industry knowledge is required to generate sales, an in-house marketer may become more of a priority more quickly than a consumer business where a broad range of specialists marketing skills are what is required to build a brand and drive sales.

Still not sure what to do? Talk is free so drop us a line and we’ll help you figure out what you really need.