January 11, 2022
No matter the size of your association, marketing is an absolutely essential business function that helps you reach your potential members, engage with your existing members and more. There are multiple ways to onboard marketing talent, with the two most common options being hiring an internal marketing team or partnering with an agency. While in-house marketers are more likely to have a better understanding of your specific brand and marketing campaigns, agency talent can fill in gaps when needs arise for specialized skills and expertise.
Ultimately, in order to make the best decision for your organization, you’ll need to define your marketing goals and weigh them against your current team’s strengths and weaknesses. While there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach, this post will walk you through the primary pros and cons of in-house vs. agency for association marketing.
In-house marketers know your industry, association and brand inside and out. Your association’s mission, values and voice are ingrained in everything they do. While an agency can learn these things, it won’t come as natively as it does to your internal marketing team.
Having a marketing expert within your organization gives you an opportunity to build a strong company culture as the foundation for your marketing strategy. Your team member will have a better understanding of your company’s goals and priorities after being indulged in its environment daily. Further, with your marketer(s) being involved in your organization first-hand, every marketing move made can be geared towards the fulfillment of your organization’s mission.
Your in-house marketing team has easy access to insights from all areas of your company. It’s easy to chat with the member engagement specialist or events coordinator in the cube next door or in the company Slack channel.
This cross-functional alignment often leads to consistency in marketing messaging and branding, giving your organization a clear brand voice and advantage in the market. In addition, decisions on marketing campaigns and initiatives can be made more efficiently without the use of an external agency, as your employees are more connected with open communication channels.
One key difference between in-house vs. agency marketing teams is that your internal team is focused solely on your association’s marketing goals. External agencies, on the other hand, are managing multiple clients, goals and workloads. By hiring an in-house marketing team, you are better able to supervise their work on a more consistent basis, ensuring that they are held accountable for their work product and daily productivity.
Depending on the size of your in-house marketing team, your organization could be looking at a hefty budget increase to build up a proper marketing staff. In addition to a base salary, employers must pay for taxes, insurance and benefits, equipment, software subscriptions and more for their employees. On average, these expenses cost between 40-100% of each employee’s salary, meaning that the average cost of each additional marketing team member is approximately $70,000 or more.
There are many components that make up a good marketing strategy, all of which require various resources and skillsets, including graphic design, copywriting, branding, advertising, SEO and more. Most marketing professionals are only experts in one or two targeted areas, so companies often need to hire several employees to get the job done. This requires more work on the front-end and multiplies the cost incurred for your organization.
Groups of employees within a company’s internal marketing team often tackle problems in similar ways. While this consistency is helpful in creating a strong brand image, it can sometimes hinder creative solutions from evolving. Groupthink and stale ideas are a risk of using your internal team for marketing initiatives. By having outsiders give their perspectives on your brand, you can bring more innovative thinking to solve your association’s struggles.
Your in-house marketers most likely have strong skills in areas related to your specific industry and their specific roles. When hiring an outside agency to assist with marketing efforts, however, your organization reaps the benefits of the agency’s broad range of capabilities and expertise within multiple areas. This assures your association is utilizing the latest and greatest techniques and technologies available.
Many times when in-house marketing professionals are given new projects, it takes away from their daily marketing responsibilities. This not only slows down the project but can also decrease the quality of their output in general. By hiring an agency to help with critical tasks, your internal team can focus on their daily work without the responsibility of managing additional employees and/or tasks.
As discussed earlier, groupthink is a drawback of having your internal teams handle all marketing efforts. By bringing in an agency, your organization will have perspectives from outside of your bubble, ensuring that the best opportunities and ideas are presented. Because agencies work with multiple clients, they have likely already been through a similar situation your association is encountering.
Keeping marketing software and online management platforms up to date can be expensive and time-consuming. SaaS subscriptions and must-have tools add up quickly. The cost of an agency partner will often include software and upkeep costs, saving you time and money in the long run.
While agencies are often more cost-effective in the short term, when compared to hiring an entire internal team, your organization gives up some control in the process. To prevent bottlenecking and inefficiencies, associations need to have enough trust in their agency partner to run with their marketing efforts full speed ahead. This, however, is easier said than done and can be a challenge for organizations used to having complete control.
An agency’s knowledge of the latest and greatest technologies and techniques is great to spur innovation, but it may lead to surface-level knowledge across industries. Agency representatives will likely not have a deep understanding of your industry, brand, or objectives, especially when first starting to work with you. They can be taught and trained, but this process takes time.
An agency won’t be as integrated into an organization as its internal team. Generally, the agency will only have contact with one to two representatives from your association who will provide them with the necessary answers. This can lead to delays and miscommunication, especially with projects that involve cross-functional teams across your organization.
Similar to training periods for your internal employees, external agencies will need time at the start of projects to familiarize themselves with your organization, goals and objectives. You might feel like these discovery periods are eating up your budget without deliverables, but it’s necessary to bring the agency up to speed. If you’re investing in multiple projects with the same agency, this time is incredibly valuable. However, if you are spreading multiple projects among multiple agencies, this discovery time can be costly.
Ultimately, your organization must weigh the benefits and costs of an in-house vs. agency marketing team after examining your specific needs in both the short and long term. It is impossible to discern which option is objectively better, as both can provide major benefits and drawbacks!
Need some additional guidance on the best way to achieve successful marketing for your association?
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Emily Herrington is a New Orleans-based digital marketer specializing in SEO, content, and pay-per-click advertising. She can usually be found at her desk obsessing over data and rankings, or in the kitchen covered in flour.