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3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Bringing Digital Marketing In-House

Nothing is static in the world of digital marketing. It seems like every other day there’s a change to Facebook’s algorithm or an update to the technology behind Google’s search engine. Keeping up with these changes- let alone optimizing your campaigns for them- is a full time job.

It’s times like these that make you, as a digital marketer, fantasize about packing it all up and sending it off to a full-service digital marketing agency. Or, maybe you’re a digital media fanatic who knows how and when these types of updates will happen and never miss a beat. You’re ready to build a team and bring all of your digital marketing services in-house. How hard could it be?

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. But, here are some questions to help you decide if you should keep your digital marketing in-house, outsource to an agency, or take a blended approach.

  1. How much time will the process take?

In-house

It takes an average of 42 days to hire a quality new team member. There are countless factors that affect the length of this process and most are unique to your company’s recruiting practices.  If you are planning to build out an entire digital marketing team, this timeline increases exponentially with each role you add.

Assuming that a comprehensive digital marketing plan has been put in place before the new hires begin and that the organization has been properly educated about the role of the new team, it takes approximately 1 year for a new employee to be fully onboarded and acclimated to the new work environment. Depending on the ratio of new hires to existing employees on the team, it may take anywhere from 1 to 2 years for the entire team to be fully productive.

Total Time: 1 to 2 years

Agency

If you’ve already vetted a digital agency, great! You won’t need to worry about the time associated with building a specialized team from scratch. A good digital agency will come to you with a team of experts who are ready to address your specific needs.

If not, you may spend a few months “interviewing” different agencies. We advise you take time at this stage in the process to make sure the vendor meets all of your selection criteria. You can afford to spend a little bit more time in this process up front, because after the agency conducts their preliminary discovery research for your projects, they’ll be productive right away.

Here are some questions to ask during your search:

  • Do you provide fully managed services for the entire campaign? 
  • Do you provide the tools to support User Acquisition and Customer Conversions? 
  • Can you create custom strategies tailored to our business goals that go beyond the scope of standard paid media campaigns? 
  • How do you use analytics to identify user abandonment and begin retargeting to recover lost sales? 

Total Time: 2-3 months

  1. How will this impact quality and performance?

In-House

Before drafting your job descriptions and conducting your search, think seriously about the type of team you want and can actually build. Do you really have the budget and operational capacity to build out a full digital marketing team all at once? Or, are you planning to ramp up slowly by adding one marketer at a time after you’ve justified the need for expansion. How you answer this question will determine whether your first hire will be a generalist or a specialist. Your expectations for the quality and quantity of work will vary accordingly.

A marketing generalist would be a good fit for a smaller company where he or she would be expected to manage the website, social media, analytics, and digital marketing tools without the added responsibility of orchestrating complex paid media campaigns. Even if the specialist were technically capable of executing on all of these projects and the paid media campaigns, they would likely become overwhelmed by the workload and the overall quality of work could suffer as a result.

Larger organizations have the option to hire more than one specialist to build out the digital marketing team. If you are the most senior digital marketer on the team and doing the hiring, you  would need to make sure that each type of expertise is represented and then manage the specialists during their onboarding. In doing so, you would have access to a broader range of skill sets, but would still need to be highly involved in the team’s day to day work. The time saved by hiring specialists would be spent delegating responsibilities and monitoring work toward your strategic goals. Since it would take at least a year for the team to be optimally productive, there would be no way to assess their true capabilities or the collective quality of their work until that point. 

Quality: Variable. You won’t know until the generalist or specialists have adjusted to the work culture and are operating at their optimal productivity.

Agency

The agency you select should offer both a broad range of services and subject matter expertise across each function. You’ll want specialists who have already worked with specific tools and software, and who have demonstrated success addressing your pain points. You are allowed to be demanding.

When you partner with the right agency, the quality of work should be high from the start. Your team will be fully immersed in industry trends and digital tactics, and have extensive experience using the tools you request. Many agencies will also offer an account manager to manage tools and talent for you, guaranteeing operational efficiency and providing you with extra peace of mind throughout the duration project.

Remember, as a paying customer, you will have the ability to evaluate the quality of the services openly and honestly. If your standards are not met, you should feel empowered to ask for changes. If your feedback is not addressed, you are free to find a more suitable agency partner.

Quality: High. If the agency is not meeting your standards, you can look for another.

  1. What is the real cost?

In-house        

Calculating the true cost of moving digital marketing in-house requires an assessment of visible and invisible costs.

Visible costs are those that you expect to incur when adding a new employee to your marketing team. They include salaries, software and platform costs, and onboarding and training costs.  

Invisible costs include platform set up costs, recruiting fees, and the expense of firing a bad recruit. CareerBuilder reports that the average cost of a bad hire is nearly $17,000. You’ll also need to estimate the cost of the loss of your own productivity while you conduct your search and double that cost if your new hires aren’t the right fit.

As mentioned in the previous section, you will not be able to evaluate the quality of a new digital marketing hire until he or she has been working at your company long enough to reach their full potentia. It is only after a year that you can begin to calculate the return on investment for moving these services in-house.

Cost: There is no universal cost associated with bringing digital marketing in house, though we’ve found some estimates of the costs for different specializations. Wayne Blodwell, Chief Executive of the The Programmatic Advisory, estimates that it isn’t worthwhile for a company to move in-house unless it is spending $20 million a year programmatically, so this could serve as an initial benchmark for anyone considering in-house programmatic. 

Agency

Each agency has their own pricing model. Some companies charge per project, while others charge per hour.  Cybba offers consolidated reporting to show how your budget is allocated across digital tactics. Make sure that you understand how you’ll be billed for services so you have no surprises at the end of the pay cycle.

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There are visible and invisible costs associated with this option, too.  Beyond your upfront contract costs, productivity may slow while you search for the right partner.  However, when you partner with an agency, you are paying for a guarantee of skill and expertise. The agency should be able to demonstrate a return on investment in as early as 3 months depending on the services selected.

Cost: Variable. Look for an agency with a pricing model that suits your needs and transparent reporting.

Bottom line:

When making a decision of this nature, the most important question to answer is: what is my goal in the long term?

If you are looking to build a self-sufficient digital marketing team to keep up the growth of your company, bringing services in-house will pay off over time. But it will take time and a strong commitment to the strategic vision to do it the right way. If you are a small-to-medium sized business trying to supplement a lean marketing team, a partnership with a specialized agency will best meet your immediate needs and may even be able to scale up with you. You could even build a mixed approach where you bring certain digital elements in-house and outsource the rest. It all comes down to what you want to accomplish through your digital marketing efforts and how you can manage expectations in the interim.

Victoria Cohen
Victoria Cohen
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