4 Reasons to Choose an Agency, (and 3 Reasons not to!)
Jun 11, 2021
Engaging with a results-driven marketing agency makes sense for a lot of reasons, but as an agency owner, I’ve taken a little bit of time to boil things down to our top 4. I've also reflected on a few common reasons to NOT hire an agency and I hope this would serve as a red-flag warning for all involved (agency and organization) should you see your own reasons reflected here.
4 Great Reasons for an External Marketing Agency
One of the most important functions a good agency can provide is an external perspective. The longer we spend immersed in our work organizations, industries, and team culture, the more we are saturated in the assumptions and "normality" that the environment provides. A great expression that I've heard that always snaps me back to reality is "It's hard to read the label if you live inside the bottle".
A great agency can serve as a sounding board to provide external perspective and analysis of your value propositions, campaign concepts, user behavior, etc. It can also help to frame what’s happening in the broader context to ensure your marketing efforts are aligned with the larger context. Perhaps Pepsi could have benefitted from some objectivity for their in-house marketing team in their recent effort to leverage the BLM protests in their advertising campaign.
Many organizations lack the resources for a fully staffed marketing team, often having to rely on one member of the team to be a “jack of all trades, master of none” marketer. However, most organizations would benefit from access to a range of expertise across marketing disciplines. Think about how your organization would be transformed if you had a CMO, SEO Specialist, Web Developer, Digital Marketing Manager or Marketing Automation implementer? Engaging an agency usually pays for itself many times over and saves countless hours of frustration from the existing team by adding specific, focused and efficient execution and process improvements. Leveraging an agency to supply on-demand or fractional strategic support can radically transform the growth trajectory of an organization and free up your team’s workload.
This expertise also means agencies can serve as a second opinion for an internal marketing team. We’ve seen this additional layer of perspective and expertise even save someone from losing their job when the organization’s sales demands are unrealistic or the business owner’s pet project is doomed to fail. Hiring an agency can help remove the relational stress of managing expectations and leave the hard conversations to the outside team that may be better poised to handle them.
3. Scalability and Adaptability
The pace of change continues to escalate in a post-COVID environment. It's been impressive to watch leading organizations be nimble and adjust their business models. It's been equally tragic to watch organizations ill-equipped for change suddenly close their doors and lay off their teams.
Using an agency can allow you to more quickly scale up, scale down, pivot, or adjust your business model to adapt to changing markets. A great agency should deliver insight from other clients and industries and provide efficiencies an internal team doesn't have access to because they're focused on internal tasks. Imagine what might take your team weeks to accomplish, could be done in days by an agency with specific expertise and experience. This can take the form of strategic innovation and insight or it may be a key initiative to get off the ground like a new website launch, product launch, or lead-gen campaign.
You may have heard the adage, "hire for valleys, not peaks." This business maxim is sage advice that reminds us that if you hire for the peaks of your business demands, this can result in overstaffing and can quickly erode the profits of any company. It's no secret that using an agency can help accelerate the delivery of a project with additional manpower, prebuilt process, and expertise. The quality of the project or campaign is notably better as the execution is done by a team of experts rather than generalists.
CEOs and business owners can easily fall into the trap of wanting talent secured as full-time employees, thinking this the only path towards building a successful team. However, they sometimes fail to recognize that there may be inherent limitations in management capacity or expertise to properly mentor, train and lead these individuals. The result is an organization with a floundering team unable to convert that potential talent into actual performance and outcome.
Talent acquisition is hard. Keeping exceptional talent is even harder. Working with an agency can give organizations access to those creative and strategic resources that they otherwise would be unable to attract, develop, compensate and promote. Hiring an agency to staff for peaks can add significant horsepower to the growth trajectory of a company and provide top-tier talent on-demand without having to deal with HR and management overhead.
3 Red Flags to NOT Choose an Agency
While agencies have many benefits to an organization, there are situations where agencies are not set up for success in meeting desired outcomes. Over our 18 years of experience, we’ve certainly learned a few of the warning sights and lived through some hard lessons. So, when should you NOT hire a marketing agency?
1. Frustration with Internal Teams
Perhaps you’ve been unhappy lately with the performance of your current marketing team. Or, maybe there is a key marketing executive that you hope to work around and get results jump-started by bringing in an outside agency. My encouragement is to pump the brakes! An outside group cannot fix what leadership needs to address. Without internal alignment, we often find an engagement with a client is frustrated by projects that are thwarted, approvals that are stalled, and back-channel backstabbing.
An agency isn't going to solve company culture issues or address employee performance in a meaningful way (unless this is part of the explicit scope of a fractional CMO coaching project). Don't waste thousands of dollars hoping to circumvent a people problem as the issue usually finds a way to derail any critical initiatives. Address employee issues head-on and make sure you are being transparent with the agency about any staffing challenges.
2. You're looking for a "magic bullet".
I’m sad to say, magic only exist in fairytales. We find that executives are frequently looking for a secret hack or magic bullet when they come to us with their marketing challenges. The sad truth is that any magic that an agency might be promising is mostly smoke and mirrors. Even if an agency delivers something magic, if that process or knowledge isn't institutionalized, the business cannot scale any further beyond what the agency delivers.
Marketing is driven by expertise, courage, and discipline. It is a long obedience in the same direction. There is no magic. While there are innovative tactics that a great agency can bring to drive growth for your organization, resist the urge to self-diagnose or be bamboozled by the slew of social media "marketing ninjas" promising overly simplistic magic beans. Plan to work hard over long periods of time to see long-term successes and organization growth.
3. You need to stop the bleeding
If your organization is struggling to keep the doors open, a short-term investment into a long-term problem will almost always fail. Maybe the issue is your pricing strategy, target audience profile, or business model. Promotional marketing (screaming louder) will not cure flawed fundamental marketing (product, pricing, and placement).
Most marketing agencies (ours included) are looking for healthy organizations that have an established growth trajectory and want to accelerate that growth and/or launch new products.
Why? Marketing is not a short-term investment. Marketing is designed to prepare a product or service for the market and that requires creativity, validation, and nurturing. Marketing becomes the force multiplier.
The appropriate hire may be a business coach, CFO, or business consultant. If you are wanting to stop the bleeding, it’s probably going to involve changing your staffing structure and some honest conversations on the organization’s performance and business model. Get that help and get it quickly before bringing in an agency.
To conclude, my heartfelt belief is agencies like 454 Creative bring powerful, transformational change to organizations when the timing and intentions are right. The pairing of business and agency is fundamentally like any other relationship, where chemistry, realistic expectations and fit are crucial. My hope is that you’ve been able to identify yourself and your business in a few of these factors, and based on that, begin to discern whether or not an agency would be the right solution for you.
If you still have questions, or what to unpack further if you’re ready to engage with 454 Creative, we’d love to talk to you! Fill out our Get Started form today and we’ll be in touch.
4 Reasons to Choose an Agency, (and 3 Reasons not to!) in CEO Coaching