Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Hiring anyone is a tricky thing.
That applies to every industry and every function, marketing included. So if you’re currently trying to lay the foundation for a content marketing program and wondering whether to build an in-house marketing team or outsource with an agency, understand that neither solution is likely to check ALL the boxes.
The truth is, there are advantages and disadvantages to both options. (There’s even a third option, which is to have both!)
You can make a more informed decision about your marketing team by understanding the features that distinguish agency vs. in-house marketing, which we’ve outlined below. Then, apply that understanding to your own priorities for the program, and you’re more likely to make the best choice for you.
Agency Vs. In-house Marketing: Understanding How To Build Your Team
Before you go any further, consider the specific challenges you’ll be facing when it comes to building out a team. Ask yourself the following:
- Do you need expertise in one or more areas related to content marketing?
- Do you have an extremely limited budget?
- Are you concerned about having the bandwidth to complete the various tasks associated with content marketing?
- Is your industry difficult for outsiders to understand?
- Do you need to show results quickly?
Considering the answers to these questions will help you choose a course of action that fits your specific situation; they’ll also help you identify the right agency partner or job candidate when it’s time to take action. Write down your most pressing needs in order of priority.
If you need expertise in content marketing…
Hiring an agency is usually the simplest way to get all the expertise needed to handle content marketing successfully. That expertise includes:
- Content production
- Project management
- Social media
With an agency, you get the benefit of hiring a team of experts who use their combined knowledge to get the job done well.
Many agency teams have a long history of working together and a good track record for getting results. In short, they’ve done this before, and (if you choose an agency you’re comfortable with) you can be confident that your organization’s content marketing is in good hands.
It is certainly possible to hire individuals with expertise in each of these areas and build an highly capable in-house team. You also might have staff members already who are skilled in one or more of these areas.
Keep in mind, though, that these individuals may be stretched thin if they have other job priorities besides content marketing. And if you do need to hire, it’s usually a lengthy process. That means it could be months before your program can get fully up to speed.
Bottom line: Agencies are the simplest and most effective solution if you currently have little-to-no in-house expertise. (And if it doesn't work out, it's much easier to fire an agency than a full-time employee!)
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If you have an extremely limited budget…
Generally speaking, hiring an in-house content marketing team is likely to cost more than working with an agency. An in-house team requires salaries, benefits, onboarding, and other overhead expenses (plus the time/manpower it takes to recruit!).
An agency, on the other hand, usually charges a flat fee for their services, which may wind up being less expensive than the cost of an employee. Many agencies also allow you to choose from various packages of service, providing fewer services at a lower cost and ranging upward.
Every agency’s prices are different, of course, and some may be well out of your range. But their flexibility in the pricing arena means you can decide to start small and ramp up your content marketing as you begin to see returns. Conversely, you can also pull back on spending in times when your organization might be facing financial difficulties.
Bottom line: An agency’s flat fee structure usually proves to be less expensive than hiring a new team. However, if your budget is severely limited, evaluate the skills and personnel you already have in-house to see where and how you might cobble together the talent you need. Know that this is probably not a good long-term solution though, and if you do choose that route, consider our next point…
If you’re concerned about having the bandwidth to complete the various tasks associated with content marketing…
If you do decide to hire for an in-house position, go in with your eyes wide open: Content marketing takes a lot of time.
Our own research has shown that, for a single blog post, it takes us an average of four hours and 24 minutes to complete a blog post, start to finish, including:
- 23 minutes (9%) to conduct a content interview
- Two hours and 55 minutes (66%) to write and research
- One hour and six minutes (25%) to edit
This time average doesn’t include any of the planning that goes in before the article creation phase, including persona development and keyword research, or posting the blogs. If you want to post eight blogs a month (which is ideal to see results faster), you’ll spend just over 35 hours a month on blogging—which is over 422 hours in a year.
Also, blog posts aren’t the only element of content marketing; you’ll also need to produce emails and offers, and sometimes slideshows, scripts, infographics, newsletters, etc.
So, if you’re thinking of using current employees to create your blogs—or hiring with the intention of splitting the new employees’ workloads—know that content marketing could make up a substantial portion of their day-to-day tasks and put a heavy burden on their workload if you’re not careful.
Content marketing also requires a lot of time and effort from marketing managers/directors, who tend to wear multiple hats as it is. For most, it’s a struggle to find the time to develop a long-term strategy, plan content calendars, do keyword research, assign work, approve content, and track your results in a software like HubSpot.
An agency can keep all those balls in the air while you—the in-house manager—focus on the bigger picture. Ideally, they will have the bandwidth to dedicate at least 40-50 hours per month to your company’s account, making sure you have all the time and expertise you need to keep things running smoothly.
Bottom line: Both options could work, as long as your hiring strategy takes new employee workloads into consideration. Note that, if you are unable to hire a full team, this is one area where the third option might work best: using an out-of-house agency to supplement your in-house team. An agency can help ensure you have a steady supply of content to publish (an important factor in any program’s success) and a solid strategy in place for growth.
If your industry is difficult for outsiders to understand…
… then you’re like most B2B companies! 😀
In-house marketing teams have a slight advantage here in that they are already an integral part of the company and are familiar (at least in a general sense) with the product or service you offer, as well as the brand. (Keep in mind, of course, that hiring a new in-house content marketing team will require getting them up to speed on these things.) Hopefully this knowledge will help them to produce valuable content that answers your ideal buyers’ questions.
Keep in mind that company/product knowledge is transferable, however—which means you can’t discount agencies completely based on this point. But before hiring an agency, it’s important to understand how they work.
Some—like Nectafy—produce content based on interviews with subject matter experts (SMEs). Usually those experts are employees of the client company who are engaged in the work and familiar with the product.
Our team also does some individual research for context, but the bulk of every article is based on the client company’s own expertise and point of view. For as long as the partnership lasts, our strategists and writers continuously work to learn about our clients’ industries and what makes their businesses unique. In this case, our agency’s articles would be comparable to those of an in-house team in terms of industry knowledge.
Some agencies, however, create content based solely on internet research. In this case, the information gathered tends to be generic and less helpful to readers—ultimately an inferior option to an in-house team.
Bottom line: An in-house team is comparable with an agency that uses SMEs to produce content; avoid agencies that rely on internet research only.
If you need to show results quickly…
… you may need to readjust your expectations! In our experience, it takes about a year for most companies to see results at scale. (Read more about the variables here.)
That said, hiring an agency will likely produce results more quickly than hiring an in-house team.
That’s simply because an agency can be up and running on your account in about a month, churning out content and measuring results. At Nectafy, we also hold monthly reporting calls to review your KPIs and talk strategy, so you’ll always have information to pass on about how things are going.
Here’s an example of one of Nectafy’s client reporting dashboards in Databox.
On the other hand, it could take a substantially longer amount of time to post jobs, interview candidates, onboard, and train new employees. And if you need to hire a full team, all those dominoes need to fall into place relatively simultaneously in order for things to run smoothly.
Bottom line: An agency is likely to produce results sooner than hiring an in-house team, unless your company is capable of hiring quickly.
A third option in the agency vs. an in-house marketing team debate:
Supplement your existing marketing team with an outside content marketing agency.
The issue doesn’t have to be one of going with an agency vs. an in-house marketing team—for some companies, the best option is to use a little bit of both!
You may have an amazing writer already on your team, and a designer who can pinch-hit for certain visuals. Perhaps all you need is SEO expertise.
Or, you might want to hire an SEO specialist who can coordinate content efforts on a variety of fronts, but need additional writing help to produce a steady stream of excellent content pieces.
OR… as a marketing manager you might have too much on your plate already, and realize you don’t have the time to coordinate an entire content marketing plan and stay on top of it. In this case, you might need assistance with content calendar planning, project management, and reporting.
Content agencies, including Nectafy, often offer a variety of packages so you can design—and pay for—only the services you need. Think through your biggest challenges when it comes to content marketing, and where your own team has skill or bandwidth gaps. Sometimes the best (and fastest!) solution is for two teams to work together to produce great content.