The true proving grounds of an agency lay not with large orgs but with infinitesimally small companies**. Small companies ask all of the hard questions. Small companies tend to still be figuring out their brand identity, and, therefore, have a wide range where their brand identity will ultimately end up. Small companies are dealing with very tight budgets funded mostly (or solely) by the founders and initial inventors. Every dollar they spend comes from a limited operating budget, and if you mess up, there are very real financial and reputational repercussions.
As an agency gains its own reputation for doing good work, they start to work with larger organizations. Larger organizations still ask hard questions, but the questions are coming from someone 1) With a budget and 2) With experience working with agencies. Most of these organizations have great, talented in-house marketing teams and an established brand identity. With all that talent and greatness, it’s easy to see an outside agency as superfluous. “I have an in-house marketing team,” they say. “Why would I need an agency?” they ask. The answer? Agencies bring perspective, agencies bring objectivity, and agencies bring specialization, and they are the perfect complement to your internal team.
An agency is a great sponge for new ideas and new approaches. This is in large part due to exposure: agencies work with so many clients in so many industries they can’t help but see things differently. They’re forced to stay on top of current trends, and that can be a real asset to a company. Not only can they introduce you to the idea of a headless CMS or an up-and-coming analytics solution, they can also help you determine if that’s the right solution for you. In addition to wide industry exposure, agencies also have exposure to companies at very different points in their growth lifecycle. They know what’s needed for the $10M company vs. the $100M one, and they can provide that perspective – and save you from having to figure it out for yourself. Changes happen in marketing overnight. This is truer now than it was even 5 years ago. A good agency will be able to see where your organization stands today, what is available to you today, and how you can implement those ideas across your organization.
Members of in-house marketing teams are some of the busiest people we know. It’s easy to see why: their job is the engine that keeps the organization going. They’re in charge of attracting new customers while keeping existing customers happy. They need to identify new product avenues while continuing to develop existing products. One thing internal marketing teams don’t have a lot of time for is rethinking things that seemingly work. Sure, keeping a Sheets document of your content calendar isn’t ideal, but it works. And who has time to investigate newer ways of tackling that workflow? I know we should be segmenting our email list but we don’t have the hours. Agencies can help in situations where time is the primary limiting factor. Technical debt issues, dated approaches of customer acquisition, inefficient workflows – these are all things that an agency can solve. When you’re in the trenches, though, they don’t seem like that big of a problem. An objective agency will be able to see the big picture and tell you what’s working and what’s worth fixing.
Almost every in-house team at this point has an analytics pro. They know their KPIs. They know their A/Bs. They’re confident at the helm of the Google Analytics interface. As companies have gotten savvier about the analytics side, creative production has become less of a priority. Many (most?) organizations can’t justify having an in-house illustrator. Many organizations can’t support an internal video crew. Agencies are the perfect solution to the “We need it, we just don’t need it enough to justify a salary” problem. With an agency, that perfectly-tested, expertly-launched digital marketing campaign has the power of A-level creativity behind it as well.
In-House Teams are the Best
We love when a client has an in-house team. We speak the same language. We have shared experience even if our skill sets are somewhat different. We can be confident at project-close that they’ll be good stewards of the brand. They know good work from mediocre (or bad) work, and they’ve seen the new work coming out of Pentagram and Huge and want to talk about it. It is the best situation an agency can find itself in. The best part? The work is better. When your team knows your brand in and out and has the data to back it up, better work follows.
** We still have some of those infinitesimally small clients. Some of them we’ve worked with for close to 20 years. Some we work with because we believe in what they’re doing. They continue to challenge us in ways only small clients can challenge us!