With budgets shrinking and technology evolving at a breakneck pace, it can be difficult for in-house marketing professionals to be up to date on all the latest tools, practices and resources within their space.
As the founder of a marketing agency, I’ve been able to observe the common approaches companies often take to keep marketing innovation alive, including:
• The lone innovator, which gives one employee or contractor sole responsibility for improvements.
• The in-house agency, which builds an agency in-house.
• The joint venture, which creates an agency that lives outside your organization.
• The agency retainer, which borrows the best talent when you need it.
Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of each approach so you can decide which would work for your organization.
The Lone Innovator
A lone innovator is someone who takes on full responsibility for all of the marketing in their organization. For this approach to work in your company, you must remember that the lone employee can only be successful in driving results within your organization if they have the power to do so.
Pro: Companies with fewer than 10 employees often benefit from appointing a dedicated marketing innovator because there’s less red tape to navigate. Approvals happen more quickly, and the lone innovator is able to maintain a close eye on all marketing channels.
Con: Lone innovators might struggle to drive change unless their superiors empower them to do so. I’ve also seen that lone innovators tend to struggle with being jacks-of-all-trades but masters of none. Marketing is multifaceted, so asking someone to be an expert in every subset (i.e., email, content, social, etc.) might be like looking for a unicorn.
The In-House Agency
Alternatively, some companies create in-house agencies or innovation teams. This avenue requires putting together a group of individuals with familiarity in email, social media, content, etc. In this option, you are essentially creating a smaller, in-house version of a larger agency you might outsource. You’ll want to use those on your team in marketing roles or hire experts to work specifically for you.
The key to doing this is to mobilize the marketing team by keeping them looped in on new developments and allowing them to celebrate the company’s wins and innovations. This option is good for companies looking to have more control over their marketing efforts or those companies looking to create content in real time.
Pro: Having a team of experts focused on improving marketing results is likely to yield solid results if each person’s role is well defined and there’s an accountability structure.
Con: Unless strict measures are enforced to keep unnecessary corporate distractions at bay, burnout and groupthink can ensue, which defeats the purpose of the team in the first place.
The Joint Venture
Some companies create marketing agencies that are completely separate from corporate headquarters. This allows for the company to benefit from outside creativity that is often associated with agencies while still enjoying the proximity of having a marketing team at the company.
In order for a joint venture to work, corporate headquarters must allow freedom for the agency to work creatively; this means letting go of some control. If your company is ready to take a chance, this might be the best option for you.
Pro: This can create the necessary separation required for true, out-of-the-box thinking while minimizing risk to the parent company.
Con: This approach requires quite a bit of effort and resources. If you’re like most small to medium-sized businesses, creating an agency likely is not feasible.
Instead of trying to take on a whole new group in order to drive marketing improvements, I’ve seen through leading my own marketing company that some organizations choose to borrow talent on an as-needed basis with a retainer. A retainer is an agreement with an agency to provide a set amount of services to your organization per month.
If you choose to go this route, it is vital for your organization to be fully on board, and your needs must drive the agency you hire. To identify a good fit for your company, a few good checkpoints I’d recommend evaluating are the quality of their work, their timeliness, if they focus on driving results you care about and if they mesh well with your company.
With a retainer, there are also a few challenges to consider, such as communication. While a retainer can take a load off of your team, it does require that you communicate well. An agency needs to be kept in the loop on new developments so it can effectively communicate its offerings. Without defined meetings and collaborative communication, it can be hard to have a streamlined approach.
Pro: You gain access to a team of creative and strategic professionals who can help you overcome your marketing challenges.
Con: Internal teams might struggle to fold an agency into their workflow. Routine tasks that require close interaction with your C-suite might be best performed internally.
Regardless of any avenue you take — the lone innovator, the in-house agency, the joint venture or the agency retainer — implementing a marketing strategy will help your organization in the long run.
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