Why In-House Marketing Departments Still Need An Agency

Should your company build an in-house marketing department or outsource work to an agency? The answer is yes and yes. Here’s why the best-run companies have a strong internal team of marketing/branding professionals, but still understand the benefits of partnering with an outside marketing firm.

Added Knowledge

Some in-house marketing managers are great at strategy and project management, but don’t have a creative bone in their body. Other in-house departments have a writer and a designer, but no one who excels at big picture planning. Either way, you can find a marketing agency that has the skillset(s) to supplement your in-house department. If you don’t have enough work to support a full-time staff member, hire an agency instead of trying to have non-experts handle the work internally. (Have you ever seen a technical content writer design an infographic? It’s not pretty.)

Temporary Gaps in Staffing

What happens when your graphic designer is out on maternity leave? Or your web developer accepts a new job? Does all hell break loose or do you have a backup plan? A creative studio that’s already up-to-speed with your branding can easily step in and make sure work gets done when there are temporary gaps in your in-house department.

Overflow Work

Most in-house marketing departments run just lean enough to handle the normal flow of day-to-day work. Special large-scale projects, like an annual sales meeting or receiving an influx of partner funding to promote a specific technology, can quickly overwhelm a small internal team. Having an agency on standby to which you can outsource this overflow work ensures all projects get completed on time.

Fresh Perspective

In-house creative teams know their company’s branding like the back of their hand. But that familiarity can also lead to creative burnout when writing the same direct mail campaign for the fourth year in a row. For an outsider perspective on how to use the same colors and fonts in a fresh new way, it’s helpful to send select projects to an outside marketing firm.


Moral of the story? Successful marketing occurs when there’s a collaboration between internal teams and outside agencies. So if and when we call you, pick up the phone and let's build on what you've worked so hard to create.


1. You value outside opinions and professional expertise. The people who work in ad agencies are professionals—like lawyers and plumbers and accountants. I’ve dabbled in all three of those areas enough to know that dealing with them is best left to professionals. I’ve also learned that sometimes I’m too close to a situation and I need outside advisors to help me sort out a plan of action.

Those are good reasons to hire an ad agency. It’s shocking how often we reveal strategic advantages and pitfalls our clients never anticipated—just because we have an outsider’s perspective. And because we’re professionals. You do what you do because you’re good at it. We’re good at advertising.

2. You have ongoing advertising/marketing needs that require professional attention. If you need a product flyer or a radio spot, you may not need an ad agency. If you need a coordinated campaign that includes several media, or you need a big collateral system, or ongoing content for your blog, or videos and programs and speeches for your big event, or—well, you get it. Ad agencies are great for planning, coordinating, and executing complicated marketing communications programs and helping you get the most for the money you spend.

3. You can’t afford to have top-level advertising talent on staff. We employ the talents of expert writers, designers, art directors, creative directors, web developers, business and marketing strategists, media planners, project managers, and account executives—not to mention photographers, videographers, directors, audio engineers, models and actors, printers, etc. All of these people have professional and technical expertise used in the creation of advertising.

You probably don’t want all these people on staff. (Neither do we.) If you’re a big company, you can probably afford to have some of them on the payroll, and you may be able to keep them busy enough to justify their salaries. And if you’re lucky, you can snag a great writer or a fabulous designer with the promise of a steady paycheck in a stable environment. We know lots of great creative people who work on the client side.

But most top ad people don’t want to work for in-house departments. Most want to work for ad agencies, where they can use their talents to work on a variety of challenging assignments for different clients in different industries. They’re motivated less by job security and more by the prospect of doing daring work.

Or they want to work for themselves. Which brings us to the next good reason…

4. You don’t want to spend all your time wrangling freelancers. 

You can get really good freelance marketing help for less than you’d pay an ad agency for the same work. Freelancers have lower overhead.

But hiring and coordinating freelancers can be a hassle. With an ad agency, you ideally have a single point of contact—an account executive—you can lean on to coordinate getting all your work done. Having a great account executive you can rely on to oversee your advertising business can save you countless hours you’d otherwise spend bringing together the right team for each part of the job and keeping your projects moving. Ask anyone who’s ever had one: a great AE is worth his or her weight in the paperwork you don’t have to do to coordinate your advertising efforts.

5. You want to do the best advertising you possibly can. If you think any advertising is good advertising, you may not need an ad agency. If you want to shake up your market and rocket your company to power, influence, and wealth—and you’re committed to expending the brainpower, time, and money to do the advertising it takes to help get you there—you probably need an ad agency.

All of which brings brings me back to my first thought: The reason you hire an ad agency is that we’re professionals. We’re really good at this stuff. When you invest the time and money in great advertising, it works.

You want your advertising to work? Hire a great ad agency and trust them. That’s why.

Branding Is Storytelling

A brand is a story. Branding is storytelling. Amazing, touching, moving, interesting and outstanding stories. Stories with purpose and impact. Stories that make business get up and dance. And the customers join the dance floor.

A brand story is the heart of the brand, storytelling is the bloodstream. The heart (aka brand manager or storyteller) must pump the blood in order to keep the body/company alive. 

BUT, most of the brands have:

1) bad story

2) fake story 

3) no story

Without a story, a brand is going to die. Companies are selling their products/services via loose-loose (not win-win) aggressive marketing tools. Annoying, pushing, aggressively disturbing ways. On the end as we have 300 days a year Sale, Promotion, Action, Membership Offer, Discount, Seasonal Offer ... actually a real war on the dance floor.

Companies can not do marketing without any knowledge of sociology, psychology or neuro-marketing. Without storytelling, empathy or soft skills. Without knowing and understanding their clients, their customers and the potential that is out there. Customers, so we, the consumers, are highly sensible beings, have all the openness, are prepared, even waiting to be touched, to be understood, to be engaged, to be invited to dance and perhaps even appreciated or loved by the brand and its company vision.

A touching, purposeful and meaningful brand story will always win the aggressive advertising such as the flood of pop-up banners where our eyes are only searching the small x in its corners or "close" to get rid of these intruders and all the bombarding video ads that have no other recall than "Skip Ad" in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 seconds that seem like eternity. 

The generations x, y and z are tending to buy "NO BRAND", NO NAME or brandless products. "Selling" is out. Sales Managers or "Buy me!" screamers are deceased before they press the START button.

The future consumers are people who say: NO BRANDS, no pushing, no convincing, no trends, no manipulation, no calling, no mailing, no newsletters, no banners, no customer cards, no bonuses, no discounts, no sales, no special offers, no "if-then", no fake, no b**l s**t, no, no, no, and NO!!!!!

Hm. Now what? Then what?

Make a brand story that people will want to be a part of! The story that will take their breath away! Build the interesting content. So that people-cutomers-consumers will call you, will write you, will search for you. Not vice versa. Make them curious. Engage them. Because people are the core of branding. If you, the brand owner will not do it, some xyz influences will. Do you really want to give your brand shaping in someone else's hands? I hope not.

Mateja Kramar

How A Marketing Agency Creates Estimates

Marketing agencies provided with clear project specifications should be able to estimate +/- 15%; considered by many in the industry to be normal and customary.

“How much will this cost?” is a question many clients and prospects ask, with good reason. While not the only deciding factor on proceeding with a project, costs definitely play a role.

When an agency is estimating a project, a number of factors go into the mix.  Client budget plays a role as does the anticipated delivery date, but the most important factor is the amount of agency resources to allocate to the project.  This includes services like project management, art direction, design, copy writing, proofing, file prep, etc.  All are steps in the process for nearly every project whether it’s a simple business card layout or a grand trade show booth or ad campaign.

Agencies have different pricing models, but one of the most common is a model based upon hourly rates for various services.  When developing a project cost, a determination of the steps in the process with anticipated number of hours required to complete each step will be made.

Determining this can be challenging as creative services rarely follow a linear path.  Thus, ranges may be shown for estimates.  However, experienced agencies will be adept at accurately estimating the resources required for each project and often get better over time the more they’ve worked with a particular client and have learned the individual client’s preferences or style.  For instance, some clients may average five rounds of review for every project whereas others may be more decisive and only need two.  These differences impact time requirements and ultimately project price.

Additionally, any marketing projects with outside services will need to be estimated and included.  Common examples are printing, photography or media costs.  So, if a client asks their agency for a cost on a brochure, the client could reasonably expect to receive an estimate showing the agency services that cover the design and development of a print-ready file.  The estimate should also then include printing estimates based upon printing specifications such as number of pages, ink selections, paper selection, quantities, etc. A bottom line price combining both agency services and outside expenses would represent the total project estimate.

Again, because there is variability inherent in creative projects and changes made throughout the process may require more or less time to complete, it is a fairly common practice to receive an estimate from an agency that is considered valid plus or minus 15% of the cost.

Matt Birchard

Connecting with Millennials

Today, Millennials make up one of the most influential generational cohorts, yet they remain a demographic much different than their Gen X or Boomer predecessors.

To get a deeper understanding of Millennials, Influence Central embarked on a research study that looked at 1,100 American Millennial women born between 1979 and 1993. The study focused on Millennials as consumers, how their deep connections with friends and family impact the choices in their lives, and the effect of various types of media on their day-to-day decisions.

Because we so closely associate Millennials with technology, this study dove in to get a clearer picture of Millennials and how their behavior and worldview have been influenced by technology and social media. Here are five key findings that illuminate the connection between Millennials and their online lives:

  1. Growing Up Digitally

One key differentiator between Millennials and previous generations proves to be that Millennials represent the first generation to grow up surrounded by the Internet and social media. They came of age communicating digitally, so for them, technology has become a natural and intuitive part of their lives. In fact, 52% would rather text than take a phone call, and nearly 40% favor using social media to connect with friends and family.

  1. Sharing Their Lives Online

This digital immersion also includes Millennials’ penchant to share their stories online. Whether it’s a photo on Instagram, an update on Facebook, or a new board on Pinterest, Millennials constantly create, curate, and update their lives online. Their first instinct is to share their joys, experiences, and life events, with nearly 60% saying they use social media platforms to announce their important moments. Moreover, 57% say that when something good happens in their lives, they share it via social media.

  1. Maintaining Close Ties to Facebook

With the rise of such online visual platforms as Pinterest and Instagram, questions often emerge about how Millennials react to Facebook. According to the study, Millennials still rely on Facebook as their primary social media platform. In fact, 92% of Millennials have a Facebook account, while 55% are on Twitter and Pinterest, and 59% have not yet created an Instagram account.

  1. Swimming in Transparency

As part of their immersion in online communications, Millennials exist in virtual transparency. With many assuming their contacts on social media are friends and peers — rather than people they don’t know who came across their content while online — they share highly personal anecdotes, opinions, and insights online that are meant for their circle of friends. More than 65% of Millennials place no limits on their photos and allow them to be shared, while 55% don’t limit their profile visibility.

  1. Exhibiting Some Caution in Online Sharing

While Millennials do live their lives online, they don’t entirely open up. Today, 50% of Millennials think twice before posting a status update or tweet, and 42% will never check in on social media. In addition, only 28% say they post more updates now compared with what they did three years ago.

Steve Walsh

Life is short. Do something amazing now.

This might end up being more of a list. Or, it might be an actual article.
Who knows?
Let’s see.
Indeed, life is so very short. 
Working long hours can be crushing.

So what shall we get out of it all? A sore back, a hangover and indignation at some wasted effort? May I suggest something amazing for your day, your night, your week, your month, your year, your whole life?
If you’re a so-called “creative” professional, these should mostly be easy.

  1. Do the wrong thing. Write or design against type, fashion, or ego. Try hard to be so wrong it’s amazing. Worst typos, letter spacing, layout, grammar, etc., and at the end, see if you can notice  something worth the world’s interest and time. I bet you can.
  2.  Sing while you work, until somebody at the next desk or next door begs you to stop. Be sure to sing something you love so much it’s worth singing at the top of your voice.
  3. Hug somebody – ASAP. And hey gentlemen, hug without that back slapping, punching. Just hold — and hold long, even longer than you think you should. Get completely uncomfortable.
  4. Like to listen to music while you work? Find some new, scary music (research a site you’ve never been on) and work to something experimental and totally out of your comfort zone and genre preferences.
  5. Sit perfectly still, relax your body, and breathe from your belly (inhale, hold and release) to a count of 5, 5, 5 and do three sets. Then increase to 6, 6, 6 and then 7, 7, 7… Repeat as necessary to recharge, calm, and relax yourself. 

Yes, I’ll get to some actual creative, branding ideas now for you, too.

  1. Ask the client/agency exactly what they’d like and follow it — to the letter. And see if at some point they pass out or actually ask what you’d prefer to do.
  2. Run for political office. Do your own Facebook page, minisite, donation funnel, and yes! You can finally stand out as much as you want — because at long last, you’ll be the client and the agency. Be and do something important that serves others. Shake things up. Make this a better world.
  3.  Offer to do the next client campaign by you going door to door, or walk the street with a sandwich board. Put yourself out there for real, vulnerable, and quickly find out how much you believe in what you’re working on.
  4. Say, write, design something or take a photograph of something really vulnerable. Personally, branding, business, anything. Go to the very heart, naked, exposed, fragile, dangerous, personal, scary, and be the truth. Let it all hang out…And see how the public responds.
  5. Stop reading this right now and tell someone how amazing, smart, beautiful, wonderful, talented and loveable they are. And hang up, walk away…don’t wait for a response. How did that feel?

How is your work going now?
At this point, I feel pretty sure you’re getting the idea. If work isn’t letting you push the envelope, play or stretch enough, do it anyway. In your own world, in your own life.
Do something amazing, all the time.
However, “amazing” doesn’t have to be big or world-changing. It can be quiet, simple, and change a single moment, like a smile, a hug, or serving food to a loved one or friend.
Just thinking amazing every day is a good idea. Up your game, light up the world around you, make yourself feel like more, create the impression of increase with everyone you meet.
Last, never stop learning how to learn. Ever.

A Few Reasons Why Your Marketing Sucks

If you ask 10 CEOs to tell you what marketing is, you’ll probably get 10 completely different answers. And get this. If you ask their marketing veeps the same question, you very well may get the same result.

Marketing defies definition. It confuses everyone, even those who do it for a living. I know that because I've talked at length with industry peers, from veterans to newbies, and because the industry landscape is constantly changing, the smart ones don't consider themselves experts, and the ones that do are slowly committing career suicide. Besides, my brethren could never agree on what their job titles meant. They were all over the map.

Marketing has always had a perception problem, and it's truly ironic that the field responsible for branding has a brand identity that's as unambiguous as can be. People nowadays just don't know what marketing truly is and what marketing agencies do. Have a computer and a design program? Some think those are the proper credentials. The internet is littered with "How To's" and "You Can Easily Double Your Growth By Buying This Guide" solutions. And we also live in a commercial world where consumers and businesses make purchasing decisions based to a large extent on a field that nobody seems to understand very well, including many who make big bucks doing it. Don’t you find that just a little bit unsettling?

Many colleagues that I've spoken with are tired of explaining to CEO, board, and management teams what marketing is and why it’s so important to the success of the company. Some feel like Sisyphus, the sinner condemned to roll a boulder uphill, only to watch it roll back down, again and again, for eternity.

If you find marketing to be somewhat elusive, don’t feel too badly; you’re in good company. And while I intend for this to be instructive, not critical, there’s a very good chance that your company’s marketing sucks. Here’s why:

You have no idea what it is.

In his seminal book, Marketing High Technology, legendary VC and former Intel executive Bill Davidow said, “Marketing must invent complete products and drive them to commanding positions in defensible market segments.” I couldn’t agree more. And anyone who finds that confusing should not be running marketing.

It’s so easy to fake.

As VC David Hornik of August Capital says, “VCs like to think that they are marketing geniuses. We really do.” He goes on to say that they meddle in the marketing of their portfolio companies because “we can fake it far more convincingly than in other areas …”   As I always say, advertising is an art form that takes years to understand and master. If you were in need of medical attention you wouldn't run to the corner drug store, buy a stethoscope, some band aids and aspirin and perform surgery on yourself? You would seek out medical attention from a professional who has trained, worked and perfected their talents.

You’re a follower of _____ (fill in the blank).

Marketing may be as much art as science, but it’s still a complex and nuanced discipline that takes a great deal of experience to develop some level of understanding or expertise. I don’t care if you’re into Purple Cows or The Brand Called You, popular fad-like notions won’t get you there. And (please) stop copying the "Got Milk?" campaign because you're executing it all wrong.

You’ve lost sight of the big picture.

In some ways,  growth hacking is no different from traditional marketing, and I mean that in a good way. That said, I see a lot of businesses chasing lots of small opportunities or incremental growth improvements with no overarching vision, strategy, or customer value proposition. That, in my opinion, is a recipe for disaster.   

It’s built on flawed assumptions.

Most product strategies and marketing campaigns are built on assumptions that many never attempt to verify because their inventors think they have all the answers. The problem is they don’t know what they don’t know. Never mind what customers say and do. What do they know? Actually the marketing tide has changed and now the customer controls everything. EVERYTHING. They decide if and when to view an ad, how, where, why, and to what extent. 

You have an MBA.

MBAs may be good for something, but marketing is not it. I’m not saying marketing can’t be taught, it’s just that, in my experience, it’s better learned on the job in the real world. Davidow, Theodore Levitt, Regis McKenna – none of these innovators who literally wrote the book on marketing had MBAs. Maybe there’s a good reason for that.  

You’re not measuring the results and your strategy/execution stinks.

Show me a marketing program and I’ll show you beaucoup bucks spent on a mostly “shoot from the hip” approach that lacks sufficient metrics to determine if it’s effective or not. If you don’t measure it, how do you know if it’s delivering a return on investment? It's been proven time and time again that the "let's try this...well that didn't work let's try this...and maybe then try this" approach doesn't work. It's a waste of your valuable marketing dollars.

You’re a marketer.

One of the reasons for marketing’s perception problem is that senior-level talent is hard to find and not all execs have the ability to articulate the importance of the function. And since some CEOs tend to be a pretty cynical bunch, marketing has, to a great extent, been marginalized in the business world. Sad but true. You need to spend money to make money, yet so many look at the bottom line cost first, not focusing on the proposed solution and the larger financial benefits it can bring. Don't get me wrong. I understand that not everyone has a Nike marketing budget, but too many companies overspend on time and resources focused on trying to save that buck, watering down the solution, the results, and in the end spending much more than the original idea their agency presented.

Marketing is an enigma. It’s both art and science, creative and analytical, intuitive and logical, amorphous and tangible. It’s two sides of the same coin. That’s probably why it mystifies most. And yet, marketing is, without a doubt, among the most critical functions in every company.

That may be a perplexing paradox, but companies that somehow manage to unravel the mysteries of marketing and learn to trust their agency partners have a far better chance of making it than those that don’t. If you're not feeling good about your marketing, don't run to the drug store. Go see an expert. That's why we're here - to help make your marketing not suck.

Doug Merta/S. Tobak

Free Marketing While It Lasts

Anyone who works in business development at an agency has encountered this dilemma: An RFP includes a request for a detailed set of strategic and tactical marketing recommendations that would solve some very specific business challenges.

But a recent RFP went even further: Forecast the response expected from each media channel recommended, and include proof of concept by detailing how that idea in that channel delivered for another client. Anyone in their right mind who answers this question is giving away proprietary results! Yet, we all know that if we don’t comply with the RFP, we can pretty much count ourselves out of consideration in the next round of reviews. But how much of our intellectual property should we be willing to give away to win a client’s business?

Many prospects are willing to pay for creative ideas — some have been shamed into it, while others have finally placed a value on the time an agency will have to invest in conceiving, writing and designing creative ideas (although we all know we never get adequately compensated).

However, there are other challenges facing our industry on price, value and just plain old fashioned respect. For example I’ve noticed that if someone does ask for some free marketing advice in a public forum, many experienced marketers will provide very thoughtful and insightful answers. But others are quick to dismiss the ideas that others present in order to promote their own answer. 

Many new startups in Silicon Valley spend time on a site called Founders Dating, seeking advice and counsel on everything from marketing to HR, technology to investor-related challenges. Even after I responded to a question that was right in my wheelhouse of expertise, there were over 200 “experts” chiming in with their advice – so how could the individual raising the question possibly know what they should do next?

I’ve heard loads of complaints from creative freelancers about clients who were unclear in their initial direction, but were unwilling to pay for round after round of revision. And other freelancers admit that they’ve done work at a cut-rate price because the pipeline for new work has dried up, so they’re giving away their expertise. Still, others are complaining that all the new grads flooding the marketplace are driving costs down.

Are you feeling the same pinch — the same lack of respect for your experience or ideas? Should we all just retire and open a coffee shop? We need to close the gap of this disconnection and realize that we're all trying to grow our businesses. CG