White board indicating a marketing agency at work

As a business owner, should you hire a marketing agency, or rather do it in-house?

It never works, does it? The entrepreneur and the marketing agency never get along.

It’s like night and day. The entrepreneur quickly wants a website; a year later the agency is still busy building it. The entrepreneur wants a new logo; the agency repeatedly gets it wrong. The entrepreneur wants social media; the agency doesn’t know what to write and needs the entrepreneur to basically recite the post.

It works the other way around too. The agency suggests something to the entrepreneur who then ignores it. The agency quotes R5 000; the entrepreneur wants it for half of that. And so, it goes. No one’s happy.

What a mess.

Why can’t marketing agencies and business owners get along? The answer is simple: entrepreneurs tend to underspend on marketing and agencies tend to under-resourced on small clients. Both parties underinvest in each other. A recipe for failure.

You see, here’s the thing that entrepreneurs don’t understand: agencies can’t invest in the long-term potential of your business. The agency needs money now! They have an office full of designers and developers who each earn R20k a month and demand office space in the trendy part of town. Agencies are cash strapped! They eke out an existence.

On the other side, you have the entrepreneur who is understandably sceptical of the value of marketing and needs some wriggle room before committing wholeheartedly. The owners want someone to walk a path with them, start small and help ease them into it, all the while giving excellent service. Do you see the problem?

It is a bit like the economy class passenger wanting first class service because it is his first time flying. Sorry for you, in this aisle you don’t get legroom!

Let’s start by getting one thing straight: few agencies will turn down your small budget! Being as cash strapped as they are, they’ll almost always say yes to your job, and allocate only the bare-essentials to it. Again, a recipe for failure.

So what now?

Our view is that there are only three practical solutions:

  • Small companies should not work with agencies but rather with freelancers who are more flexible, more interested in a long-term relationship and more affordable. The downside here is that the freelancer is bound to run out of capacity or disappear into thin air.
  • When a small company chooses to use an agency, they should anticipate failure and allow for it. The client should seriously consider asking an independent marketing consultant to facilitate the onboarding of the agency through a formal briefing process.
  • The other solution is that the entrepreneur does the marketing himself, or brings it in-house by appointing someone. In my view, this is probably the best option, but it does require a significant investment, on par with outsourcing the function to an agency. The upside? You have total control. The downside? Your marketing may not be as cutting edge as what the agency would produce.

We’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve heard a client express disappointment with an agency. The world is littered with stalled websites, badly written brochures and terrible logos. Whose fault, is it? Who cares! How do we stop it? That is my question.