Choosing a Marketing Partner: How to Know When You Need External Marketing Help


Marketing collaborators

So, you’ve discovered some problems with your marketing. Good news: you’re not alone. While this year’s edition of the Gartner CMO Spend Survey does show a drop in marketing spending this year—somewhat predictably, when you take into account all the various ways the COVID-19 pandemic affected businesses over the past few years—businesses all over are still spending a significant proportion of their revenue on marketing.

Only about a quarter of that spending, though, is devoted towards outside marketing consultants—marketing agencies, freelancers, and the like. The point: knowing when you should be investing in an assist from an expert and when you should be spending that money on your own internal capabilities is a critical call. You don’t want to get it wrong.

Warning signs that your business needs marketing help

First, it’s important to be certain that your business is actually in need of marketing help. How can you tell? Look at your marketing team and its performance. If you have an internal team right now that’s working on marketing:

  • Are they spread too thin?
  • Do they have the available talent—the people, skills, and time resources—to execute the tasks they need to execute?
  • Are they simply not getting results?
  • Is there a massive project that needs to get done fast?
  • Do you simply want a new perspective on your marketing and your business?

Bringing in some new blood can help you solve a lot of these problems. Engaging an agency, consultancy, boutique, or freelancer can help you jumpstart marketing growth and it can solve some major challenges for your organization. But hiring an existing marketing firm isn’t the only answer. Let’s look at what some of your other options are.

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What’s the best solution to the marketing problem?

If you’ve determined you need marketing help, there are a few routes you can explore. They include:

Hire external marketing support

Whether your need is relatively minor and can be covered by freelancers or a smaller boutique agency, or it’s more comprehensive and you need to work with a full-service agency or marketing consultant, hiring experts to collaborate with your team can work wonders for your marketing. Choosing the right marketing option can be a complex process, but when you get there, the results are magic.

Cut the campaign

If the problem is your marketing budget, one solution might be to scale down the scope of the partner you choose to work with. But another might be simply to make a hard decision about whether or not you really need to invest in this specific idea. If you do, then work out the budget issue. But if not, you might just not do what you’d planned to do.

Solve through marketing technology

As with anything, marketing technology isn’t a silver bullet that will solve all your problems magically. Handled poorly, martech has its own set of problems. That said, when it’s used well it can drastically increase your team’s efficiency and allow you to spend the time you used to spend on rote repetitive tasks on thinking and strategy (the things technology can’t really do for us yet).

Hire internal marketing support

This is actually probably the biggest leap you can take—but there are certainly situations where it’s the best answer, or really the only answer. Knowing when to hire to your marketing team isn’t simple, a lot goes into that decision. It might also mean shifting the role of someone you already work with into the marketing arena.

If the problems you’re experiencing are relatively minor, cutting the campaign or relying on marketing technology a bit more might solve the issue. But if you’re really struggling to achieve marketing goals, hiring—whether internally or externally—is probably the right move.

Whether you decide to solve the problem by hiring internal marketing support or engaging with an external marketing expertwill likely hinge on a few major factors. What’s your available marketing budget? What kind (or kinds) of work need to be done? If you hire internally for this, will you need to make multiple hires? What kind of long-term investment needs to be made in this work?

If it’s a long-term investment that can be handled by a single hire, that might be the smartest move. If you need a wider variety of skills, or you don’t want to invest in the overhead that accompanies a new hire, focusing externally could be the correct call.

Each of these options has pros and cons—so let’s examine them a little deeper.

Hiring in-house vs. hiring a marketing firm

Hiring in-house: Pros

  • The person you hire will be a part of your company full-time and will experience, understand, and influence your culture
  • You can target a specific skill set or type of industry knowledge in the hiring process
  • They will likely be present in your office on a daily basis (or as appropriate, if you’re on a hybrid or remote work plan)
  • The hire will be looped into how the team works internally

Hiring in-house: Cons

  • If you have needs that span a number of marketing disciplines, you may need to make multiple hires
  • As with any new hire, the ramp-up time could be lengthy compared to an agency that has a repeatable kickoff procedure
  • Any person you hire will have a set amount of skills from the get-go

Hiring external marketing help: Pros

  • A marketing partner can divvy up the hours you pay for to use a variety of skills and personnel
  • Agencies typically come in with a different perspective—they’re a set of fresh eyes to look at your business’s problems and strengths and to devise solutions you may not think of
  • Any marketing firm will come with vast experience and expertise among their staff and intense institutional knowledge that can be brought to bear to solve problems you may not realize are common
  • Over the years most firms will acquire access to different marketing tools and software that individual businesses aren’t as likely to spend on

Hiring external marketing help: Cons

  • The initial discovery period can take some time, so there may be a gap between when you pick a marketing partner and when you actually begin to see results
  • Since it’s a new partnership, there can be some breakdowns in communication early on as the two sides get used to how the other works

Still not sure? Look at your marketing budget

There’s really no one right answer to the problem of bringing in help to support a floundering marketing team. But one way to start to make that decision is to take a look at how you’re spending your money currently.

Say the spend is just about evenly split between internal and external marketing solutions—does that mean if you’re spending twice as much on labor as you are externally (or vice versa) you’re necessarily doing something wrong? Of course not. It’s a benchmark for the sake of comparison. But where that comparison can be useful is when your marketing is failing to perform and you’re looking for a solution.

If you’re already spending tons of money on external support but your internal team is a skeleton crew, perhaps the answer is more likely to be reinforcing your own resources. If you have a fairly robust investment internally but marketing still isn’t getting the job done, well, it might be time to bring in a new perspective.


Thomas wears a few hats—writer, editor, and European soccer expert—but his passion is content creation. When he's not crafting thoughtful content, he's coaching high school running, watching the Mets, or talking up Indianapolis to anyone who will listen.

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