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In the last two weeks I have had two almost identical conversations with two very different business owners. They both felt they’d come to the stage in their marketing maturity where they needed ongoing support. The question they had was whether to appoint an agency, work with a consultant or employ their own marketer. This was my answer. ~ Bryony Thomas, Author | Watertight Marketing
There comes a time in a growing business where marketing needs to be resourced in a more structured way. Marketing may have been something the founder took on in the early years. Or, maybe a mix of freelancers and others have previously dipped in and out of, with skills picked up from books and webinars. There comes a time when this is not enough. When you are serious about sustainable growth, you need to get serious about marketing. This means making it someone’s actual job. More than that, that someone needs to have extensive marketing experience.
Three ways to resource marketing
On reaching this point there are three options that people seem to consider:
- Appoint a marketing agency: Having a retained and ongoing relationship with an agency that takes on the job of strategy and execution of your marketing.
- Retain a marketing consultant: Find an independent marketing consultant and retain them for a day a week to act as your marketing director, with them managing a team of freelance or agency support.
- Employ your own marketing manager: Bring on a full time experienced member of the team to plan and run your marketing, executing most of the work themselves.
Each of these routes tends to have a similar cost, and they are often seen as alternatives to one another. So which of these is best for a growing business?
It’s a sequence, not a choice…
So, my answer to both of these MDs was, that you do all three – but in a very specific order. Where businesses have gone ahead with one of these options and it’s not worked out it’s often the sequencing that’s gone wrong. This is what I have seen work most effectively, time and time again:
Stage 1 ~ Retain a consultant:
Here you should be looking for a strategic marketing consultant with the experience of running a marketing operation for a growing business. Their first task is to run and audit and create an action plan. Once this initial piece of work has been undertaken, I would recommend retaining them for a period of six to 12 months to build out the core elements of a marketing operation and get a bit of a baseline of activity running. It’s likely they they will use an experienced freelance team for the deliverables, acting as a project manager. This can be successfully enhanced with a marketing exec or admin full-time in the business, managed by the consultant.
Where people go wrong here is in choosing a consultant who is a discipline specialist, rather than a strategist.
Stage 2 ~ Recruit a marketing manager:
Somewhere at around six to nine months into this, your consultant should help you recruit. They can help to prepare the job spec, interview and appoint the right person. They then step back from the day to day, acting instead as a mentor and coach to your new employee.
If you try to recruit without the experienced hand on the tiller to smooth transition, you often have an expensive bounce as the new person finds themselves without an experienced manager. (See: What skills does a marketing director need?)
Stage 3 ~ Appoint an agency and other suppliers:
Your new marketing manager should then go through the process of appointing their own suppliers. It’s important that they have ownership of this. Inheriting suppliers and being asked to work with them if often a bit scratchy. Having an experienced marketer on your side of the desk BEFORE appointing an agency almost always leads to better results. The agency need that person in role to perform at their best.
Where this goes wrong is when a business thinks that their new marketing manager can plan, do and measure the whole lot. If you are recruiting, success will come when the role has an allocated budget, and where it is recognised that expert resource will need to be be brought in for key tasks.
An 18-month process…
This is an exercise in marketing maturity that happens over 12 to 18 months. I’ve very rarely seen a shortcut on this that works. So, in answer to the question, “Should be appoint an agency, a consultant or recruit?’ The answer is, over time, you need to do all three… in a specific sequence.
Author & Founder, Watertight Marketing
Bryony Thomas is the creator of the multi-award winning Watertight Marketing methodology, captured in her best-selling book of the same name. She is one of the UK's foremost marketing thinkers, featured by the likes of Forbes, The Guardian, Business Insider and many more, and in-demand speaker for business conferences, in-house sales days and high-level Board strategy days.