To Outsource or Not? How to Choose Between Agency and In-House Marketers
Not surprisingly, when we speak with prospective clients, one of the first questions we get asked is: “Can you tell me the differences between hiring an in-house marketer and outsourcing to an agency?”
We’re obviously biased, but the reality is that there isn’t a simple answer to this question, as a lot depends on the specific situation of your recruitment business. So, with this in mind, what we’ve tried to do here is to provide an overview of what you can expect with the two different approaches to recruitment agency marketing.
The main two elements you should consider when evaluating your marketing options are costs and objectives. For example, if your budget is less than $40,000 per annum, then your choice is limited to either working with an agency or hiring someone to work part time. In the same way, if your objective is to grow quickly and outpace your competition, then your budget and approach will obviously need to reflect this.
Firstly, let’s explore the different types of in-house marketer that are typical in recruitment firms. The commonly agreed ideal in-house scenario is to have a senior marketer tasked with overseeing strategy and campaigns, supported by one or more juniors who can carry out day-to-day delivery, such as content writing, graphic design and social media management.
Most mid-sized agencies (in this case I’m referring to any recruitment business of up to around 100 recruiters) aren’t fortunate enough to have a budget big enough to warrant this ideal scenario, so instead opt for one of three solutions: hire a senior marketing professional, hire a marketing graduate or transfer someone internally into the role (usually a recruiter or admin). Each of these solutions is going to bring different assets to your business. Obviously, a senior marketer will know how to put together a strategy, although it would be ideal if they will have already worked in the recruitment sector as there are very few other industries that have two or even three very different audiences (candidate, clients and sometimes recruiters). The other two solutions won’t be much help with strategy, but internal moves are likely to have the best understanding of the recruitment sector and your company’s brand, whilst marketing graduates, especially those with a year or two of experience will likely be the most competent across all the tools needed for delivery.
Whichever option you select, if they are going to be the sole marketer in your business, it’s vital to ensure they are a true generalist rather than a specialist in a specific subject area. To deliver on a good strategy they will need the following skills, listed in order of importance: Basic Marketing Principles, Content Writing, Graphic Design (this really has to be Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign), Google Analytics, MailChimp (or other EDM tools), Social Media (LinkedIn Advertising, Facebook Business Manager, YouTube), Google AdWords. Other desirable skills include: Basic HTML/Wordpress knowledge, SEO, and Video Editing (Premier Pro). In addition, probably the most important skill your marketer needs to have is the ability to influence, hold their own and drive action. I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn when I say recruiters are a unique group of people. We are always flat out juggling lots of jobs, candidates and clients, and rarely have time for anything else. In order for recruitment marketing to really succeed, your marketer has to be able to get these people to give them some of their time, make decisions and ideally contribute towards the activity.
When hiring your marketer, also evaluate their long-term plans. It is vitally important that your marketer remains with the business for at least the first two years. This is because it will take three to six months to get up to speed and if they leave within the two-year window, you’ll find yourself back at the beginning. A junior will likely remain challenged during this time but a senior may outgrow the company and role.
Lastly, no matter what marketing mix you decide upon (even sizable marketing teams) it’s likely you will still need some external support; most commonly online advertising and retargeting are outsourced, but also graphics, video, writing, or whatever other skills the team either doesn’t have or doesn’t have time to do.
Let’s start off with what outsourced marketing is. Most marketing agencies are geared around campaigns and paid a small retainer to be available as and when the need for these arise. Each campaign is then priced based on the work required. The evolving digital landscape has meant that for the last ten years there has been a new model that caters to the constant on-going marketing efforts, termed Outsourced Marketing.
If you expected me to say this solution is perfect for every business, you’d be wrong. It isn’t. For starters, we know that the outsourced model only works for businesses that have more than five full-time recruiters (unless you’re in high-growth mode), we also know that for some, having a person in-house that can be summoned at a moment’s notice is a deal-breaker.
The key to successful outsourcing is to work with a partner agency that has an in-depth understanding of the local recruitment market. If you have this in place, there aren’t a lot of differences between having an in-house marketing team. The agency will have one or more people who will assist and direct strategy, then specialists that take care of each component of your delivery, from social media through to graphics and content writing. With specialists in each department, you can expect that the time taken to complete various marketing tasks to be faster than a generalist marketer who is trying to cover multiple bases. You’ll also get access to all of the agency’s industry knowledge and insights, avoiding wasted time and effort on campaigns that underperform.
Communication is the critical success factor. Where possible it’s important to treat the agency team as an extension of your team. As an example, putting them in direct contact with your recruiters to ghost-write articles on their behalf, or having them present marketing updates to your management team or board of directors.
There are two costs that should be considered when setting up a marketing function. The first is the cost of the person(s) or agency delivering it, and the second is the budget needed for advertising, sponsorship and events; although if you’re supplementing an in-house team’s skills with graphic design, writing or digital skills, then you’d also need to factor this in. The general rule of thumb is that you should factor in twice the salary or cost of your marketing function for advertising etc. This obviously varies if you need to outsource more of the components or are in aggressive growth mode and need greater visibility in a shorter space of time.
As the cost of your marketing function varies depending on the delivery approach you select, it is relatively easy to estimate the associated costs. Below we’ve broken down the typical costs for each of the four delivery options that we’ve highlighted in this article.
Cost and objectives are the two major decision factors but there is also a third that should not be overlooked: the quality of delivery. As an example, we recently on-boarded a new recruitment agency who had previously been using a freelance marketer on a part-time basis. The marketer was given free rein to get the recruitment agency’s brand up and running, with responsibilities that included writing a number blogs, sending newsletters and maximising social media reach. What we found when we took over was nothing short of scary. Although the agreed activity had been happening, the written content lacked direction or planning, the newsletters were full of mistakes (in terms of spelling and simple tools weren’t being used correctly), plus the social footprint was a jumble of unbranded, generally irrelevant content. For obvious reasons, the recruiter’s directors were unaware these issues existed and were happily paying large sums of money for sub-standard results.
Whichever route you choose for your marketing, good luck! If you do find yourselves stuck either when selecting a new marketer, putting together your strategy or looking for an outsourced partner, feel free to get in touch.