Should you use an Agency? Should you manage In-House?. It’s a set of questions that often come up, and there is no right or wrong answer, as this depends on a multitude of variables. In this multi-part series I am going to walk through our history with agencies, the types of agencies we use, and the variables that exist in our scenario that make it make sense.
First off, let’s talk about Marketing Agencies. The term Marketing is super general and the wheelhouse of services offered from a ‘marketing’ agency, might vary significantly. Let’s digress into my use of marketing agencies. When we launched BattlBox in 2015 we did everything in-house on the marketing side. We created the ads, we made the social posts, we managed our emails and email automations. We did this for a year and a half and we were able to achieve 8 figure revenues. None of us had vast experience in running ads but through testing we figured out what worked. As we grew in size (and our responsibilities grew) we needed to either hire someone to run the ads or find an agency. We spoke to an agency at a conference (first agency we had spoken to at the time) and we quickly decided to hire them. This agency focused solely on advertising (Facebook and Google Ads).
As i have previously written, we have a fun relationship with Facebook when it comes to ad account cancellations and being cited for breaking rules in their advertising policies (even though we don't). This agency had constant problems due to this with our Facebook account so we were keeping an ear out for a potential replacement. In early 2017, I was introduced to a local marketing agency. The owners of this agency had several common business associates with me from my previous career. In addition to managing our ad accounts, they also offered to manage our social calendar, web development, and email automations and marketing tech stack. Best part, their costs were very similar to what we were paying the existing agency. We decided to move forward.
This new agency inherited our recurring Facebook issues. They touted their relationship with Facebook and we felt that they would (with certainty) have better success than the previous agency and a way better shot than us personally. They took over our social media calendar and were responsible for about 80% of our posted content (we did the other 20% ourselves, our choice/desire). It was really nice to have the marketing assistance in areas other than advertising. They shared some best practices when it came to customer management and their feedback and recommendations definitely made us a better, well-rounded business. There was only one problem, they were never able to take Battlbox advertising to the next level. They had great ideas, even outside the box ideas, but execution was missing. At the end of the day, our CAC / ROAS was on a breakeven to slow decline our entire time with them. This was problematic. We saw little to no growth while with this agency and we knew we had to make a change. It was not going to be easy to find a replacement however, because they were doing so much for us. Their service offering flowed through several different skill sets and many agencies did not offer everything they did. Talk about sticky! In early 2019, we decided on a solution. We were going to bring everything marketing in house.
We had a rockstar team member that had worked his first 3 years of college in our warehouse and fulfillment center. In his last year, we had come up with a marketing internship. He would be graduating in May of 2019 and we had agreed he would be coming on full time as our Marketing Coordinator. We were in 11th hour discussions to acquire Carnivore Club and had acquired Going Gear at the end of 2018. I mention that because as we were acquiring more brands, positions like our Marketing Coordinator and my role too were shared resources across all brands. Our internal team was going to function much like an agency does, working the same responsibilities across multiple brands. As our Marketing Coordinator came on full time, we relieved the Agency of the responsibilities that he could now take over. At the same time, we moved web development responsibilities solely to our web development agency (more on that later). This left the agency with two remaining responsibilities, advertising and social content. We quickly found a social media manager to take over the content that the agency was responsible for. Only thing remaining was finding the likely 2 (1 if unicorn) advertising experts to manage our ads, which we had been looking for already for several months. This was difficult.
Let me remind you, we had an amazing relationship with the current agency that we were divesting from and we were very transparent (on both sides) with the game plan. One of the coolest moments of this transition was when they helped us to line up some interviews for advertising talent. Unfortunately, none of those candidates worked out. As I leveraged my network to try and find the right hire for this role, I failed time and time again. I was talking to a friend, Brent Freeman, getting some advice for the hire(s) throughout the process. He owned a marketing agency, but their pricing and business model was not in line with us as a solution. Even though he had previously given me some sound advice for this hire, he called me in early September and said they were working on an offering that was in line with what we needed. We ended up making the decision to bring all marketing in house with the exception of advertising and handed Brent’s team at SVL the keys to it for BattlBox on October 1st.
So, regarding marketing services, agency or in-house? Let me discuss some variables for you to consider:
- Your existing team - do they possess the marketing skill sets and do they have the bandwidth?
- Is the need a full time role? For us at BattlBox, it could be multiple full time roles, but we are an exception given our size and sister brands. If not, can other responsibilities make it one?
- How many skill sets are you looking for (because they are likely different types of hires)?
- Think Paid Ads Specialist, Content and Social Writer, SEO specialist, Graphic Artist, Analytics and CRO specialist.
- Does going the agency route create bandwidth for your team to focus on other revenue generating activities?
- Fully understand all the services that the agency is offering to solve for
- Crunch numbers! Run a cost analysis of an in-house team VS agency.
That’s all for now, in the next part of the series I will be continuing the discussion on marketing agencies. You can read Part 2 here: