Marketing agencies are made up of marketers from various backgrounds. Some, myself included, have worked for agencies since they joined the industry. Others, however, have been marketing directors for private companies before entering the agency world, and understand first-hand the pain points of small marketing departments or the lone marketing director.
This knowledge of what it’s like to work for a small marketing department is part of what can make agencies a great fit for companies that need to outsource some of their marketing. Agencies that can relate to both sides of the marketing director/agency dynamic are better equipped to understand the needs of their clients.
Today, I'd like to share some behind-the-scenes insights with you from our CEO, Christopher Ryan, and our VP of Business Development, Leah Parillo, who have both been marketing directors and who apply their experience to how SIX approaches marketing. Then, below the interview, check out a summary list of 6 ways agencies can help small marketing departments.
An interview with two former marketing directors on the SIX team
In your experience, what are the problems faced by small marketing departments or solo marketing directors?
Leah: A lot of it depends on their industry. In the SaaS start-up world, most marketing departments run very lean, but are under a lot of pressure to get lead generation up and running quickly. For other industries, they may need to be the jack-of-all trades when, maybe, they are masters-of-none or they just have limited resources.
Sometimes the limitation comes from the lack of the right tech or tools to measure what's working, which is the key to effective marketing. Insight is the key to effective marketing; knowing your audience, knowing what resonates with that audience, and understanding the Ideal Customer Profile, personas and key differentiators. There are so many nuances to marketing and they change all the time, but, ultimately, it comes down to having the bandwidth and tools to get the right insights and to apply, and test, what you have learned. We are definitely well versed in this at SIX.
Chris: Before I opened SIX, I was a marketing director. During my years in that role, the majority of problem solving I had to do was centered around two overarching issues: time management and being a "master of all." As a marketing director, you tend to wear many hats, which often means you are responsible for developing multiple campaign strategies and implementing various marketing initiatives; all at the same time. Considering that marketing has endless opportunities, it was challenging to find and balance the time I needed to execute the holistic strategy required to help the business grow.
In addition to the balancing act, having to be an expert on everything was a significant challenge. While I was proficient in many tactics, there were some that required an extra layer of learning and attention to get them just right. Back then (2000-2010), digital and social media marketing were brand new, so I had to navigate the changing landscape and integrate it into my overall strategy. It was clear that this world was the future of marketing and there was a very real pressure to master that new technology.
Over a decade later, the technology is still constantly changing, but the role of the marketer remains the same: ever-adapting to and mastering new challenges. For our clients who are in this role, it's much of the same. A lack of time, high expectations, and sometimes unrealistic goals from leadership can create a stressful atmosphere that doesn't always yield the best results. Our ability to help them is one of the most rewarding parts of agency life, especially since I can relate so well to what they're going through.
How can agencies help resolve those issues?
Leah: For high lead gen-pressured industries, agencies usually have the acumen, experience, and resources to "build a marketing machine" that not only works, but also is built on research, and maybe even past industry and persona knowledge.
Agencies can augment marketing departments with the skills and/or resources they are lacking, such as PPC, copywriting, SEO, or website builds and updates. These are skills that agencies specifically hone and do on a daily basis, saving companies soft time (the time it would take to learn those skills) and money.
Chris: At SIX, we are equipped to handle these issues for multiple reasons. First, as an agency, we have nearly unlimited resources. We can help small businesses and their marketing departments with all of the strategy and tasks they currently employ, plus we have the benefit of what we call "plug and play" tactics — an almost unlimited range of expertise and specialized tactics we can implement when needed, as needed.
Second, taking advantage of agency resources decreases costs. Hiring internally tends to be more costly than outsourcing. Often, the money saved can go directly toward advertising spend or development, so the output, value, and benefits are off the charts compared to the limitations of hiring one or two additional individuals. Now, this isn't to say that small businesses should never hire internally. There are benefits to having boots on the ground, but if you have aggressive growth goals, you will 100% get there faster with the right marketing partner.
Next, using agency resources means increased performance. Having an expert team in place helps your business achieve its goals and grow faster. Most businesses can't afford to hire a marketing director who has the range of expertise and specialization that a quality agency can provide. In a nutshell, with the support of an agency, marketing directors and their companies have access to a think tank of dozens of marketing experts as needed. It's very rare that a situation comes up for which someone on our team hasn't already developed a solution.
Lastly, an important aspect of hiring an agency that often goes overlooked is the ability to manage expectations. Whether they report to a leadership team, the CEO, or a board, we help take the pressure off the marketing director and work with them to manage and set realistic expectations. Once those are in place, everyone is happy, because they know the business is growing as fast as possible within the constraints of the budget and market conditions.
How does having been in their shoes inform your approach?
Leah: I would say as a former marketing director, I was always answering for the marketing budget.
"Why are we doing this?"
"What are/were the outcomes?"
"What needs to change?"
I keep this in mind when working with a client because I know that every dollar spent is important to the company and whether it is for brand awareness, lead generation, or both, it cannot be wasted. We are very cognizant of this at SIX because we have been in their shoes.
Chris: I'd like to offer some personal insight. The partnership between a marketing director and an agency usually reflects well upon the marketing director. When I was a director, I hired a great marketing firm, and through that partnership, we experienced some amazing results. Internally at my organization, I was frequently rewarded for that success, and both the company and I were better off because of it. In the end, that experience helped me decide that I wanted to open an agency myself.
It all boils down to trust and transparency. Neither the agency nor the individual can succeed without these two ingredients, and at SIX we strive for close and prosperous relationships with all our clients.
6 ways small marketing departments can benefit from hiring an agency
More people to handle the workload
For small marketing departments, and especially for the lone marketing director, there isn't enough time in the day to do everything you could be doing. An agency can take on some of that extra work, especially the tasks that would usually be a time sink.
Access to more experience
Someone can be in the marketing industry for 30 years and not know everything. Not only is the industry in a constant state of change, but also there are many specializations that can fall outside of even the jack-of-all-trades' experience. Agencies can give you access to a wide range of specialists in things like PPC, web development, content writing, or SEO.
Help with special projects or campaigns
Day-to-day marketing tasks can fill a 40 hour work week on their own, without accounting for things like website redesigns, trade shows, or account-based marketing (ABM) campaigns. Small marketing departments can maintain their standard workload and outsource these more specialized projects to an agency.
Better tools and analytics to back up your marketing efforts
Agencies often have a full tech stack they use for their clients, including top industry tools for reporting and analytics. And since they're used to reporting to all of their clients every month, they understand the data inside and out. An agency can help you see how everything is working and give you the data you need to back up your budget.
More time to focus on your strategy
One great way agencies can help out is by being implementers. Need 4 blogs a month? Outline your strategy and topics, and hand over all the time-consuming legwork to an agency. The same can go for PPC, social media, trade shows, and so on.
Objective insight & guidance when you need it
Sometimes, it can be hard to make all of the decisions yourself (and be the only one to answer for things if they don't perform well). Agencies have seen what has and hasn't worked for a wide variety of clients, and can consult with you on your marketing plan to help you make the most out of your budget.
Agencies can help expand the capabilities of small marketing departments and give much-needed support to the lone marketing director. I hope you've found it insightful to hear from two members of SIX Marketing's team who have experienced both sides of the marketing director/marketing agency relationship.
If you work for a small marketing department (or if you are the small marketing department) and you think hiring an agency might be the right solution for you, book a short consultation our VP of Business Development (and former marketing director), Leah Parillo, to talk about whether outsourcing is the right fit for your company.