Why Hire a Marketing Agency?

To outsource or not to outsource is often a hot topic within many associations and membership organizations.

The arguments on why current staff should do the job are pretty well know, so I wanted to share some reasons why I believe it can make good sense to bring onboard a marketing agency. Here are five opportunities presented by through an agency.

1. To Bring Perspective and Objectivity – Just as an individuals can benefit from a counselor or coach, there also are situations where an outside perspective is very helpful for an organization. A marketing agency can bring an objective eye to help an association work through issues that are complex, controversial or politically sensitive.

2. To Provide a Proven Methodology – Does it really make sense to reinvent the marketing wheel? There are proven marketing solutions that agencies have developed and tested that can be rolled out right now. By hiring an agency, you can leverage the methodology of these solutions at a fraction of the cost that it would take you to develop them alone. An agency with the right experience may have the right tool at the right time for the job you need done right now.

3. To Raise Accountability – There are times in every organization when the urgent distracts from the important and key goals are not accomplished. Hiring a properly qualified marketing agency with clear definitions of scope and outcomes can bring focus and accountability to a task and get the important item done on time and on schedule.

4. To Supplement Existing Staff – There are times when the workload is just too much for an existing staff to handle. It might be because of vacancies, special projects, or large events. Theoretically, an association could carry staff for these situations, but this might add extra costs for salary, benefits, computers and software, office space, and recruitment or severance. A marketing agency can join your team to help your staff through this time and move on to the next assignment when the crunch is over.

5. To Share Specialized Knowledge or Skills – If you need surgery, you look for the doctor that has done the procedure the most times. You want the doctor with the best specialized skills and knowledge. That’s because no one can be an expert in everything. However, a strong marketing agency is composed of top specialists with very specific skills ranging from print production management, to media and list research, to online advertising lead generation. So when there is an important assignment or program that requires a specific knowledge or skill set, a marketing agency with specialists who have successfully accomplished the assignment dozens of times might be just what the doctor ordered.

If bringing a marketing agency on board is something that you want to consider, I have one other piece of advice. Please remember that hiring a marketing agency is not a commodity purchase.

To find the right agency you will find having a dialogue with candidates much more productive than issuing an RFP. I understand the need for an RFP process and I do get some that are excellent. So this post in no way is meant as a criticism or critique of any RFP that I have received.

However, I have seen much better outcomes for both clients and agencies when the parties meet with each other and help define the specific challenges and needs and then jointly build an appropriate solution.

Full disclosure, I obviously manage a marketing agency and therefore have an opinion on this subject. So I am curious to hear from you. Do you agree or disagree on the benefits of hiring a marketing agency or the process of entering into a relationship? Feel free to post your thoughts.

Open Community: A Little Book of Big Ideas for Associations Navigating the Social Web

Okay, I have to admit that when I got to page 21 and I was reading about “embracing the ecosystem” and “empowering the periphery”, I almost gave up reading Open Community: A Little Book of Big Ideas for Associations Navigating the Social Web” by Lindy Dreyer and Maddie Grant.

But I stuck with it and I am glad that I did. Because as I continued to read , I found the book to be a very practical and constructive guide on how to go about starting and developing a social media strategy for an association.

The book provides a step by step road map on how to start by listening to the market, building an organizational consensus around the purpose, and launching low risk efforts to see what works best.

But what I particularly appreciate about Open Community is the clear call to purpose and focus for social media.

The book makes clear “that just using social media for the sake of having a Facebook Page or a Twitter account just doesn’t make sense. There has to be a real, ‘show me the ROI’ reason to start and some business intelligence backing that up.”1. 

Open Community also emphasizes building a value proposition around your social media strategy. “The most important question is this: What can your members get from your social spaces that they can’t get anywhere else? If you can’t answer that question, start over.”2. 

Finally, the book highlights some of the add-on benefits social media provides to an association like empowering members to champion the organization to others and providing staff with real time feedback on association events, marketing, and content.

There is one thing that I think would make the book more helpful – maybe Lindy and Maddie are setting us up for a sequel. It is great to say a social media strategy needs to have an ROI focus and a clear value proposition, but it is another thing to do it. I think that even though every situation will be different, the book would have benefited from some case studies that highlight the ROI and value that associations have achieved by deploying a successful social media strategy.

The bottom line is that if starting or improving your social media strategy is part of the plan for 2011, then it is well worth buying, reading, and using the ideas in Open Community.

1. Lindy Dreyer and Maddie Grant, CAE, Open Community: A Little Book of Big Ideas for Associations Navigating the Social Web, 2010, page 40.
2. Ibid. page 140.