Marketers are continually being asked to do more (social media/digital advertising/email marketing) with less (dollars/resources/people). As brands are looking at their marketing needs, this dichotomy brings up an age-old debate – do you, as a marketing executive, hire internal team members to handle all your needs, or do you look into hiring a digital agency?
Depending on the size, marketing needs, and reach of your school, the answer could be one or the other or both. This decision is a major one in the growth and financial roadmap of your institution, and with dozens of talented marketing people looking for jobs and hundreds of agencies to choose from, where do you begin? We have identified the following four questions to help grant you clarity on the direction you should take for your brand.
1. Do I have a budget to build out a marketing department?
The average salary of one marketing manager can be up to $127,000 per year, while a digital agency will cost you a monthly retainer fee that can range from a few to tens of thousands of dollars. Either way, you have to invest – but consider where your dollars are best spent (especially if they are limited). For schools looking to build out a marketing department, internally enabling a few specialized folks to handle major marketing tasks, like developing the brand voice and messaging, may work well. At the same time, hiring an agency to do day-to-day tasks like media relations or digital advertising may be the right move for you. This approach can cut down on the additional costs that come with hiring employees (insurance, training, professional development, or hiring someone to replace a person that doesn’t work out) while ensuring you still have experts working on your school’s marketing.
2. Do I have the infrastructure and finances in place for keeping my team up-to-date with training and industry trends?
Having employees that are on the leading edge of the techniques and knowledge of the education industry is critical to success. There are updates to regulation and compliance, new trends developing higher ed, and countless changes to the digital advertising space specific to school research and enrollment. As the digital space has changed the business model for so many schools, those that are reactive vs. proactive with industry trends are left far behind their competitors. While there is always training that accompanies on-boarding a new employee, retaining that employee and your leading reputation is dependent on ongoing professional development and training – all of which costs dollars in fees and man-hours. Though it is all time and money well-spent, it can be a stressor for marketing departments that are running lean. Agencies, on the other hand, don’t need to be trained – their whole reason for existence is to have expertise in an area so you don’t have to. They are financially motivated to continually bring you emerging trends in the education space, experiment with new tools, attend conferences and provide ideas to keep you ahead of your competitors. For marketers, agencies can serve as an extension of your team, filling in gaps in knowledge and manpower that you don’t have the resources for, and, if they are a good partner, producing results with little direction from you.
3. Am I able to be objective about the strategies and tactics my team is utilizing?
We all know what it is like to be too close to something – an idea, a task, a tool or platform. This can cloud judgment and make it hard to navigate decisions that are right for a project, rather than for ourselves. As marketers, this concept can hit close to home– as the stewards of the outward face of your company, it can be difficult to let go of messaging, strategies and tactics you have spent hours honing and developing. This is especially true if you are working in a small team, or a team that has been with the school a long time and is less willing to upset the way things have been done in the past. Both new employees and agencies can help bring new life into your marketing team, and provide objectivity about your direction as a department. By injecting new ideas and perspectives, whether they are from an internal or agency hire, you ensure you aren’t merely holding status quo, but continuing to innovate for your school. As the options appear to be endless and ever-changing for presenting your message to the world, being able to turn a critical eye to all marketing efforts is key to maintaining a competitive edge.
4. In looking at all of my duties, how much time am I/my team able to dedicate solely to marketing efforts?
In the world of integrated teams and lean workplace, rarely do marketers only concentrate on marketing, especially at executive levels. Not counting the plethora of meetings, conferences and webinars, you also often have a role with other teams, including sales, finance and operations. As you look to what your marketing needs are, you must critically estimate how much of your time you have to concentrate wholeheartedly on digital strategy, individual tactics and execution of marketing efforts. This same exercise must be done for your team. As you reflect, you may not have the additional budget to hire a full-on marketing person (or you might have more work than you can do but not enough for another full-time hire). This is where an agency may be the answer. Good agencies are nimble – they have the skills to jump in quickly and begin to fill in the gaps in your marketing strategy, or serve as another team member while you get a new hire up to speed. This leaves you free to concentrate on aligning overall marketing efforts for the company.
With education marketing budgets tightening and schools looking to spend smarter, ensuring you have the right team in place to execute creative strategies that produce inquiry and start growth is critical.