In recent years, marketers have overtaken information technology in terms of total spend on technology and associated resources. In a way, it’s somewhat unbelievable, but if you look at how the industry is moving, it makes total sense. This report, back in 2017, points to the exact statistic. With that said, with that growth in investment, it has become essential for marketing teams to have unfiltered access to technical resources that can support these investments in technology.
However, we routinely still see organizations that are scattered in their approach to staffing and supporting their technology implementations. In our personal experience, we’ve seen organizations both large and small struggling with the inability to utilize their toolsets to the best of their ability simply because there is no technology-specific personnel available on their team. The best marketing stack requires two distinct sets of staff. First, you need the strategic layer. This group is responsible for making the ultimate marketing decisions and putting them into motion with project management and ongoing statistical analysis. Secondly, you need a production wing or a team that can carry out that strategy to deliver the assets required to tackle the task at hand.
The Basics of Building a Team
There are basically three routes you can take to facilitate that production wing of your marketing group. First, you can hire an in-house team. Secondly, you can outsource all of it. And finally, there is a hybrid model that lives in between those two options. Let’s look at each of these approaches in detail, starting with building your own in-house team to function in this role.
The biggest hurdle in hiring an in-house team is the commitment to actually building out such a group. That commitment requires, first and foremost, a budget that is appropriate and can hire for each role that we’ll outline below. Since we all know the digital medium requires a broad skill set, with a depth of knowledge in so many different areas, a quick and cheap hire is often impossible. To prove this point, look at the various tools that marketing teams have in place. Content management, asset management, marketing automation, email distribution, analytics, tag management, security… All of these tools carry with them their own learning curve and relative expertise. As such, hiring an in-house team with specialists in each area is a daunting task that we would reserve for only the most capable and scaled enterprise environments. With all of this said, however, moving in-house has been a pretty significant development in recent years, as more and more corporations are taking the plunge.
One thing we encourage clients who are considering taking everything in-house is to consider how this team will work. Typically, an organization that is looking at building a fully functional in-house team is also going to have multiple internal teams, or business units, that they have to deal with. As such, this internal team really needs to become an internal services organization within the enterprise. This means setting up tools to manage resources, split responsibilities and output amongst the units, maintain overall brand consistency, etc. In many ways, handling an internal services group is more frustrating and stressful than running your own agency!
Now, take the concept of outsourcing everything. This model has its benefits, but its drawbacks too. Ultimately, the idea of sourcing an agency to handle production for your company is appealing. Agencies typically have the broad talent pool to support each element in your stack. The best agencies either have it under their own roof or have arrangements with others to facilitate those roles when necessary in a seamless way. So, in terms of capability, provided you perform the proper due diligence, agencies can match this role with relative ease. From day one, you have an entire team at your beck and call to support your mission. But with these positives come some negatives. Remember that agencies have multiple masters, so you will be competing for time and resources along the way. The majority of good agencies have mechanisms in place to support this, however, and you should be able to approach this problem during onboarding to avoid any frustration later. Also, remember that agencies are basically professional services and, as such, are going to be billing your company most likely on time spent. This means that every hour is clocked, and you are best to manage that time carefully.
One other point to note about agency relationships – the agencies aren’t there every day, which means you need to work harder to keep them in the loop as to your strategic decisions. That way, they become less of an order-taker and more of a qualified team member, supporting your choices with pros, cons, and honest feedback. And finally, one last note on agencies… Not all are equipped or positioned to support what we would call agile marketing teams. This means that unpredictability can be a problem for them. Find out what their true capabilities are by speaking to references along the way.
The last option to discuss is a hybrid of each previous approach. This is what we see happen most often in daily practice. Hiring in-house for specific roles that are highly utilized and leaving other tasks to outside resources. Most often, when dealing with mid-level enterprise clients, we see the in-house team taking over tasks such as design, an area that is highly iterative, requires strict adherence to brand guidelines, and is best facilitated with a local presence. It doesn’t mean you HAVE to hire in-house for this role, but rather the approach makes sense if the workload calls for it, and you can achieve a return on investment.
With a hybrid approach, you take the high-touch work and bring it close to home, and leave the production work to third parties where there are multiple skill sets required and the price to procure your own in-house resources wouldn’t make much sense from an economics perspective. The most successful hybrid approaches typically will circle around design and project management. These two tasks, again, require much more of a feedback loop, and in enterprise settings filling 2000 hours per year of someone’s time is fairly easy to manage.
Production Team Components
So what are the pieces that we see as being essential to a marketing production team in 2020? Here is a review of where we see the most requests from our customers, along with descriptions and a generalized average salary range (though, in your geographic area, your results may vary).
Head Technologist / CTO: In this case, the CTO for digital properties. Such a person would aid in making technology decisions, managing the production team, architecting solutions as required by the marketing and corporate staff, and overseeing budgets, vendors, and implementations of all solutions. Typical budget impact of $150,000+.
Graphic Designer: General graphic design that doesn't include user interface or functional design is a role almost every marketing team needs to craft and organize assets. Typical budget impact of at least $40,000+.
UI/UX Designer: A UI/UX designer would work to design front-end user components for digital, including web, mobile, email, and any other digital distribution method. They would have a strong background in user psychology, graphic design concepts, and experience crafting unique digital solutions. Typical budget impact of $75,000+.
Front-end Developer: Front-end development has taken on its own position within most production teams, as the complexity of front-end experiences has increased. Today, it makes sense to hire an individual who can take UI/UX components and craft the multi-display renditions that are necessary for it to properly function. Typical budget impact of $75,000+.
Back-end Developer: Back-end developers unite front-end experiences with the software that facilitates logical functionality. So, taking a website and implementing it into a content management system, for example. Or building API integrations. You cannot have a production team without this valuable (and expensive) component. Typical budget impact of $80,000+.
System Administrator & Emergency Response: A system administrator is someone who supports the 24/7 operation of your digital infrastructure. This means a person who is on call to support downtime, maintains a security layer on your server and ecosystem, is capable of spotting and responding to threats, and stays ahead of issues before they arise. In-house this would typically fall on your own IT staff, as there is never enough work here to justify a hire unless you have an unusually sophisticated use-case. However, marketers tend not to want to rely on IT, and as such, this is a prime role to outsource. Hiring a professional yourself, however, would have a budget impact of at least $80,000.
Project Manager: Having a great PM is the difference between life and death. The PM needs to know enough about all of these roles to be dangerous, and of course to manage the process. Having this person in-house makes the most sense, but there are models where you can outsource it as well. Typical budget impact of $90,000+.
Marketing Automation / Marketing Manager: The marketing manager is the button pusher when it comes to marketing automation software, and all the tools that work with it. They can give valuable translations between strategic motives and the capabilities of these tools. And, they are the glue between the eventual analytical results of campaigns and those that will analyze them. Typical budget impact of $75,000+.
Content Writer / Proofreader: Let’s not overlook content! So much of our online campaigns come down to copy. This is an essential role that is best reserved for an expert level tactician who can work with strategic teams and the implementation team to make sure the copy works for the company and works for the campaign. Typical budget impact of $60,000+.
What Route is Best?
Well, I can’t answer that for you. If you look at the above salary guidance, you can see how building your own team can top off at almost $700,000 of yearly commitment. And, if you were to build a team that consisted of each team member above, you’d also need some more management thrown in as well as a bevy of tools to organize workflows, etc. As I said earlier, I recommend this for only the largest of the enterprise, which is willing to make a multi-year commitment to set up this internal services group. Given the hurdles, it makes sense that some enterprises have bought digital agencies to serve as internal services groups. Then they have a team set up from day one capable of handling all of these requests!
My recommendation, if I was pressed, would be to consider letting experts do what experts do and hiring where you can utilize at a level of at least 80% or more. If a full-time hire is 160 hours a month, can you fill 130 hours of that time with ongoing work? If the answer is yes, then it makes sense. If it isn’t, then finding a way to procure these services fractionally, much like a timeshare, makes sense. As an example, if you are producing many email campaigns regularly, it may make sense to hire an internal marketing manager to push those buttons and keep that flowing. And, if you are building creative on a near-daily basis, hiring in-house creative resources but outsourcing the production and development would work well. It all depends, and luckily in making a hybrid approach, agencies are typically equipped to handle scenarios where the work is shared between two teams.
If you are still with me at this point, since I’m already making recommendations, I want to make a bit of an observation, too. The trend has been for enterprises to hire in-house resources. I believe this is a bit because of the economy being so strong – budgets increase and therefore hiring increases as well. But, the staff that you hire in-house will always be a bit less well-rounded than what you will get at an agency. It isn’t to say that client-side resources aren’t qualified or talented, but rather to state that they are simply exposed to less randomness and variety than agency personnel. This is an intangible element that you need to consider. Agencies don’t just bring the capability to produce, but they also bring insight, education, and knowledge transfer. These elements being why there is a price premium on their hourly rate. Don’t undervalue this point, as an excellent agency can accelerate your learning both from a tactical perspective but with regards to your tech stack as well