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The Burger Dilemma: A Comparison of In-House vs. Marketing Agency Costs

At first glance, comparing value is pretty easy. For example, if one restaurant is offering a $13.00 burger and another has one for $7.00, then it doesn’t take an economist to see which is the better option.

But there's usually more to it than just price. Maybe the $13.00 burger comes with a drink and your choice of sides. Maybe it’s made from higher quality beef. Maybe it’s assembled by a skilled chef, who puts their own unique artisan touch into every bite… and maybe the $7.00 burger fell on the floor.

burger comparison

The point here is that there’s more to value than just the initial price tag.

When figuring out a marketing strategy, a business usually has two options: building their own in-house marketing department, or hiring an agency. And often the deciding factor is cost — which option will save the company more money right now? But like burgers, marketing options are made up of a lot of factors, and when it comes to value, initial cost is only the tip of the bun.

So, before you put in your order, let’s do a quick breakdown/comparison of the actual costs, and shine a heat lamp on the the other ingredients that an effective marketing agency brings to the table.

In-House Marketing: Charging Extra for Condiments?

burger diagram

Let’s be clear on one point before we dive into things: There are some advantages to keeping your marketing in-house. Your team probably won’t have to deal with as much of a learning curve regarding your products, services, and brand, and they’ll be able to focus all of their energies on marketing for a single client (i.e. you). What we’re trying to say is that the comparison to the less-than-appetizing $7.00 burger isn’t totally accurate.

However, at the same time, cost isn’t quite as clear cut either. Sure, the hourly rates associated with marketing are generally lower when you keep everything in the family, but hourly rates don’t tell the whole story.

For every employee on your marketing team, you’ve got an entire host of associated costs. Salary and benefits are two obvious ones, but what about training expenses? What about expensive tools and analytics programs? What about the hiring costs, particularly when you’re trying to assemble a talented team from scratch? Don’t forget that “marketing” is an umbrella term that includes specializations in SEO, content and copywriting, analytics, design, link development, strategy, paid search and paid social ads; just finding the right people is going to cost you time and money, and keeping them up to date on best practices is going to cost you even more of both.

And once you’ve got your team assembled, there’s always the threat of turnover. Hey, just because you brought them on and trained them up, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t leave and take their new skill sets with them. That means the possibility of recurring costs, and no clear idea of how much you’ll be needing to invest until the money is already leaving your pockets.

So maybe an in-house marketing department isn’t a floor burger, but it is a burger that costs an undefined heck of a lot to make, may end up costing you an undefined heck of a lot more as you go, and that still might not satisfy your marketing hunger.

So, how does that compare to the cost of hiring an agency?

Agency Marketing: Everything You Want on One Plate

burger diagram 2

Big companies looking for aggressive growth are usually allocating $25 – $40k/mo in digital marketing spend with agencies, while small and medium sized businesses are investing between $5 – $15k/mo into digital marketing. That probably sounds like a lot, but what’s worth recognizing is that it’s all-inclusive.

With the right marketing agency, everything is so much more concrete, and that goes double for cost. The hourly rates are probably higher than what you’d be spending with an in-house marketing department, but the hidden costs are non existent. It’s a burger with everything on it, and you’re not going to get billed extra for your pickles somewhere down the line. No to mention the sides, not just french fries—we have the premium sides, all-inclusive.

You don’t have to worry about hiring specialists or assembling a team, because the agency takes care of all of that on their end. The same goes for training and tools. All you have to do is pick from a menu of services, and you’ll always know exactly how much those services are going to be impacting your budget. And if contract-renewal time rolls around and you want to switch things up, scaling to meet your changing needs is just as easy. With agency marketing, you only pay for what you want.

To top it all off, let’s not forget the real value that comes from experienced digital marketing. As the co-founder of SEOmoz, co-founder of Sparktoro, and all-around marketing and SEO thought leader, Rand Fishkin enjoys a uniquely informed perspective on marketing agency services, and this is what he has to say:

I think a lot of web marketing agencies are undervaluing their work, or perhaps competition is getting more cutthroat. Back when SEOmoz was an agency (2005-2009), we were generally charging in that $10-$25K/month bucket, and were by no means the most expensive group on the market.

The best agencies enjoy a time-tested, intimate understanding of the marketing universe — what’s come before, what’s happening right now, and what’s around the corner — so that they can tailor a marketing strategy to fit your business and your industry. And, with multiple clients, agencies also have nearly limitless opportunities to test and evaluate new ideas, advancing their capabilities with every new contract. In short, you end up getting back more than you give out.

Clear-cut costs, proven expertise, and ever-expanding skill sets — now that's a burger you can sink your teeth into.

The Best Marketing Burger for Your Money

Sometimes the less expensive option isn’t really the less expensive option. So, when you’re looking over the marketing menu and trying to decide which option is the best fit for your business (and your budget), consider all the costs. After all, you probably wouldn’t want to buy a burger without knowing exactly how much it’s going to set you back, and with a qualified marketing agency like 97th Floor, you’ll always be getting the best brand exposure for your buck.

Let us feed your business the results it craves; check out 97th Floor today, and see what we can cook up for you.

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