The Costs, Benefits, and Drawbacks of Hiring a Content Marketing Agency vs. Building an In-House Team

Kerry Jones

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Your organization has recently made the decision to invest in content marketing. Or maybe you’ve already seen success with content marketing and want to ramp up your efforts. Now there’s one big question standing in your way…

Who’s going to do all of this work?

According to a survey by Contently and Adweek, 76% of marketers believe they could increase ROI or brand lift by two to five times with an expert team producing high-quality content. You know you need more hands on deck to accomplish your content marketing goals, but should you build a team from the ground up or leverage the team at an experienced agency?

To help you weigh your options, we’ve compared the costs, benefits, and drawbacks of building an in-house content marketing team versus hiring a content marketing agency.

In-House Team Benefits

Brand Knowledge

Because in-house marketers have a thorough understanding of the company’s history, vision, goals, values, and competitors, they are well equipped to create content that matches the brand voice, speaks to the target customer, and incorporates the company’s core mission.

Industry Expertise

By creating your own team, you have access to in-house technical experts and thought leaders, which can make it easier to create authoritative content. However, you will need to devise a process for getting contributions from in-house thought leaders.

Keep in mind you may not be able to find content marketing staff with the skills you need who also have existing knowledge and experience in your vertical, especially if you’re in a niche industry. So, it may take a while before new hires understand your industry inside and out.

Faster Approvals

Physical proximity and ease of access to other departments can speed up the approval process throughout different stages of a content marketing campaign. But this is not always a benefit, especially in larger businesses slowed down by bureaucracy or spread out in different offices.

Content Marketing Agency Benefits

The Right Experience and Skills

Consider the efficiency that comes with skill and experience. You could probably fix a leaky sink after looking up a how-to video, but an experienced plumber would be able to quickly diagnose the problem and fix it with confidence. Similarly, using an agency can save the time and resources it takes to learn on your own.

By working with an agency, you gain its collective wisdom. An established agency’s team has faced a diverse range of scenarios and challenges. They’ve tested and experimented with a variety of tactics and channels.

You also gain the agency team’s content marketing–focused skill set. Employees may include creative strategists, writers, researchers, designers, developers, PR specialists, copy editors, and data journalists. As shown in our cost analysis of an in-house team farther below, you’d need to hire a sizable team in order to acquire such a broad range of skills in-house.

Outside Perspective

An agency isn’t influenced by the internal biases that may lead to misunderstanding which types of content interest your target customer. Furthermore, a good agency will point out areas for improvement and missed opportunities, which may be tougher for an internal team to identify and communicate.

Built-in Relationships With Publishers

Successful off-site content marketing heavily depends on getting the content in front of the right audiences. To accomplish this, you need to build strong relationships with publications your target demographic reads. But publisher outreach is one of the most challenging aspects of content marketing, in part because it’s hard to stand out among the deluge of pitches editors receive every day. Instead of starting from scratch and seeking publishers to feature your content, an agency will already have a Rolodex full of media contacts.

In-House Team Drawbacks

Difficulty Finding Talent

Our recent study with Moz found that as the demand for marketing skills grows, it’s becoming more challenging to find candidates with the right mix of creative and analytical skills needed in today’s marketing landscape. Some hiring managers are citing a skills gap due to the fast-paced evolution of marketing technologies and tactics.

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Limited Capacity

An in-house team will have a set volume of work they can handle before quality suffers. When you’re ready to ramp up your efforts, you will need to hire new employees. This can be a costly and time-consuming endeavor, especially considering the above point that it’s challenging to find marketing talent.

Lack of Objectivity

Why do so many brands end up producing content that lacks value and feels too promotional? A big reason for this is that internal teams may struggle to think objectively about the brand, which makes it challenging to truly adapt a customer’s mindset and create content that is customer-centric, not brand-focused.

Content Marketing Agency Drawbacks

Learning Curve

Obviously, no one is going to understand the ins and outs of your brand better than your internal team. But a good agency will have a thorough client on-boarding process that includes a lot of information-gathering and upfront education about your business.

Additionally, an agency cannot be expected to have the same domain-level expertise as your employees. However, if they have worked with other clients in your vertical, the agency may already have a solid understanding of your market.

Less Control

Many internal teams are hesitant to give up some control to an agency, but handing over control is the trade-off for offloading work that you don’t have enough time or resources to handle internally. Finding an agency that strikes a balance between taking ownership of projects while also keeping you in the loop is key. For instance, the client should be asked for feedback and approval at crucial stages, such as signing off on ideas and strategy before production begins.

How Much Does an In-House Team Cost?

The cost of hiring an in-house content marketing department will include one-time and ongoing expenses:

  • Recruitment
  • Salaries
  • Additional employment costs (benefits and taxes)
  • Overhead

Recruitment

Your recruitment costs will include the time spent screening resumes, interviewing candidates, and onboarding/training new hires, plus expenses such as posting job ads and running background checks.

So just how much does all of this add up to? A recent report from Bersin by Deloitte found it costs an average of $4,000 to fill a position.

Salaries

As in any industry, content marketing salaries can range greatly depending on experience and location. The chart below gives a rough idea of salaries for some common content marketing roles, based on TCG’s 2016 salary guide. If these prices seem high, consider that a large concentration of content marketing jobs are in large metro areas with higher costs of living, such as New York and Boston.

content-salary-ranges

The number of employees you need and the types of roles you should hire will depend on your needs. Let’s look at a few different hiring scenarios to cost out annual salary expenses.

Scenario #1: Small production-focused team

Your Business: Startup, small, or mid-sized with a digitally savvy marketing team

Your Needs: You only need to hire new employees for content creation. Your current marketing staff is equipped to handle the strategic, copy editing, and promotional aspects of content marketing.

Roles to Hire:

  • Web Content Writer
  • Graphic Designer

Annual Cost:

  • Junior Level: $86,500 (low) – $128,500 (high)
  • Senior Level: $134,000 (low) – $191,000 (high)

Scenario #2: Low volume / self-sufficient team

Your business: Mid-sized or large with a digitally savvy marketing team

Your Needs: You may already have a large marketing team handling content marketing but need a dedicated team to increase your efforts. Since you won’t have a large production volume, some positions can be rolled into one, such as a hybrid content strategist and project manager. You may also be able to hire some part-time roles, such as a part-time editor.

Roles to Hire:

  • Content Strategist/Project Manager
  • Web Content Writer
  • Copy Editor (part-time)
  • Graphic Designer
  • PR Specialist

Annual Cost:

  • Junior Level: $220,500 (low) – $324,375 (high)
  • Senior Level: $296,000 (low) – $420,750 (high)

Scenario #3: High volume, self-sufficient team

Your Business: Mid-sized or large without a strong digital marketing team

Your Needs: You have an ambitious vision for your content marketing efforts and need a team to handle multiple large-scale campaigns per month from start to finish.

Roles to Hire:

  • Content Strategist
  • Project Manager
  • Web Content Writer (3)
  • Copy Editor
  • Graphic Designer (2)
  • PR Specialist (2)

Annual Cost:

  • Junior Level: $488,750 (low) – $720,500 (high)
  • Senior Level: $659,500 (low) – $939,500 (high)

Employment Costs

In addition to salaries and hiring costs, you will need to consider the other employment expenses for each employee: taxes and benefits.

Payroll Taxes

Consider a cost close to 10% of each employee’s base salary for payroll taxes, including Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes. Check ADP’s list for current payroll and wage taxes in each state.

Benefits

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that on average, wages account for 69.5% of an employee’s cost to a private employer, while benefits account for 30.5% of an employee’s overall cost. Using these percentages, we can see how the cost of salary plus benefits greatly increases the annual expense of each employee.

content-marketing-team-costs

Overhead

Last but not least, you also need to consider the initial and ongoing overhead costs per employee:

  • Office costs (rent and utilities)
  • Equipment (computer, desk, phone, office supplies)
  • Monthly online tool subscriptions

How Much Does a Content Marketing Agency Cost?

Pricing for content marketing agencies typically falls under one of four models: monthly retainer, per project, per hour, or per word (for text content such as blog posts or white papers).

In a recent study with Moz, we surveyed 30 content marketing agencies and found the majority (70%) offer monthly retainers, 15% charge per project, and fewer charge per hour (8%) or per word (7%).

content-marketing-agency-pricing

Monthly retainer prices ranged from $1,000 to $100,000. These prices largely depend on the scope and volume of projects as well as which services are included (such as strategy or outreach). For more detail on what a retainer package may include, look at this example of how Fractl prices its services.

5 (2)

Now let’s look at a few cost scenarios with comparable specifications to the in-house cost scenarios, but using the retainer prices above.

Scenario #1: Small-scale, strictly production

Your Business: Startup, small, or mid-sized with a digitally savvy marketing team

Your Needs: You want an agency to create content for you, while your internal staff will handle the strategy and promotion.

Annual Cost:

For a small volume of written content and simple graphic design, you can probably work with an agency charging $1,000 to $5,000 per month, with an annual cost of $12,000 to $60,000. A higher volume or more complex content that requires extensive research or interactive features will probably require a range of $5,000 to $10,000 per month, with an annual cost of $60,000 to $120,000.

Scenario #2: Low volume, end-to-end solution

Your Business: Startup (with seed money for marketing), mid-sized, or large

Your Needs: You want an agency to handle all aspects of content marketing, from ideation to promotion to analytics. However, you don’t need a large volume of content but rather high-quality campaigns that will attract attention.

Annual Cost:

For a low volume of large-scale campaigns (two to four per month), expect to pay $10,000 to $50,000 per month, which amounts to $120,000 to $600,000 a year.

Scenario #3: High volume, end-to-end solution

Your Business: Startup (with seed money for marketing), mid-sized, or large

Your Needs: You want an agency to handle all aspects of content marketing, from ideation to promotion to analytics. You want a larger volume of high-quality, large-scale content campaigns.

Annual Cost:

For this level of content marketing, retainer packages will probably cost between $50,000 and $100,000 a month, or $600,000 to $1.2 million per year.

Cost Comparison: In-House vs. Agency

agency-in-house-comparisonWhen we place the in-house and agency scenarios side-by-side, it may be cheaper to hire an agency for lower volumes of work, while more ambitious content marketing strategies may be more affordable to manage in-house. However, working with an agency may still be a better value once you factor in additional employment costs, such as recruitment, benefits, employment taxes, and overhead. Plus, an agency’s focused and specialized experience can provide a greater ROI in the long run.

The good news is you don’t have to make an all-or-nothing choice between insourcing or outsourcing your content marketing. Some companies choose to reap the benefits of both in-house and agency teams by using a hybrid approach: They outsource certain content marketing tasks to an agency while keeping other tasks internal. For example, your in-house team may handle strategy, ideation, and content promotion, while production is outsourced to an agency. Or you may only work with an agency for projects that require specialized skills you don’t have in-house (such as videos or interactive content).

Want to see the types of results that are possible with a content marketing agency? See short- and long-term results we’ve achieved for our clients.

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Kerry Jones

As the Marketing Director at Fractl, Kerry often answers, "What do you do?" with, "I market a marketing agency." But really, she leads our in-house marketing team in their quest to help awesome businesses find Fractl. You can also find her work on Harvard Business Review, Moz, and Marketing Land.

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