Using professional marketing services

You may not have the time or expertise to plan, develop, implement and monitor every aspect of your marketing. This guide will help you to find an approach that's right for your business and ensure you have the right internal and external resources to achieve your marketing objectives.

Deciding between in-house or external resources

There are usually 2 main reasons to consider outsourcing aspects of your marketing:

  • capacity – you don't have any internal marketing resources, or it will be too much work for your existing employees
  • capability – you need specialist professional marketing knowledge and skills that are not available internally.

There's an increasing demand for specialist marketing knowledge and skills because of:

  • changing consumer behaviour
  • new and changing marketing channels.

It's rarely practical for a small business to have all these specialist skills in-house, or the time to develop and use them.

To efficiently manage all aspects of the end-to-end marketing process, most businesses will use a combination of in-house and external resources and skills.

Ask yourself...

When deciding to use internal or external resources, start by answering the following questions:

  • Do you need generalist marketing skills, or specific expertise?
  • How complex is the task? Can you, or one of your employees, learn to do it?
  • Will you need these skills for a one-off project or as an ongoing arrangement?
  • Is there enough work to justify a full-time position, or do you only need ad-hoc support?
  • How much can your business invest?
  • How does the cost of each option weigh up against the likely benefits to your business?
  • How much advantage is there to have the stability and continuity of doing it in-house?
  • How will using external providers affect your intellectual property (IP) rights – and how important is that to your business?

Improve your in-house resources

Before you commit to working with a supplier, make sure that you consider alternative options. Remember:

  • you can continue to learn more about marketing and take advantage of free training resources
  • there might be people in your business who have a particular interest in marketing and would like to improve their skills
  • marketing technology plays an increasingly important role. There are many free and low-cost online tools that can help you cost-effectively complete work in-house.

In-house alternatives

Do the following apply to your business?

Types of marketing partners

There are many types of marketing providers, from full-service agencies to niche specialists, such as freelancers or consultants.

You may choose to do some tasks yourself and leave others to experts. For example, to create professional visual and written content, you may need to recruit the services of content creators like graphic designers and copywriters.

This list provides some examples, based on your focus area and the key tasks you want to complete.

You may want to:

  • develop a marketing plan
  • review your brand positioning
  • map your customers' journey
  • draw up a communications program.

This might require the following services:

  • marketing strategy development
  • brand development
  • customer experience management
  • campaign planning.

You might use the services of:

  • strategists and planners, either self-employed or at a marketing agency
  • independent brand consultants.

You may want to:

  • generate creative concepts
  • design a logo
  • create advertisements
  • create marketing emails
  • design a trade stand
  • create a public relations (PR) event
  • produce a marketing pamphlet for a letterbox drop.

This might require the following services:

  • concept development
  • graphic design
  • copywriting
  • multi-channel management.

You might use the services of:

  • freelance creatives like graphic designers or copywriters
  • account managers or creatives at marketing, advertising or PR agencies
  • printers and mail houses.

You may want to:

  • arrange media coverage
  • buy advertising or advertorial space
  • run a social media campaign
  • monitor your reputation in media.

This might require the following services:

  • media planning
  • media negotiation and buying
  • public relations management
  • media monitoring.

You might use the services of a:

  • freelance social media manager
  • PR consultant
  • media monitoring services
  • media agency, if you have complex offline and online media needs.

Digital marketing partners

Make sure you integrate your online presence with your other marketing channels. This includes your website, social media and other online marketing.

Learn about choosing digital service specialists.

Five steps to selecting and managing external marketing suppliers

This short 5-step process will help guide your decision making.

Based on your marketing strategy and the corresponding action plan, you'll have a good idea of your high-priority initiatives. You need to work out how you can best manage marketing resources to support these initiatives.

Ask yourself:

  1. What capability and capacity do we need to deliver the intiatives in our marketing plan?
  2. What capability and capacity do we have available in our business?
  3. Where are the most significant gaps?

These gaps should give you a good indication of what external resources you need. Also review the types of marketing partners above.

It's a good idea to document the business needs for external marketing services that you've identified.

Once you've worked out what you need, research the different marketing providers in the fields you're interested in.

Relationships matter

You need to feel comfortable with your choice. Your marketing partner should:

  • be a trusted ally who shares your values
  • be focused on adding value to your business
  • treat you as a valuable client.
  1. Ask trusted contacts in your business networks for marketing recommendations.
  2. Read more about how to find the right suppliers for your business.
  3. Talk to people you know who work in the field of marketing and as practical advice.
  4. Look at marketing industry associations such as AMI, ADMA, PRIA and AGDA.
  5. Search online using the relevant key words and look at websites and reviews.
  6. Ask the potential supplier for examples of their work and a copy of their capability statement (a document outlining the skills, experience and services they can offer).
  7. Organise introductory meetings with potential providers to get to know them better.
  8. Ask questions relevant to your business needs.

Depending on what's most important for your business, you can rate (e.g. from 1 to 5) and compare your shortlist of potential marketing providers. Examples of the criteria that you could use include:

  • strategic thinking
  • creative direction
  • account management
  • campaign planning
  • campaign execution
  • specialist expertise
  • existing clients
  • relevant experience
  • value for money
  • cultural fit/chemistry.

Questions to ask potential suppliers

How will the services you provide benefit our business?

  • Ask the supplier exactly how they will add value to your business.
  • Find out what they believe success will look like for your project.

Can you provide work samples and client testimonials?

  • Review the relevant case studies of work managed by the supplier.
  • Read testimonials and talk to clients if contact details are provided.

What are the costs and timing for the specific project?

  • Clarify all costs and request a breakdown against measurable tasks.
  • Be clear on expectations of what needs to be delivered and by when.

What do you need us to provide during the project?

  • Request an estimate of the resources required from your business.
  • Clarify what will be required both upfront and on an ongoing basis.

How will you communicate with us and how often?

  • Make sure you know who your primary point of contact will be.
  • Set clear guidelines on the type and frequency of communication.

What are the key checkpoints throughout the project?

  • Establish a clear timeline to help monitor and approve the work.
  • Ask how many rounds of changes will be included in the project.

Will we be able to make future changes to the content?

  • Check that you will be provided with all of the final content files.
  • Find out if it's possible and easy to make amendments yourself.

What will happen if something goes wrong?

  • Agree upfront the process for dealing with and resolving disputes.
  • Work out what happens if you're not happy with the work quality.

Once you've chosen your preferred provider, you'll need to effectively negotiate the commercial terms. As you formalise an agreement, both parties should agree on:

  • scope of work
  • key performance indicators (KPIs).

Also make sure that the remuneration structure and payment terms are clear (e.g. what and when). This could include fixed or variable costs:

  • one-off cost – a fixed fee based on specific project deliverables
  • monthly retainer – a recurring flat fee based on an agreed scope
  • hourly rate – only pay for the services that you need and use.

It's important to establish and maintain relationships with your suppliers. To ensure both parties are satisfied, both must focus on:

  • transparency – clear expectations and communication
  • flexibility – making adjustments based on circumstances
  • results – achieving business outcomes.

Writing a brief

Always write and deliver a brief to your marketing providers for planned activities. This marketing brief should be as specific as possible. It could cover elements such as:

  • current situation – provide context on the opportunity or challenge
  • key objectives – outline the desired outcomes from the campaign
  • target market – clearly define the audience you intend to reach
  • proposition – sum up your brand and offer (e.g. your unique selling point)
  • deliverables – detail the essential project outputs (e.g. channels)
  • budget – provide potential split between, for example, creative, production, and media costs
  • timing – document the key dates to achieve the campaign launch
  • mandatories – specify essential requirements such as meeting legal obligations.

Review regularly

Set up a regular review process, especially if you have an ongoing partnership.

Key actions

Also consider...