With the huge popularity of the TV show Mad Men, you might be thinking, maybe I need a creative agency to take my business to the next level.
In many ways, it's tempting to take such a huge responsibility off your shoulders and hand it over to an external agency. After all, with an agency you get client managers, art directors, designers, producers, media buyers and myriad other specialists working on your business. They already do this for lots of other companies, so they've got the expertise and connections in place for the job.
But despite this, I chose to build an in-house creative team for my company, VerticalResponse. I started with one person in 2003, and now we have four full-timers in the creative department. (I should also note that my company has about 120 employees total.)
Why did I decide to have an in-house creative team?
As a technology company with a start-up culture, we just don't have time to mull over briefs or set up a big strategy meeting in order to create a microsite or landing page. We like action! If our lifecycle marketing team-which happens to sit right next to our creative team--needs a landing page, we can get it created and in the pipe tomorrow. Changes and edits happen in minutes, not days, with no outside middleman or project manager required.
Everything we do is attached to revenue. Having an in-house team lets us prioritize creative projects on the fly and adjust based on weekly, even daily, performance. With an external agency, every new project or last-minute changes could mean more billable hours, which can impact our bottom line. I just don't have the time to be worrying about this.
By staying in-house, we can keep tabs on all our website data. Our head of the creative department, Alf, works closely with various teams to slice and dice Google Analytics reports, find out what's working and what's not, and also test and refine the website to get more customer sign-ups. Having an inside resource like Alf within arm's reach has been vital.
At my company, we've got lots of different folks under one roof: engineering, product development, marketing, creative, customer support, sales, finance and more. And they're all working on different aspects of our business and products. Knowing that everyone understands how all the pieces fit together and can interact with each other directly on a day-to-day basis is really valuable. For example, our support team found out that a lot of customers were confused by our pricing structure and it was a pain point for them. The team brought it up directly to the creatives, who tweaked the way our pricing page was laid out on our website. Problem solved.
Every employee at VerticalResponse is required to know how to use our products, even if they don't need to for their jobs. For our creatives, this means they know our strengths (and weaknesses) and what to focus on for the best customer experience. They also live and breathe our brand, so they "get" our personality from the very beginning; they're not juggling multiple clients in multiple industries.
I'm not saying that creative agencies aren't needed; it's just that for a fast-moving, fast-growing tech company like mine, an in-house team makes more business sense. And I should point out that we do use an agency for certain things like search engine optimization and display marketing, mainly because they have specialized tools and expertise that have proven to increase the ROI of those efforts.
I should also mention that if you're small or just starting out, you might not have the budget for a full-time hire. If that's the case, using a freelance designer or consultant for your creative needs might be the way to go until you're big enough.
Have you been in a situation where you had to decide whether to hire someone full-time or outsource to an agency? Which way did you go? Let me know in the comments!