I see it all the time: A small business hires an outside vendor for website development, a freelancer for blogging and social media management, perhaps a search engine optimization consultant, and a public relations agency.
If it sounds complicated, that's because it is. It's not ideal for small businesses--especially in terms of management, costs and communication. Internal teams are often unable to effectively manage the various vendor relationships, and the amount of time and money required for this upkeep can be a major drag on the bottom line.
Since launching my own small business four years ago, I've watched countless fellow business owners fall into the trap of enlisting and cycling through multiple marketing methods, channels and providers while business growth remains stagnant. Here are three reasons why you should get out of the multi-vendor marketing rut--and one tactic that can streamline your efforts going forward.
A 2014 Direct Marketing Association survey found that 30 percent of marketers manage more than seven vendors. The same study reported that 20 percent of respondents spent 15 hours each week managing vendors. That's more than a third of a 40-hour work week dedicated to vendor management.
You have more pressing things to worry about than managing multiple marketing vendors--managing your in-house team, serving customers, nurturing leads and referral sources and maintaining smooth operations. If you're spending a third or more of your time doing just that, it hinders your ability to run and grow a business and cater to existing customers.
Just prior to launching my business four years ago, I employed a multi-vendor approach to building the new brand. I hired a graphic designer and a separate website developer, and it resulted in a clunky process that delayed my public launch about a month from my target date, chewed up way too much of my time and ultimately forced me to rebuild the website less than a year later.
The costs associated with managing multiple vendors and their various contracts can pile up quickly and lead to a perfect storm of inefficiency. It means invoices coming from several sources, multiple renewal periods, varying service agreements and dedicating company resources to sorting all of this out.
Additionally, there's the cost of vendor turnover. Dropping and adding vendors, which is a common aspect of the multi-vendor approach, can prompt excessive overhead and labor costs in a similar way employee turnover does.
Hiring a traditional public relations agency, for example, usually requires a setup period at billable hours where they conduct research, build out a strategy and compile it into a formal plan. If you replace that agency with a public relations freelancer a few months later, you begin the process all over again and essentially eat the costs of the overlapping planning work.
When marketing efforts are dispersed across multiple vendors, it often falls on the marketing manager or even business owner to facilitate communication as a middleman. Furthermore, conflicts of interest arise when marketing vendors view other vendors as a threat, making communication and cooperation between these entities a real struggle.
With lousy communication, it's almost impossible to get all vendors on the same page about a business's overall marketing goals. As a result, individual vendors often focus solely on the specific duty that they have been assigned without viewing it within the context of the business's greater marketing goals.
Once, I received a frantic call from a public relations client regarding a mysterious press release that had been issued on behalf of his firm without his knowledge or authorization. After assuring him it had not come from my agency, I noticed it was oversaturated with backlinks to the client's website.
I called the client back and asked if he was working with an SEO agency he hadn't told us about. He confirmed, and it turned out the agency was the source of the problematic release.
Integration as a solution
Integrated marketing is when marketing, public relations, advertising and similar strategies work together toward common overarching goals. Unlike multi-vendor marketing, it's not simply pursuing each of those verticals, but doing so through a fully collaborative team. By consolidating and distributing your marketing responsibilities among one or two integrated, long-term creative partners, you can pursue your company's marketing goals with greater time and cost efficiency.
A lot of you probably don't have the resources or steady revenue to commit to working with an integrated agency long term. In that case, the inefficiencies of cycling through several small marketing vendors could be a better alternative than neglecting marketing altogether. If you're committed to efficient long-term growth, however, pairing an in-house team with an integrated agency partner is a more attractive and better overall option.