While the ideal for in-house search marketing is to perform all tasks related to search marketing internally, the reality is that there are times when help is needed from outside sources. There are several reasons for this, but when it does happen, the prime motivator should be that the relationship between the company and the outside vendor be as beneficial as possible for everyone involved.
Let’s first look at why you may need to bring in an outside agency.
Training. Expanding the knowledge of the team is a vital task, either in general terms, in a specific area, or for a specific tool. There are different levels of training provided by different vendors, from online courses to ‘hand holding’ with continual support.
Proof of Concept. If the company is unsure about the benefits to be gained by an in-house search marketing effort, then hiring an outside vendor gives the company the ability to prove the concept prior to committing resources. The same can be said of starting any new project that has an uncertain future.
Scaling. If the demand for search marketing work exceeds the in-house resources available, then an outside agency can be used to pick up the slack. This can give the in-house team some breathing room to hire more resources, with the goal of eventually replacing the agency. Alternatively it can allow the in-house team to concentrate on whatever areas of speciality are deemed to be corporate core competencies, leaving the agency to work on whatever ‘unsexy’ items remain.
Expert Resources. Agencies can be used in an advisory capacity to keep the company informed of recent industry or tool changes. They can advise on long term and short term tactics and strategies. They can also be used to perform search marketing audits, pointing the in-house team in the right direction and telling them what they didn’t know they didn’t know.
Whatever the reason for bringing in an agency, you need to ensure that the one that you bring in to work with your company and your in-house team is the right one. The first step after identifying potential agencies is to talk to them and ask them questions, to ensure that they do indeed have the knowledge or skills that you need. You should get a list of references and talk to them, probing for details of their strong points are, and then determine whether those strong points align with the goals of your project. Ensure that they do things “the right way.” When you do finally select an agency, you need to work with them to make sure that the contract aligns with your goals in terms of length of the contract, price and objectives.
Remember that during this process the agency is also vetting you as a working partner. They want to know what the working relationship is going to be like, they want to be able to have as clear an understanding of the resource requirements as possible. They also want to know the expected level of involvement of your in-house team. They want to know if they make recommendations whether they will be implemented and how long will it take. They want to know up front whether they’re building up a system that will transition to an in-house team, or whether this could be the start of a longer term relationship, so that they can price it accordingly.
This is where you have to be honest about your intentions. If you intend to just use the agency as a stop-gap measure, or as a proof of concept, yet you tell them that you intend to establish a long term relationship, you’re not only being unethical, you’re damaging whatever trust you’ve built with that agency, which will harm you should you need to use them again in the future. In response to an earlier in-house column, Nancy McCord recounted her experience with this:
I have worked in several situations being the outside contractor and have been used by the in-house staff to create programs only to be told later that they had decided to move the program that I helped to forge in-house.
I understand that this can be a smart business decision to cut costs, but based on this experience I no longer discount my prices or offer proprietary information that will be used to build a business and then cut me out of it.
It is only through establishing trust and building on it, over the course of the relationship, that a win-win situation can be created for both the in-house effort and the supporting agency.
Simon Heseltine worked as an in-house search marketer for a medium sized Virginia company before moving over to work as Director of Search for RedBoots Consulting. He also organizes the Virginia SEM meetup group. The In House column appears periodically at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.