NYC Media Lab

When to Choose a Digital Marketing Agency

Once most companies reach a certain size, they look for an outside digital marketing agency that can provide direction the company thinks they can’t get internally.

But maybe they can get those resources internally. Maybe their staff has the skills, time and resources needed to handle their current duties plus an online marketing campaign. And maybe they can’t.

Making this choice can be complicated. So, we devised a simple litmus test that we summarize in the acronym SBES:

  • Strategy
  • Budget
  • Expertise
  • Speed
Online Marketing Agency

Understanding these four areas will help you decide whether you should hire an outside firm. Let’s look.


Online marketing agencies generally understand what strategies work and what strategies don’t when managing an online campaign. But this isn’t because they have a fancy degree or certification. It’s because they handle dozens, if not hundreds, of campaigns each year.

That shear quantity of online activity gives an agency a kind of “muscle memory” to handle campaigns. They’ve gone through the process of trial and error and they learned how to do their work better.

That experience helps. And with experience comes the kind of best practices (aka, secret sauce) that ensures quality. Recreating those tricks of the trade is hard for an internal group that spends less time creating online campaigns.

However, if a company is looking at a rather simple campaign, they don’t need the experience of a large team. They can leverage online tools, like Google Ads or MailChimp, and let these tools guide their marketing. These tools are limited, so more complicated campaigns still require the oversite of a marketer. But if your company doesn’t need a high level of strategy, then staff can get by with simple tools.

So, lean toward an online marketing agency when campaigns become more complex, but feel confident that online tools will help with less complex and one-off campaigns.


Budget shouldn’t drive whether you choose an outside agency.

The real issue is whether budget aligns with strategy and whether you think staff can truly manage budget correctly to reach your marketing goals.

For instance, Google Ad campaigns often require weekly budget tweaks to ensure the money you’re spending doesn’t get spent too fast. When competitors increase their budget on your target keywords, then staff needs to change to either out compete or compete on different keywords.

The same problem occurs with other services, like social ads and ads in online magazines.

If internal staff doesn’t know how to shift a campaign’s online budget or if they don’t know how to choose different keywords to match competition, then lean towards an ad agency. They’ll generally be able to spend your online budget more effectively and reach your marketing goals.


You can’t know everything for every project, so expertise isn’t so much about what your team knows but about who they know. Thus, online marketing agencies are generally part of an established network of experts who can support your unique needs.

Internal teams generally don’t build relationships with contractors or subject matter experts. They don’t need to. Most of their work is well within a team’s own collective skillset.

As content, keywords and other activities of an online marketing campaign require new skills, though, internal teams tend not to know where to go for help.

A great example of this is when your internal team can write well on general topics but don’t know much about more complicated topics, like education or hospital administration.

Having access to a network of experts means your content speaks to your customers. That’s very important to the success of any campaign.

One caveat: Just be sure that the outside agency really has this expertise they advertise.


Finally, compare your internal group to an agency by how fast they can execute a campaign.

If you need a campaign launched fast, this is generally where an agency shines.

Speed is a natural outcome of the number of projects a group handles. If an agency – or internal group – handles dozens of projects, then that team knows how to handle problems. This is a big deal.

However, don’t look to an agency to be your magic bullet.

Agencies work best when they know a client’s market and develop a relationship with the client’s stakeholders first. Projects generally don’t go well when an agency doesn’t know their client. If they don’t know you, they can’t be expected to help.

So, if you need a project done quickly and you don’t have time to build a real relationship with an agency, then this is a case when the internal group may do better. They generally know how to get approvals and what type of strategies their company is willing to accept.

And if speed is a factor AND your internal group still doesn’t have the skills, then pairing them with an agency is your next best bet. Then, the internal team becomes the bridge between the agency and management.

SBES: Strategy, Budget, Expertise and Speed. These four words can help guide you when making one of the most important decisions in your business.

If you’re interested in what an online marketing company can do for you, then please contact us today. Visual String has over 15 years experience in online marketing. We love to help.