4 ways you know you’re ready to outsource marketing

After you have validated your startup idea and have worked long hours to get your business off the ground, you have likely invested most in product and business development. During this time, marketing may have fallen by the wayside. Or perhaps you are so ambitious about the brand that you have expanded marketing faster than your team can develop your product. An integrated marketing agency knows how to strike the right balance. When should a company start outsourcing its marketing and PR needs? When is one marketing person no longer enough?

When you have more than a viable product or service

There is no point in marketing an idea without having executed on it by creating a minimum viable product. There is also no point in marketing a product without some thought put toward customer touch points and business opportunities. Consider your customer’s journey and the experience you would like to design for him/her leading up to the discovery of your product and beyond. Map your competitive landscape to understand “white space” business opportunities. Why is your company the first, best, or only in your industry?

Once you have your minimum viable product, an idea of your product’s market fit, and ideas on how customers navigate the competitive landscape, you and your marketing agency will have a much easier time getting your brand out there and known. Potential customers will be able to better understand how you can help them. You will want to scale your efforts instead of flooding the market and then dropping off abruptly. Make incremental adjustments over time. See how effective campaigns are and grow from there.

What if you have had a viable — or even refined — product for some time and you believe you know your customer and market fit? What if you have even hired an internal employee to handle marketing? If your company does not seem to be growing despite these efforts, you may be ready for help from an outside team. An external consultant or agency can pick up where your marketing employee leaves off (after all, there is only so much one person can do) and scale your efforts even larger. The agency can also audit your efforts to see if you are maximizing your efforts in the most effective ways.

When you have a story to tell

Throwing disjointed press releases and social media posts out into the ether is a sure way to get your efforts (and your dollars) sucked into a black hole. To get people to believe in your brand and remember it far into the future, you need to determine your brand’s narrative. Reaching far beyond any one campaign and even beyond your company’s history, a brand’s narrative is a continuous conversation that reaches down into peoples’ belief systems to make a brand resonate. You can learn about narrative in our first episode of the podcast series, Agile Narrative, here. Toby Trevarthen, Sparkpr’s Chief Narrative Officer, mentions some of his favorite narratives, like Apple’s Think Different, which began as a slogan in a campaign but actually represented Steve Jobs’s manifesto for the company. Even though the company no longer uses the slogan, we still associate Apple with innovation and brilliance.

This is not to say that you need to flesh out your narrative before consulting an agency. Some agencies specialize in developing a brand’s story into a full-fledged narrative and refining it so that it resonates with an audience. However, you will want to have a basic idea of your company’s story (where you come from and where you are going) and what you stand for. Ask yourself a few questions like these to see if an outside agency can help inject a fresh perspective into your company’s narrative:

Do you just sound like everyone else in your industry? Have you invented a new category that has not yet been defined? Has your company experienced a dramatic change that requires a shift in narrative focus? If yes: it’s time to re-think your narrative.

When you have a spokesperson who can represent your narrative

Think of your spokesperson as an important character in your company’s narrative. Your spokesperson will be the face of the company and interact with media, giving interviews and acting as a personified version of your brand’s narrative. (S)He can weave the brand narrative into quotes the media want to publish and audiences want to read.

Engineers who excel at product development sometimes have a differing skill set from an external-facing representative trained specifically in public relations. If you don’t have an internal brand champion, hiring someone who makes it their prerogative to advance the company’s goals is essential. Your spokesperson should be able to deliver what the media wants, which includes pithy commentary, willingness to invert the status quo, and sharply minted arguments. This person commonly has marketing or PR experience. Sometimes, CEOs and CMOs make good spokespeople if they can deliver what the media wants (think Tony Hsieh of Zappos or Steve Jobs of Apple).

Your marketing agency will work with your spokesperson to secure interviews, give quotes, relay important company and industry information at events, and more. Because your agency is experienced in these activities and has a rich history with a variety of publications, you will have more success working with an agency than trying to handle this aspect of PR internally.

When you have a budget that will get the job done

Marketing communications is all about meeting the customer where they are across multiple platforms and integrating your efforts to reach a larger goal. The last thing you want to do is only have enough of a budget to do, say, a few social media posts and a video. Instead, you will want to follow through on a wholly integrated campaign. Make sure your budget can accommodate for elements that make up an integrated campaign such as messaging, positioning, narrative core media relations, influencer marketing, content creation, thought leadership, social, and anything else you need.

In general, hiring an individual PR and marketing consultant works for smaller-scale impact at a lower cost. If you want to start slowly and have no internal marketing employees or your internal employees need help in a specific area, an individual consultant may work for you.

However, if you want to make a big impact without hiring an entire team internally, you will want an agency. Multiple experts, each with their own specialties, will work on your account by pooling their resources and experiences. This results in more attention placed upon your needs (as opposed to rationing time to service other clients), more commitment to following through on long-term success of the marketing strategy, a broader offering of services at a higher quality, and more. Read all about the differences between hiring consultants and agencies here.

Along the path from startup to international success, there comes a time when a company needs help getting the word out to a larger audience. Once you have a viable product or service, a story to tell, a spokesperson to represent that story, and a budget that allows you to commit to telling it right, you are ready for that help.

Author Vanessa Zucker is Spark’s in-house marketing manager. She has done in-house marketing for small startups, tech giants, and non-profits.

Sparkpr is an integrated marketing communication agency that represents global technology companies as well as startups, focused on Agile Narrative, data insights, and PR. Find out more about how we can help your company achieve its goals here.