Mo Dezyanian
Feb 5, 2018 · 4 min read

Last week I went to a lively debate at MarketingTO.

Topic: Growth Hacker vs. Traditional agency model

Featured were:

  • Andrew Kirby, Executive Client Partner at SapientRazorfish
  • Dana Toering, Chief Revenue Officer at Yroo
  • Stephanie Barrington, VP of Marketing at

They’re all great speakers. Each one had a unique insight into the industry, plus their own point of view about whether an internal marketing team (growth hacker) vs. a traditional agency is the best way to go.

Rather than a play-by-play, I’m going to give you a broad overview, followed of course by my own two cents.

Arguments for Growth Hacker (internal team)

Cost savings

It’s not a secret that ad agencies, especially the network controlled ones, seem expensive. Between hourly rates and scope creep, it can seem costly to outsource to an agency, and worse yet, unpredictable.

Conversely, a full-time employee can be flexible when it comes to responsibilities and predictable when it comes to costs. As a plus they are also more and efficient.

My side note: agencies are often labeled expensive because of perceived waste, unclear (non-transparent) invoicing, and the nature of human beings — we don’t notice a regular, internal fixed-price cost every week as much as an external invoice that is always higher than we expected (because all invoices are higher than expected). If you are basing your choice on cost, make sure you spend some time with the numbers; take a hard look at whether pay-by-internal-salary or pay-by-external-service best helps you meet your marketing goals.


Full-time employees are much more agile and responsive than agencies. The can react to a shift in a campaign almost instantly, because communication lines to the company are open: Sometimes they all sit in the same room. There are no middle-people, and everyone is only working on one account.

Passion and culture

If you’re only working on one brand, especially one that you love and believe in, you will be passionate about that brand, or, hopefully, become so over time. Also, you will be immersed in the company culture — a valuable plus when you’re managing a brand.


Working within a company you’re also more closely connected to related teams, e.g. product, sales, and operations. You can easily discuss strategies, collaborate on ideas, and guide or take guidance.


When you work in a company you, of course, feel directly responsible for the impact you have on the business. This ownership of work, admittedly, is sometimes harder to replicate when you’re torn between multiple clients.

Arguments for agencies

Diverse skill sets

In a specialized market it’s almost impossible to have a specific expert in-house for each of the marketing skills you may need to carry out your marketing goals.

Outside perspective

Sometimes being immersed in your brand isn’t a good thing at all! Brands do need an outside perspective to monitor the viability and relevance of their marketing — the perspective of a team who also works on and learns from other businesses.


While your internal team might be an expert in your business, agencies — typically — are experts at the business of marketing. Once again, they have the experience of working with a diverse set of businesses and solving a diverse set of problems. As well, they tend to be immersed in their industry / competitive with each other, which means that they keep up with trends, new developments, and new discoveries.

My perspective

From where I stand, no one model works better than the other. Both have benefits and pitfalls. As with all things in business, it comes down to one thing:

Alignment of interests and people

Being aligned with the brand and its business goals is critical, whether you are a full-time internal growth hacker, or at an agency that rewards success with clients. Note: The need for alignment requires the elimination of any conflicts of interest between agency and clients in compensation models, plus, maximum transparency — two related topics that the panel also addressed during Q&A.

In this fluid, fast-paced world, where business models are regularly being turned on their heads, doing the work to align everyone in your marketing team is now more important than ever.

We need to look past agency vs. internal team and foster real partnerships, where everyone, regardless of employer or business model, is part of a marketing team. If you can get your marketing people on the same page and working as a real, cohesive team, you’ll be pleased with the results you earn.

Empathy Inc. — Occasional Insights

Thought leadership about business, marketing, and media

Mo Dezyanian

Written by

Marketer. Climber. Dada. President of Empathy Inc.

Empathy Inc. — Occasional Insights

Thought leadership about business, marketing, and media

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