Marketing Consultant & Fractional CMO

Marketing Agency? 4 Powerful Reasons to Skip Bringing One In

by | Jun 4, 2024 | Business, Fractional CMO, Marketing, Marketing Agency

If you’re looking for a marketing agency, you should read this first. All of it.

You’re a the owner of a small or mid-sized company. You’re doing well enough already, but you know there’s more business out there. A LOT more business.

You’re hitting the limits of what you can do yourself. You’ve picked up some marketing tactics over the years, but nobody ever really taught you the details of marketing. The mechanics of how it all works. You’ve kind of just been winging it.

You don’t want to hold your own company back anymore. It’s time to bring in help. You need someone who knows what they’re doing to start building systems, update your sales materials, and get traction online.

So, you start looking for a marketing agency….

But hold on! You missed a step!

You jumped right to assuming you actually need a marketing agency.

There’s an emerging alternative that more and more companies are using to strengthen and boost their marketing. It allows them to bypass the whole marketing agency route and approach the problem from a different angle.

How a Marketing Agency Really Works

I ran a marketing agency for 12 years, so I have some expertise in this area.

A marketing agency is a group of smart, talented people from a variety of different disciplines working together to deliver marketing projects that (hopefully) generate real business results.

Sounds great, right? Isn’t that exactly what you need?

Well, it’s not quite that simple.

Let me take you behind the scenes and help you understand the reality of how a marketing agency operates.

  • They have to keep everyone working. A marketing agency is built on full-time salaried employees. So, the ability to make payroll is a constant driving force behind agency decisions. Say they have two web designers with no major projects going on. Guess what? They’re going to persuasively argue you should probably overhaul your website this month.
  • They’re always thinking about the next client. Agencies are often thinking about how to turn your project into a portfolio piece or award winner. Not because that would make you more money, but it helps them impress future prospective clients. What looks impressive in a portfolio and what generates actually business results are often very different things. You want to make sure your team is focusing on your business results instead of building up their portfolio on your dime.
  • They’re accountable to the agency’s bottom line (not yours). Running a marketing agency is a challenging business, and it’s not uncommon to have have internal conversations like:
    • “How much do you think we can increase this client’s rates?”
    • “What extra services can we sell them?”
    • “Can we do this fast but make it feel like we put a lot of time into it?”
    • “Can we outsource this to a cheap contractor without telling the client?”
    • “Should we pad our hours since we got done faster than expected?”
  • Their strategists are often agency careerists. The creative director or other key strategists you’re working with may have been in the agency world for most or all of their careers, giving them a potentially skewed perspective. They may have not have often experienced the long-term client consequences of their decisions and actions because they so often work on a project and then walk away where in-house marketers are more likely see how those things play out (and feel the consequences of those decisions) years later.

To be clear, there are plenty of great marketing agencies out there that successfully mitigate or avoid these issues—and my agency was one of the ones that did a pretty good job of this—but you can see that the temptations and economics of running an agency don’t always work out in the client’s favor.

So, What’s the Alternative to a Marketing Agency?

For small and medium-sized companies, a new option has been growing in popularity as an alternative to a traditional full-service marketing agency relationship.

It’s called a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer. (That’s what I do.)

The “fractional” part means that you’re hiring them as a part-time consultant rather than as a full-time salaried employee. (The arrangement can be similar to that of marketing agency, in that it’s usually driven by a monthly retainer.)

The “Chief Marketing Officer” part means that you’re getting a veteran marketer with leadership experience who can push your business forward instead of just taking orders.

And instead of having to pay the “agency tax” to cover a full-time staff (including their downtime), a fractional CMO can just bring contractors to handle individual pieces, guide their work, and ensure high-quality production, giving you the advantages of an agency team with a much leaner approach.

When Should a Company Consider a Fractional CMO?

In the early days of a company, the Founder/CEO calls all the shots, including marketing. If she feels like it’s time for a website, she hires a web agency, tells them what she wants, and they go build it. Maybe the company brings on 1-2 marketing contributors (e.g., a social media coordinator or graphic designer), but the founder is still driving the marketing.

Later on, though, when the limitations of CEO-led marketing become a liability, it makes sense to bring in a full-time, salaried Chief Marketing Officer to provide the leadership and perspective needed to take the company where it needs to go. Because executive leadership is expensive, though, companies usually start considering a full-time CMO much later in the company’s growth cycle, once it hits around 50 employees and $10+ million in revenue. (Even then it might not be the most practical option, but it’s at least worth considering.)

Between those two stages, a company needs a marketing leader who’s NOT the founder and NOT a full-time CMO. That’s where a fractional CMO comes in.

(And if you happen find yourself in Stage 2, we should talk.)

Why Companies Are Switching from Marketing Agencies to Fractional CMOs

As this new model grows in popularity, here’s what companies are loving about a fractional CMO approach:

  • Cost Efficiency: A fractional CMO doesn’t come with the overhead costs of an agency. You’re not paying for their office space, full-time salaries, or the administrative staff that agencies employ. You get top-level strategic input without the hefty price tag.
  • Focused Expertise: A fractional CMO is a seasoned marketing executive who brings a crap-ton of experience to the table. Unlike an agency, where your project might be handed off to less experienced team members, a fractional CMO personally oversees your marketing strategy and execution.
  • Alignment with Business Goals: Fractional CMOs aren’t driven by the need to keep an agency’s staff busy or to create flashy portfolio pieces. Their focus is squarely on your business goals and how to achieve them efficiently, and they are less likely to push unnecessary projects just to keep their team occupied.
  • Flexibility and Adaptability: You can scale your engagement with a fractional CMO up or down based on your needs. If you need more intensive support during a product launch or a major campaign, they can provide it. If you need less help during quieter periods, they can dial back their involvement.
  • Direct Access and Communication: Working with a fractional CMO means you have direct access to the person making decisions about your marketing strategy. There’s no need to navigate through layers of account managers and project coordinators, which is often the case with agencies.
  • Customization and Personalization: A fractional CMO tailors their approach specifically to your business. They’re not trying to fit your needs into a pre-packaged solution. They work with you to develop a strategy that’s unique to your market, your audience, and your business goals.
  • Accountability and Results-Orientation: Fractional CMOs often work on shorter-term contracts or retainer agreements, meaning their ongoing employment depends on delivering results. This accountability ensures they are constantly working to prove their value and achieve your marketing objectives.
  • Network and Resources: While a fractional CMO might not bring an entire team with them, they usually have a network of trusted freelancers and contractors. They can assemble a bespoke team for your needs, ensuring you get the right talent for each project without the agency markup.

Are You Feeling It Yet?

If you’re a Stage 2 company ($1-10 million in revenue, 10-50 employees), it’s likely that a Fractional CMO is the most cost-effective, practical, and powerful marketing leadership solution for you.

Aaand it just so happens that that’s what I do. I’m James Archer, a Fractional CMO based in Phoenix, Arizona. And I’d love to talk with you to find out what we can do to move your business forward.

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