By Mark Kakkuri
The broadest definition of marketing is anything you do to help sell a product or service. If we want to get a little more particular, we might identify the four Ps of marketing (product, price, place and promotion) in the definition. Or, we might divide marketing into two segments: on one side, the more left-brained areas of business/research/pricing/data. On the other side, the more right-brained area of communications/advertising/media. Indeed, marketing has its ins and outs. It is both simple and complex. No matter how you slice it, it is an essential element of business. And, like many elements of business, sometimes it’s better to outsource rather than handle in-house. Sometimes.
Here are some tips to help you decide whether to keep marketing in-house or contract out to an external agency.
1. Decipher and document the full scope of all the marketing operations needed for your business. No one knows your business as well as you do, so be sure to take the time to document all of the marketing activities ever undertaken. Create an outline using the four Ps, draw a chart with the two segments — whatever way you decide to capture all this info, just be sure to create some kind of document you can return to again and again for reference and on-going discussion. Capture high level advertising notes (publications, expenditures, campaign ideas); social media efforts; collateral; broad sales data, etc. Get other staff to help create this collage of marketing history. The idea is to see and understand the full scope of what’s been done so you can determine how to map out a future course.
2. Capture, in writing, not only your view of a typical or safe course of action for desired future marketing activities but also some crazy, outlandish ideas. It’s always good to dream big and let all the ideas fly every now and again. Sometimes, you’ll end up being amazed at the consensus gained on what you may have never thought to be a good idea. Also, regardless of whether you keep the marketing in-house or farm it out to agency, sometimes the “crazy” ideas spur greater efficiency, helping a marketing team form more practical plans and stretch a company out of the typical or ordinary.
Here’s a crazy, yet tangible, idea: Be present at every major event in your community in a given year, from local 5K runs to parades to arts festivals. If that’s impossible, come up with other ways to be “present” in your locale. Well-timed and well-placed dealer advertising or social media campaigns could coincide with local events, giving the impression of presence when you’re actually minding the store.
3. Understand (some of) the pros and cons for in-house vs. outsourced marketing. Keeping marketing in-house means it’s your team, the ones you know and trust, doing the work. Generally the cost may be less, but so may the reward. Farming it out means gaining access to the resources of a highly creative, specialized team of marketers who can propel your business like no in-house team ever could. And generally the cost may be more.
In-house teams usually provide you with greater control; external vendors usually provide greater creativity. In-house marketing can usually move faster as you can decide and do, on the spot. External agencies take time as they formulate very specific, targeted plans, executing variations of design projects, and usually through an account manager. You’ll have to decide how to handle the risk/reward/timing/cost of either direction.
4. Make sure in-house marketing staff are duly equipped and capable. Even if you choose to farm out your marketing to an external agency, it’s always helpful to have someone on staff who knows what they’re doing in marketing. Ideally, your in-house marketing person (if you have only one) should be a marketing generalist — capable of understanding sales goals, write and edit decently and perhaps be comfortable with basic graphic design or photography. They should have an understanding of digital marketing and the importance of well-executed social media strategy.
If you don’t have a person like this on staff at your store or range, find the closest one you’ve got and send them to a reputable marketing conference so they can keep up with all the tools and trends. Your in-house marketer can be the point person for the day-to-day interactions with the external vendor, allowing you to stay out of the details and focused on the bigger picture.
5. Find an accomplished, professional agency you’re comfortable with. Accomplished, professional marketing agencies will have websites that function as online portfolios.
Assuming you’re impressed with the work, interview the agency staff and ask about as many projects and clients as you can. Learn how they approached the work, how they handled agreeing on scope or design and whether they met deadlines. Talk to their past clients and ask about their experience with the agency. Find out how the marketing projects affected sales or other objective data areas.
Even if they pass all these tests with flying colors, there’s still a subjective area of “fit” only you can judge. If you’re not comfortable with them, you don’t have to use them. But don’t let your discomfort about farming out the work wrongly color your view of the agency. Keep in mind, you don’t have to go all-in with an agency, either. Ask for a proposal from them to do something small such as a new trade show banner or an advertisement for a magazine. See how it goes and then decide whether you want to do another project.
And finally, some companies insist marketing personnel or vendors have direct experience in the firearms industry. There’s a lot of wisdom in this, especially in a unique industry like ours. However, don’t shy away from hiring a marketer who has demonstrated success in other markets. Their experience can transcend across consumer groups, and may even provide a fresh, creative approach to reaching our audience.
The same applies for external agencies. Whether they’re experienced in the shooting industry or not, watch for marketing professionals and marketing agencies who listen and can lay out a clear plan to help meet your business objectives in the marketplace.
Mark Kakkuri is, in his words, “sort of a firearms marketing nerd.” You should connect with him on LinkedIn (@markkakkuri).