Cost Analysis: Content Marketing Agency vs. In-House Team

May 04, 2017

Before deciding whether to invest in hiring a content marketing agency or building an in-house team of content creators, it's important to weigh the pros and cons of each option. Based on real-life experience founding a content marketing agency, Rachel Lindteigen shares her process for conducting a cost analysis.

Starting a content marketing program for your organization is a great idea, but have you thought through all the logistics involved?

Deciding whether to hire a content marketing agency or build an in-house content creation team

You need to consider who will develop your content strategy and create publishable assets.

You need to determine the best way to distribute your content and report on its results.

And, of course, you need to weigh the cost effectiveness of hiring an agency or an internal team of content creators.

One of the most critical decisions when it comes to developing a content marketing strategy is whether to hire an internal team to generate and manage content or contract an agency.

Based on my experience founding and leading Etched Marketing, a boutique content marketing agency based in Arizona, I examine some of the more important trade-offs and factors in choosing between an in-house team and agency, with a heavy emphasis on comparing the costs of the two approaches.

Staying Internal: In-House Staff for Content Marketing

Before deciding whether to keep your content creation in-house or work with an outside resource, like a content marketing agency or consultant, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each option.

Advantages of In-House Content Staff

Advantages of in-house staffing for content marketing

An in-house content marketing staff provides you with three critical advantages that are a direct result of working with a team that’s consistently on-site.

First, you are in charge of the entire content creation process, so you can identify candidates with the skills and experiences that will help them succeed at the role.

Second, in-house content staff is full-time, making it easier to teach your vision and brand message and coach them over time.

Finally, since in-house content marketers are integrated with the rest of your team, they quickly learn your business inside and out, allowing them to craft content that suits your needs.

Hiring an in-house staff sounds like a great solution, and it can indeed be an ideal option for many companies. However, there are considerable costs to hiring your own content staff, which must be weighed against the advantages.

Time Costs of In-House Staffing

It may take months to hire and train an in-house content marketing team.

It’s a time consuming hiring process because content marketing is becoming a popular field. There are many people who want to work in this area because they love to write or have experience editing and writing for a newspaper or business blog. However, they may not have the specific skill-set that you need.

Can you afford to take the time necessary to hire the right people for content marketing?

If you’re ready to move forward with your content marketing program now, can you afford to take the time necessary to hire the right people?

It is not uncommon to read 20 applications for a job and find only two that actually meet the position’s requirements.

You should count on 45 to 60 days from the time you post a position until someone is selected. Then, you normally have to wait two more weeks while the selected person wraps up previous employer commitments.

After two months you get your new hire in the front door, but they are exactly that: a new hire. It may take even longer as you learn what skills to look for.

When I built a content marketing team for Etched, I hired a mix of content analysts, content strategists, writers, and editors.

I found that I had to sift through many résumés and spend hours in interviews to find the right candidate for each role, a process that took months.

Because of the time commitment, you need to consider the impact of delays on your content initiatives. For example, if you set out a goal amount of content to publish in a quarter, you should adjust for the learning curve inherent in training new employees.

Rushing the hiring process because you’re on a deadline can lead to critical hiring mistakes that may further delay your progress and possibly be very expensive to recover from.

Financial Costs of In-House Staffing

Hiring staff isn’t just time-consuming: it’s expensive.

For starters, there’s the cost of your time and that of anyone else (such as someone in Human Resources) to do the hiring.

Beyond that, hiring an employee is a significant financial commitment. You must consider whether your budget and your staffing needs are in alignment.

Case study for cost of hiring in-house content marketing staff

To analyze the approximate cost of hiring content marketing staff, I assume the prospective employee will hold a full-time role at a company based in Pennsylvania, have a starting salary of $50,000, be single, and participate in 401K matching at a rate of 2.7%.

From there, I take into account the cost of taxes, unemployment insurance, healthcare, and 401K matching to calculate how much money it costs a business to employee a single new hire.

Drivers of Cost Cost Explanation of Cost
Salary $50,000 Basic starting salary for content marketers in PA
Social Security Tax $3,100 Employer pays Social Security tax: 6.2% of employee salary
Medicare Tax $725 Employer pays Medicare tax: 1.45% of employee's salary
State Unemployment Insurance Rate ~ $1,400 Varies based on state: 15% in PA
Health Care $5,000 (single) Average cost of providing health care
401k Matching Program $1,350 Average company match is 2.7%
Total $61,575 ---

 

The combined cost of hiring a new employee totals roughly $61,575, a significant sum, especially considering you may need to hire more than one person to build a successful content marketing team.

Determining the Ideal Size for an In-House Content Team

The ideal size for a content marketing team depends on the size of your business and your goals.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, 49% of B2C companies have a “small (or one person) marketing/content marketing team that serves the entire organization.”

To determine how many staffers you need for your content marketing team, you should figure out how much work each staff member can do in a day.

When I set up the content team for Etched, I based our staffing needs on the following estimates, which came close to reality:

  • Writing a blog post or full page of on-site content: 2 hours
  • Editing a blog post or full page of on-site content: 30 minutes
  • Optimizing SEO elements for a page or post: 15 to 30 minutes
  • Keyword research for a page or post: 15 to 30 minutes

 

As your team becomes more familiar with your process and brand, these time estimates may decrease. But, over the course of a year, I keep this same staffing model because there always are situations where one portion of the process takes longer than expected.

In my case, scaling up the time estimates shows that each content creator will take a maximum of 3 hours and 30 minutes per page or post. This means one full-time staff member can create two posts per day, or up to 10 per week.

However, that’s only the writing and editing. It doesn’t include the additional time needed for strategizing, competitive research, promotion, distribution, or reporting.

Bringing in Experts: Hiring an Agency for Content Marketing

The alternative to hiring an internal content team is to engage the services of a content marketing agency. As I’m sure you’d expect, this approach has advantages and disadvantages compared to having a dedicated staff.

Advantages of Content Marketing Agency Staffing

Advantages of hiring a content marketing agency

Hiring a content marketing agency saves you time by bringing personnel with specialized skills to you.

First, an obvious advantage of using an agency is that you don’t have to hire and train anyone. You are using an agency because they already have the different skill sets your team needs. This will save you months of time up front.

Second, most agencies have specialists on staff with a great deal of experience in content strategy, copywriting, SEO, and analytics. These experts work together to develop and report on your programs.

The agency handles everything for you, allowing you to get the robust content marketing program you need without having to spend time and money building an infrastructure to create it.

Third, an agency provides flexibility because you can contract its time on an as-needed basis. In contrast, once you hire a full-time employee, you are committed to keeping that person busy with work. Frequent firing and rehiring is simply not a viable option.

Determining the Scope of Work

If you plan to hire an agency, look for one that offers options that work for you.

Some of Etched’s clients have us handle everything related to their content — from initial research, to implementation on their website or blog, to promotion and distribution— without ever being involved in the process.

Other clients want help developing blog topics but write and distribute the content themselves.

If you intend to hire an agency to provide research and copy ideas only, beware that performing the rest of the tasks involved in creating, publishing, and promoting content can be quite challenging without a staff on board.

Most of Etched’s past clients who started off asking for copy ideas only, were unable to execute on the content and came back to us within a month or two to update the contract so our team wrote the copy for them.

Financial Costs of Agency Staffing

The cost of hiring a content marketing agency varies greatly depending on your market, the size of the agency, and your needs.

I’ve seen large agencies charge $500 or more per post, while smaller, local or boutique agencies charge closer to $250-$350.

If you compare these prices to the approximately $62,000 estimate for one in-house employee (calculated above), investing in an agency for an annual program comes out to roughly $5,000 a month.

Here’s what a $5,000 a month content marketing program could look like:

  • Content strategy and planning for your blog posts or website content
  • Copy production for blog posts or website pages
  • Promotion and Distribution of the content
  • Reporting

Since pricing varies by market and from agency to agency, it’s hard to say exactly how much a program will cost. But a budget of $5,000 a month should be enough to provide the items you need for a good, baseline content marketing program. There are companies that invest significantly more and some that invest less.

Weigh Pros & Cons of In-House Staff or Agency for Content

Whether you choose to build an in-house content team or seek outside expertise and support, remember to weigh the pros and cons of both cost and time.

Ultimately, choosing to hire an agency or in-house staff mostly is a personal or business preference. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options, but the cost itself may not be significantly different in the long run.

Before making a final decision, conduct thorough research:

  • Find salary estimates using tools such as Salary.com or Glassdoor.com.
  • Speak with agencies in your market to see what they’d recommend for your business and what it would cost.

Gather the data you need, and run your own cost analysis to determine what’s best for your situation.


About the Author

Rachel Lindteigen, author headshot and bio

Rachel Lindteigen is the President/Founder of Etched Marketing, a content marketing agency in Phoenix, AZ. Prior to founding Etched, Rachel lead the SEO and content marketing programs for a New York agency and oversaw strategy for many large brands. Rachel is a journalist at heart, holding a bachelor’s degree from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. She also earned an MBA in Marketing. She works to help brands tell the stories their customers care about by providing useful content. She’s seen clients experience substantial year-over-year growth by following this philosophy.