The busy executive’s guide to hiring a digital marketing agency: Building an internal team to support your initiatives

Building an internal team to support your initiatives


If you’re already determined to hire an outside strategy or services marketing provider to help you grow (and have read the previous section about if you are ready), then you need to build out a team to support your initiatives and manage your channel partners.

Even if you are not ready to hire an outside provider just yet, the likelihood that you will want to hire one in the future is high and so you should be thinking about your team organization ahead of the curve.

The marketing leader’s secret to success

You may already realize this, but if you’re a marketing leader then your success hinges on your ability to hire, train, retain, and motivate an amazing team.

If you are straddling the line between manager and individual contributor, you cannot stay there for long. I did this for a period of eight months at HotPads while building out my team, and it was the hardest and most stressful period of my career.

The best thing you can do as a marketing leader is hire yourself out of a job, and to do it constantly. Find great people, hire them, and then let them own the areas for which you hired them. If you don’t do this, you’ll have high turnover on your team.

Your job, and secret to success, is to hire and enable great marketers to do great marketing. This means supporting them with the monetary resources as well as people to get things done well.

Your job is to remove impediments to their success from their path. Your job is not to be a channel operator and a manager at the same time.

How businesses structure marketing teams

There are three ways that I commonly see businesses structure their marketing teams:

  • Director/head of marketing with channel owners and teams (usually of more junior individual contributors) built out for each channel;
  • Head of marketing with channel owners who then work with agencies (instead of having a team internally);
  • Head of marketing, with a few channel owners, who commissions strategy and opportunity audits for new channels before hiring a channel owner.

I have come across a few relatively large companies ($50M+ a year in revenue) who have hired a consultant on a (well compensated) long term basis to handle agency relationships while they hire a new VP/director of marketing who will then scale out the marketing team to then own those agency relationships. This setup is the exception not the rule, but it is a viable option for the right company and team setup.

How businesses structure themselves

Here are some clear visuals into how the businesses mentioned above structure themselves.

Traditional head > managers > individual contributors

This is the most common team setup. There are senior marketers who manage teams of more junior marketers. These are sometimes channel-specific, and sometimes it is not clear who owns which channels. You can see the problem here. This scenario works well when the teams have specific areas of ownership, whether a product or channels. These teams will still often tap agencies for specific needs.

Head of marketing > channel owners > agency partners

In this scenario, the business is committed to working with agencies that specialize in each area. Each area has a clear owner who then manages the agency. Sometimes one agency can work across channels and help with integrated marketing campaigns, but sometimes specialists are needed. Which you need depends on your team composition and current needs.

Head of marketing > senior marketers > audits by agencies

In this scenario, the three senior marketers are all tasked with different channels and in charge of determining the strategy and viability of the channel they own. They’ll work with an agency (or consultant) to define the opportunity and strategy, and then determine if they should hire someone to own that channel or if the agency should run with it.

Which structure is right for your company?

The first rule of structuring your team is that there is no right structure.

The ideal structure for your marketing team depends on:

  • your goals;
  • your timeline;
  • your budget; and
  • your ability to hire great people;

Also, do not forget about your own experience hiring and enabling a great marketing team. Your personality, experience, and skill set will determine the team you hire and the outside partners you need to engage with.

Most larger companies ($50M+ a year in revenue) I have encountered and worked with as a consultant build out the first structure listed above. They’re well-established, have their acquisition channels identified and growing, and are further along the path to having a long term sustainable business. In this case, agencies are used to accelerate rather than to get new channels off the ground.

Most medium sized companies ($10M-$50M a year in revenue) I have encountered and worked with are building out the second structure listed above. These teams have a fairly clear idea of what works, but need to move faster than hiring a full team. It is quite natural to go from this structure to a full built out team. It is much harder to go from the first structure to this more lean structure. The downside of this approach is that you need channel owners who are also very adept at project management and happy filling that role. You need manager-level channel owners who can make the agency relationship profitable.

Most scaling companies ($1M-$10M a year in revenue) fall into the third category. If you are in this stage, you probably have a person or two on your team in addition to yourself, though you are likely still the main marketer on some of the channels. In this stage, you have to be choosy about the channels in which you are investing and working with an outside partner. Your team’s time is limited and your skill sets may be varied yet still limited, so you have to find the right partner that works with your team in the ways you need.

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