When searching for a partner to help boost your company’s digital marketing ROI, you’ll likely come across both consultants and agencies.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Key differences between marketing consultants and agencies
  • The pros and cons of each
  • How to determine which type of partner is right for your brand
  • What elements should be factored into your decision

Consultants and agencies offer similar services. They may even promise similar results. So, how do you know which one is right for your business?

First, let’s break down the difference. 

A marketing consultant is a person who works with a company to build and implement various marketing strategies. A consultant usually helps create a detailed marketing plan, messaging, and methods for spreading the word about your product or business, and monitors the results.

Alternatively, a marketing agency generally offers a range of services that help you create and implement a well-rounded marketing strategy to achieve your brand goals. Often, this translates to a team of experts you work with on various campaigns, ad initiatives, A/B testing, optimizing, and more. In some cases, consultants can even partner with an agency themselves.

Still not quite sure how to choose between the two? Read on for more insight to help you decide.

HawkSEM blog: Marketing Agencies vs. Consultants

When searching for ways to boost your digital marketing ROI, you’ll likely come across both consultants and agencies. (Image via Unsplash)

Marketing consultant: Pros

For new startup companies (or those with smaller budgets), a marketing consultant may be the best way to go. If you’re just starting out and don’t need as much optimization or testing with your strategy, consultants can be a cost-effective option. 

And, since they’re typically a one-person team, they may have more wiggle room when it comes to negotiating or working with your budget. 

With an SEM consultant, you’ll always know who you’re dealing with. You can build a one-on-one relationship with that person and know exactly who you’re communicating with at any time.

A marketing consultant can work with you to solve problems you don’t have answers to. On the other hand, a bigger company may opt for an agency because they’ve already identified problems internally, but don’t have the time or expertise to fix them themselves.

Marketing consultant: Cons

When you hire a marketing consultant, you’re often hiring a one-stop shop. That means one person tasked with not only your marketing strategy, but the strategies for all of their other clients as well. 

With all that juggling, it can be tough to find a marketing consultant that’s always available when you need them.

Because there are only so many hours in a day, marketing consultants may adopt a “set it and forget it” mentality when it comes to paid search and pay-per-click (PPC) efforts in the interest of time and bandwidth. 

This could result in less time spent optimizing or drilling down into what’s working and what’s not. You’re also only getting one person’s knowledge and experience vs. a team.

Marketing agency: Pros

Biased? Us? OK, maybe a little. But the fact remains that there are plenty of pros that give good agencies an edge. 

For starters, you’ll likely find that a consultant doesn’t come with the same level of resources an agency can provide. From blogs and guides to webinars, along with relationships with the likes of Google and Microsoft, an agency can’t be beat. 

With an agency, even if you’ve got just one point of contact, you’re also likely getting access to experts in all aspects of digital marketing, from SEO and paid search to PPC and everything in between.

If you want to scale your company (and who doesn’t?), you probably want a marketing partner that has experience and can scale with you. More often, that means a marketing agency. 

Lastly, bigger teams are more likely to have the bandwidth for constant testing while staying up to date on the latest industry developments, releases, and success stories. This means your strategy will stay optimized and on the cutting edge — not outdated.

HawkSEM blog: Marketing Agencies vs. Consultants

Marketing agencies are often a team of experts you work with on campaigns, ads, and more. (Image via Unsplash)

Marketing agency: Cons

A marketing consultant is a single person focused on strategy. A marketing agency typically provides a team focused on both strategy and execution. That often means there are multiple experts at your disposal.

But this, of course, can come with a cost. Marketing agencies may have a higher fee because of their more robust roster of offerings. It’s like the saying goes: You get what you pay for.

There’s also the matter of access. Because marketing agencies are so hands-on, they may require access to your CRM and other various systems. 

While it isn’t a requirement, not having this level of access (or not having approval to give the agency this access) may mean more work on your end to properly implement strategies and get things done. 

The takeaway

As you can see, there are pros and cons to both of these options for digital marketing management — it all depends on your needs and priorities. 

Overall, the main differences between the two come down to budget, time, bandwidth, and goals.

If you have a team that can internally test and implement ideas from a consultant, that may be your best bet. But if you’d rather have a team of experts to create and optimize strategies for you, you may want to look at an agency.

This article has been updated and was originally published in September 2019.

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