What does it cost to hire a marketing agency?

by Laurie Heller

Sign up for our once-a-month marketing jam, and we'll hold the spam

It's not as straightforward as you might think. We get this question all the time. Very rarely do agencies have pricing on their sites. The reason is it’s complicated and usually depends on what your brand needs, how much work will go into the project and what type of staff and seniority it requires. Sound like a load of BS? I know, but it’s not. Hear me out.

This past year we’ve done a handful of different projects and they all required different setups. Keep in mind we are a very small consultancy and not really an agency. The key difference is we don’t take on tons of clients at once. We have a max of four at time and staff up the projects according to need vs. having full-time, salaried staff.

We learned a lot this year and if we’re honest, made some mistakes, especially due to scoping and pricing. The key reason: a one-size-fits-all scope does NOT work for every client. As much as we wanted to compare one project to another, we couldn't. Businesses were different. Stakeholders had different working styles and internal processes. Hours that we estimated for one client were double, triple or quadruple for another.

A perfect example: We were through-the-roof excited to become a HubSpot certified partner, but found pretty quickly what can be a very standard setup for one client can be the complete opposite and involve intricate customization for another. For example, In the land of B2B marketing, the basic setup of HubSpot’s Marketing Software and CRM can take anywhere between 23-30 hours. But many companies need some form of customization at one point or another. These customizations include developing multiple pipelines, automating deal stages, lead scoring, third-party integrations, or even team training. Since the introduction of HubSpot’s Sales and Service Software, its capabilities have gotten so broad and ever-evolving that you could find yourself needing an additional 100+ hours once all is said and done.

The old adage that you can have two of three things fast, cheap and good rings true. And so does that other old saying: you get what you pay for.

So what’s a marketing-strapped company to do?

Let’s look at things differently. When you hire outside marketing help, you have to ask yourself: how much would it cost me to have a properly functioning marketing team in-house? Oftentimes we hear: “I’ll just hire a marketing manager or director and they can do it all.” Well I want to get this out of the way: nine times out of ten you’re setting that person up to fail. And even if you hire a generalist (ahem, I am one) they will ultimately fall short in some areas.

Let’s continue with me as an example. As a generalist, the things I can help with are brand and content strategy, marketing plans, copy, paid social (LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook), SEO research (not complete execution and maintenance), social media strategy (but not to the level someone actually needs day-to-day), content marketing partnerships email, etc. I understand principles of design and paid search, but you absolutely do not want me running your Google ads. And as much as I love to think I’m design-savvy, I’m not a designer or art director. And while I am pretty good navigating with marketing automation and email systems, when it gets to custom code and complicated setup ups and customizations of a sales CRMs, I am, as I like to say, “not it” which is why I always bring in outside consultants and almost every project. Think of me (or any head of marketing/strategy, etc.) as a conductor of an orchestra. I might play a few instruments really well but you’d never want me to do a two-minute solo. Yet still, the orchestra doesn’t sound amazing without me. I make sure all the pieces fit and sound well together.

Bottom line: If you hire a generalist, you’re likely going to have to bring in other folks to help your one-person-show. And if you hire one of these specialists on the chart below, you’ll need to bring in others to supplement their skills.

Since I’m in NYC, I’ll use Dallas as a model for this to even out median salaries (from Salary.com). Unless noted otherwise, all roles below are median salaries for folks with 5-6 years of experience, so you can understand what is mid-level as a baseline. The more senior or junior you get, the salaries scales up or down.

  • Marketing Director (10+ years experience) $144,000: Sets the entire strategy for what you do and staffs/manage teams and collaborates/manages up to execs
  • Content Strategist $43,914: Makes sure your content aligns to your customer and incorporates SEO
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Consultant $73,793: Researches, plans and monitors your keyword strategy and implement site optimizations throughout the year to help you get found in search results (at the top of Google) without paying for placement.
  • Social Media Manager $52,492: Creates social media strategy, content calendar and manages posts and reporting across multiple social media channels (there's a lot these days) and if they're more senior, run your paid social campaigns
  • Copywriter $79,721: Writes copy: web, social, emails, landing pages, ads, etc.
  • Creative Director/Art Director (10+ years experience) $99,561: Creates and Oversee brand’s creative direction and guidelines and supervises graphic designers and other creatives
  • Graphic Designer $55,400: Produces designs for all channels: web, social, print, ads, product, etc.
  • Web Designer $88,332: Builds the overall look and feel of a website, usually in conjunction with the marketing director (or brand strategist) and art director and is knowledgable in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript
  • Marketing Automation Manager $80,259: Manages marketing automation platform strategy, lead scoring, routing and emails (platforms like Salesforce Pardot, HubSpot, Eloqua, Iterable, etc.)
  • CRM Manager $104,609: Oversees customer database, integrations with marketing automation (note marketing automation and CRM  CRMs are different but need to interact with one another)
  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM) $72,100:  Also knows as a PPC  (paid per click) Specialist,  runs you paid search strategy and ads (Google, Bing, etc)

Now your jaw might have just dropped if you’re a small-to-medium-sized business. Do you need every single one of those roles above? Not necessarily. It depends on the size of your business, your company needs and your budget. Some companies don’t have a marketing automation or CRM system, which to us is like nails on a blackboard. But we’ll save that for another time. Some companies can’t afford to have an art director and a graphic designer, so they choose one. Same goes for copywriter and content strategy (but it’s important to understand the difference).

Some disciplines above require specialization, which is why you'll see specialty agencies that are 100% focused on paid media (advertising) or social. But paid media is not created equal. Platforms like Facebook/Instagram, LinkedIn, SnapChat, TikTok have different buying strategies than PPC (pay per click) ads on Google and Bing, which brings me to my next point, paid search.

Paid search is a science in itself, that takes a lot of strategy, constant updates on algorithms and new tools and optimization procedures For paid search in particular, most PPC agencies or even consultants charge anywhere from 10% to 20% of your total media cost (dollars you spend on advertising). On top of that they will charge a setup fee which we’ve seen range anywhere from $750 to $2000 (the setup takes some time). And then with that comes a minimum fee to run the campaigns of anywhere from $1500 on up (reserved for scenarios where your budget might be $5k)

Ultimately, what I'm doing is showing you what you’re actually getting from an agency and why a retainer is actually a great value and much lower risk when it comes to investing in marketing and infrastructure. From our experience you can expect to pay anywhere from $5k for a very small project on up. 

A final word of caution: taking shortcuts and hiring interns or folks just out of school is risky and not fair to you or them. We’ve heard of companies say they’ll hire interns expecting them to learn things by reading blogs and/or watching YouTube videos. 

If you’re familiar with orchestras, the first seat players (closest to the audience) are the best, and the more towards the middle of the orchestra you go, the lower the skill is. Ultimately, it’s up to you if you want to make amazing music or not. If you want to start a band though, send us a note. It’s our favorite thing.



The Favorite Co.