Schools need to invest in marketing to present their offer, nurture existing stakeholders, raise their profile and differentiate themselves from competitors.

So far, so obvious. But should you hire your own marketing staff or work with a marketing agency?

Smarter Reach began in 2014 after we noticed a trend in schools: Marketing Assistant posts were being created in schools and filled with new graduates on entry level salaries. They’d last a year or so, delivering lovely looking reports and perhaps starting the new website project. But then things stalled. They’d soon be made redundant, through no fault of their own. For £25,000 per annum (ish), it simply wasn’t reasonable for a school to expect senior level marketing expertise. To make matters worse, no-one in-school had the experience to support them in their role and relevant CPD simply wasn’t available. In swooped Smarter Reach to fill this gap in the market and the rest, as they say, is history. For less than the cost of a single full-time marketing person, schools can now access an entire department of experts.


Why you should hire a marketing agency

Full disclosure: I run a marketing agency. It will be no surprise to you that I’m generally in favour of people hiring marketing agencies! Smarter Reach typically works with educational organisations, such as schools, multi-academy trusts and colleges but we also work with some small to medium sized companies, outside of education. Our clients know their business inside out, speak education loud and clear, but they tend to need a bit of help getting their message across.

Let me explain why I believe hiring a marketing agency is the right choice before we look at the reasons for hiring in-house marketing staff.


1. Senior leaders don’t have to be superheroes

Most senior leaders in schools have built their careers from the ground up. It’s not just a job, it’s a calling.

For many, taking on more and more responsibility seems like a logical, natural part of running a school.  But no-one has to be a superhero. You don’t do a part-time law degree to write your contracts – you ask a lawyer for help. You don’t do your own tax returns – you ask an accountant for help. It makes sense to outsource roles that require specialist expertise. Marketing is no exception.

Stay strong and let an agency contribute their expertise, experience and resources.


2. Specialist knowledge

It is impossible to know everything. This is why hiring an agency makes good sense; you’re explicitly purchasing the services of a team of experts.

An agency will be experts in their field (marketing, sales, PR). They will have more collective knowledge than any one senior manager and have access to in-house or external expertise on the finer details. A marketing agency like Smarter Reach, for example, doesn’t just have ‘expert marketers.’ We have experts in the different disciplines of marketing: graphic design, SEO, website development, video production, social media, copywriting, etc.

We’ve been doing it all for years – and for schools just like yours. 


3. Savings on salaries, time and training

The cost of recruitment is often under-estimated because of the tendency to think of the cost of employing someone simply in terms of their salary. But once you’ve considered NI contributions, pensions, benefits, training, desk space, software licences, and so on, there’s a lot more to account for.

Once you’ve hired an employee, you have to pay them. An experienced and worthwhile marketing manager would cost upwards of £60,000 per year in salary – excluding costs for learning and development, pensions, perks and all of those other necessary expenses. Not to mention that the first thing they will ask for is a substantial budget to spend on top of their own cost!

Of course, you can hire more junior staff, but will they have the experience and skills to guide your strategy and deliver high-quality work? And who will mentor them? What happens when they leave? Or go on holiday?

And whilst the average retainer for an agency will be roundabout the same as the cost of an inside team, there’s a huge plus. Hiring an agency doesn’t incur ‘hidden costs’ and it means you spend less time and money on onboarding, training and developing employees.

This is a key difference between internal employees and an agency. Employees require training. Agencies are born ready. From the second you hire us, we are ready to get started.

By now, the main reason you should hire an agency is clear: For less than the cost of an in-house team, you get access to expert knowledge and a team whose only remit is to focus on what they’re good at.


The pitfalls of in-house marketing

You may still think there are benefits to having an in-house marketing team. But there are also plenty of pitfalls:

  • Part-time marketing. It’s tempting to give someone a marketing role as an add-on to another job. That’s a start, but there’s no way that a part-time marketer can do everything needed to attain strong growth. Marketing is a full-time job.
  • The only marketer in the village. The next step for many companies is to hire a freelance marketing person. This an improvement on a part-time assignment but it can be a lonely role, often with relatively low status. We reviewed the setup some of our existing clients had before hiring Smarter Reach: In many cases, we found they had plenty of support staff in various capacities but only ever one in marketing. For the best results, you need a balanced team of individuals who actively work togetherto move forward and get real results.
  • Buying the tools but not using them. Organisations often invest in so-called ‘marketing tools’ such as, expensive CRM databases or software programmes, without the internal skills to use them to their best advantage. Often these tools get used once and seldom, if ever, again. Marketing is a journey not a destination, a process not an event. It’s an ongoing investment, not a one-time purchase.
  • Delegating to interns. Don’t get us wrong: interns are great. We have learned how powerful it can be to hire and nurture talent. But interns are not the answer to marketing. Yes, ‘millennials’ may be more digitally-minded and more comfortable with social media than many senior managers, but you can’t delegate your marketing to people with limited experience. You wouldn’t hire an intern to do your accounts, manage a department or take a seat on your senior leadership team. Marketing is just as important and no amount of enthusiasm can make up for hard-earned experience.
  • Everyone can write, but not everyone is a writer. Much of what we do involves writing. Newsletters, prospectuses, student case studies, emails, adverts and websites all need copy. It’s easy to think that you can get your colleagues to write marketing copy. In practice, it’s not so easy.

First, they have other jobs to do and even if they enjoy writing they might not have the time to prioritise it. Second, good marketing copy is more than just ‘getting words on paper’. A good copywriter understands how to write in a way that engages readers and meets demands of SEO and readability. At Smarter Reach, we put an editor’s eye on everything. It is possible to train people to become good, rounded marketing copywriters, but most people aren’t born with those skills and most schools don’t have the expertise in-house to nurture them.


How successful organisations manage marketing

Most successful businesses spend at least 10% of their annual revenue on marketing. But we’ve found that most of them don’t do the work in-house. Instead, marketing managers plan their marketing strategy and then go out to market and employ outside agencies to implement it. If you go ahead and employ a marketing person, don’t be surprised if the first recommendation they make is to take on an agency anyway! We’ll look forward to their call!

Good schools invest in marketing. Great schools with great marketing use great agencies. They know how to select agencies, manage them, give good, timely feedback to get the most out of them and give them the encouragement they need to do their best work.

Anything else, frankly, is a false economy.