Which is Better: A Marketing Consultant or a Marketing Agency?

Today’s world of digital marketing is more complicated than ever. Not only do you need a comprehensive digital marketing strategy that goes well beyond emails and social media, but you also need to decide if you should work with a marketing consultant or a marketing agency.

If you’re working on implementing digital marketing in your business, you’re probably wondering what the difference is between a marketing consultant and a marketing agency. On the surface, they seem focused on achieving similar results, so it’s easy to think they’re the same thing when they’re not. So, let’s dive into the similarities, differences, and how to decide if you should go with a marketing consultant or a marketing agency.

How is a marketing consultant/coach different from a marketing agency?

The primary difference between a marketing coach/consultant and an agency comes down to who’s actually implementing the marketing strategy for the business.

Marketing coaching or consulting is a “teach a man to fish” approach to marketing where an outside team or coach guides you through the process of developing a marketing strategy, and then they teach you and your team how to implement it.

In other words, they don’t write the blog articles or emails for you and your business – you or members of your team write the content. The marketing coach/consultant provides you and your business with personalized guidance and suggestions to learn all the latest digital marketing trends and techniques so that you can implement them.  

Marketing agencies do all the work for you. They provide strategic guidance and complete the work necessary to execute the marketing strategy. They deliver the completed work to the client for review and approval, so there’s practically nothing for you and your team to do.

Marketing consultant or a marketing agency - Image with marketing icons

5 attributes of marketing consulting/coaching services and agency services

Let’s dig a little deeper into how marketing coaching and marketing agency services are different by looking at five important attributes.

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1. Service provider responsibilities

Marketing Consultant/Coach:

In a marketing consultant/coach-client relationship, the role of the marketing coach is that of a trusted advisor, guide, and teacher.

The coach or marketing consultant provides strategic guidance, support, and a structured learning program so that you and your business won’t need their services forever.

The coach/consultant is mentoring and teaching you and your team to master the sales and marketing activities for the business. The ultimate goal is for your business to achieve self-sufficiency so that you “graduate” and don’t need the marketing coach’s services anymore.

Along the way, your consultant/coach will offer feedback, guidance, and accountability, but they won’t do the work for you. They’re there to hold you and your team accountable and ensure that you maintain focus on marketing activities that will help achieve business goals.

Agency Services:

With traditional agency services, the agency advises clients on the marketing strategy but is also responsible for implementing the action steps necessary to achieve your business goals. You just give them the green light, and the agency engages its own team members to execute the marketing plan.

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2. Responsibilities of the client

Marketing Consultant/Coach:

When working with a marketing coach/consultant, the client is responsible for applying the guidance and advice they receive. 

In other words, you and your internal marketing team are responsible for implementing the new sales, customer service, and marketing strategies to accomplish your business goals.

In this scenario, the business is responsible for the execution of the work, not the consultant/coach. Your coach will give your advice along the way, but it’s the responsibility of you and your team to apply it. The quality and success of your marketing efforts are under your direct control.

Agency Services:

With a traditional marketing agency, the client is a bit more hands-off when it comes to execution. You give the agency their goals and budget and may have a say in the strategy before things go to production, but the agency takes care of the actual work.

You are dependent on the agency and its execution of your marketing strategy. You are responsible for providing feedback and approval of the work delivered by the agency.

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3. Length of the relationship

Marketing Coaching:

With a marketing coach, the engagement between you and your consultant/coach has a specific end date. While the opportunity to continue with your coach remains, usually, once you and your team are up to speed, you’ve developed the skills needed to implement current and future marketing plans.

While it can vary from business to business, most clients “graduate” from working with a marketing consultant/coach in 12 to 24 months. The timing depends on how long it takes you and your team to develop and maintain the necessary marketing skills and routines.

This model allows you and your business to stick to a set budget and develop internal capabilities that become part of your marketing resources. You’re not reliant on a consultant/coach for continued marketing services.

Agency Services:

In an agency-client relationship, the length of service depends on the identified marketing strategies and projects. For example, a relationship may follow a finite, project-based approach (e.g., a website redesign) that enables a fixed budget and set end date, or the relationship could be an ongoing retainer, which is the case in most digital marketing done-for-you engagements.

However, if and when this relationship ends, the client will likely need to engage another agency or hire someone to take over the marketing activities. Unlike marketing coaching and training, the business will not have developed its own marketing skills during its agency relationship.

This difference in timeline and skill development can dramatically impact the cost difference between a consultant/coach and an agency.

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4. Cost

Marketing Coaching:

Marketing consultants or coaches often come with a higher upfront cost as you and your team work with them to understand the marketing strategy and learn the necessary skills to execute the plan. However, since they are teaching you to have ultimate responsibility for implementing your business marketing efforts, once you and your team are up to speed, the relationship ends, and so does the financial investment.

You and your team become self-sufficient and no longer need to rely on a marketing agency to do the work for you. The ongoing expense is eliminated, thus increasing the long-term return on your investment.

Agency Services:

The cost will depend on the project at hand with traditional marketing agencies. If an agency is working on a one-off project like a website launch or a specific campaign, the costs will be set based on the needs of that initiative and end when the project is completed.

However, suppose your business needs ongoing support, such as blog publishing, email broadcasts, or social media content creation. In that case, this expense will remain a line item in your budget for outsourced services indefinitely.

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5. Relationship dynamic

The most significant difference between working with a marketing coach versus a traditional agency is the relationship dynamic.

Marketing Consultant/Coach:

A marketing coach-client relationship is more like that of a mentor/advisor and a learner. The coach guides you and your team through the process, helping everyone acquire new skills along the way.

Agency Services:

In a traditional agency services relationship, the client sets the boundaries of the relationship by identifying the direction, budget, and deadlines. The agency delivers the work and makes necessary changes to meet the client’s marketing goals.

In this scenario, the client doesn’t typically have any insight or knowledge of how the work is actually done. So, if a change is needed later down the road, they must request those changes or additional work from the agency (at an additional cost).

While there may be some collaboration on overall objectives, it’s much more of a transactional relationship.

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Hiring a marketing consultant/coach makes sense if…

You want to keep ownership of your marketing strategies, skills, and abilities as an in-house resource. Suppose your business works with intellectual property or has a lot of confidential information. In that case, you may prefer not to work with a third-party that would have access to that information. If that’s the case, it could be smart to work with a marketing coach to develop the marketing skills of in-house resources.

You have a specific goal and don’t want to rely on ongoing outside help. A marketing coach usually works with you to implement a specific goal or goals, and their services typically come with an identified end date. A marketing consultant could be your best option if your business is looking for a short-term external commitment and investment.

You want more control and flexibility with the timeline of your marketing efforts. When you work with a marketing agency, you’re subject to the agency’s pricing, services, and schedule. You’ll probably be just one of many clients they work with, and you may have limited access to the agency’s entire team. Additionally, any time you want to pivot or change the timing of something, you’ll need to renegotiate your scope of services.

You’re looking for the most authentic finished product. At the end of the day, no one knows your business, culture, or product/service better than the people working in it every day. To create the most accurate and true-to-brand marketing assets, a business should create marketing assets on their own, and a marketing coach can help that happen.

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Hiring a marketing agency makes sense if…

You don’t need someone focusing on marketing for the long term. If your business prospect just needs one video or a limited campaign, investing in developing your own marketing skills may not make sense. Hiring an agency can get the job done quickly and effectively.

You’re looking for the highest possible level of production quality. Marketing agencies are most likely to have the available tools and equipment needed to execute a marketing plan or campaign at the highest level of quality. If production quality is a primary factor, working with an agency may be more efficient and cost-effective than working with a marketing coach and bringing those resources in-house.

Selecting a marketing consultant or a marketing agency

Here are some final points to consider when choosing a marketing consultant or a marketing agency:

  • Digital marketing coaches teach clients to do the work themselves long-term. The deliverables are the skills.
  • Marketing agencies do the work for clients and often give no insight into how the work is done. The deliverable is your finished product or asset.
  • Digital marketing coaching is usually a short-term, finite investment. Marketing agencies can be short-term or long-term investments, depending on what you need.
  • Digital marketing coaching offers more flexibility since clients execute on their time and with their own resources.
  • With marketing agencies, clients may be more restricted in how they can pivot on their strategies or plans but will likely have access to industry-standard resources.
  • With marketing agencies, success is more in the hands of the agency than the client.
  • With digital marketing coaches, the client drives the direction and success.

Need help determining if a marketing consultant or a marketing agency is right for you?

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