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Marketing Director vs. Agency: How a Marketing Director Facilitates the Agency Relationship

Once organizations grow to a certain size, they typically need help managing and executing their marketing initiatives. Marketing is crucial for a growing business, but small to mid-size companies often face the same dilemma – whether to hire a dedicated marketing professional or outsource this work to a marketing agency.

This comparison is a false narrative as the role of a marketing director is not synonymous with the work that an agency, or marketing team, performs. Both marketing directors and agencies can play pivotal roles in growing your marketing efforts, so it’s important to find the right fit for your business. Let’s break down factors you should consider when hiring a marketing director, an agency, or both.

How to Hire the Right Marketing Director

Whether the title is marketing director, marketing manager, VP of marketing, or something else, the person you hire should take an organization’s marketing goals, and agency relationship, to the next level. While it may be more cost-effective for a small business to work with an agency directly, there are plenty of advantages to hiring a dedicated marketing director:

  • A marketing director usually has more specialized education and skills focused toward marketing and sales, meaning this responsibility can be taken out of an owner’s hands, or an individual that may not be best-suited for the role.
  • A marketing director should be the ideal point person for working with outside partners or agencies, as they likely speak the same language and can effectively communicate goals and strategic plans.
  • A marketing director should coordinate many internal departments and initiatives, often working with the internal sales team and stakeholders to ensure that the organization is prioritizing marketing efforts that drive leads, sales, and awareness.
  • A marketing director should be focused on crafting, coordinating, and analyzing the larger marketing plan, not executing day-to-day activities such as writing, posting on social, creating advertisements, etc.

Important Skills for a Marketing Director in 2023

Too often, organizations search for a Swiss-army knife candidate who can do everything, ranging from PR and marketing communications to digital marketing to website design to copywriting. The reality is these individuals rarely exist.

Prioritizing the most important skills for a marketing director within your organization is critical, and supplementing their skills with freelancers or agency partners can provide the perfect mix of broad skills and specialized skills. Skills that your business should consider include:

Strategic Thinking

At the top of this list for a reason, strategic thinking is a critical skill that all marketing leaders must have. One of the most important responsibilities of a marketing director should be translating an organization’s short- and long-term goals into actionable marketing activities. A top-performing marketing leader should be able to create a vision for the organization’s marketing strategy, both short-term and long-term.

With so many options between traditional and digital marketing channels, a marketing director should be able to understand how the relationship between all the individual parts of the marketing plan work together.


Hiring a marketing director should come with the expectation that they’ll take on the responsibility of interacting with the different departments, leaders, and partners of your organization. That means effective communication skills are critical.

One of the most critical elements of communication will be the ability to translate often complex ideas into understandable information. The president or owner of a company doesn’t need to know the intricacies and lingo of the latest social media platform, but they may need to understand how it can be an opportunity for the organization to increase lead generation or engage with their audience. A marketing director can help all parties gain an understanding of technical or foreign concepts by communicating clearly and effectively.

A marketing director can also act as the point person for partnerships like agency relationships, vendor relationships, freelance employees, press contacts, and more.

Analytical Skills

In the world of data and analytics, it’s becoming more and more critical for a marketing director to have an understanding of setting and measuring organizational and marketing goals.

This starts with being able to set KPI’s (key performance indicators), OKR’s (objectives and key results), or whatever measurement acronym your organization prefers. Understanding how to measure success and communicate these metrics on an on-going basis with leadership is an invaluable skill.

Going deeper, understanding the drivers of awareness, leads, and sales through data analysis will help marketing directors make better strategic marketing decisions, spend marketing budgets more effectively, and drive better results long-term.

Project Management

Most business leaders don’t have the time to provide constant oversight to key employees within their organization. That’s why a marketing director needs to be able to effectively manage multiple projects, timelines, and relationships.

At any given time, a marketing director will have dozens of internal initiatives to manage, each with their own timeline, contributors, and goals. Not to mention, the variables for each of these initiatives will likely be constantly changing. A well-organized individual that can remain calm under pressure and roll with change will be able to handle the critical project management aspects of marketing management.

Technical Skills

So far, we’ve touched on mostly soft skills – traits that are important to the success of a marketing director but aren’t related to a specific discipline within marketing. Training Industry asks the question, “Why is it easier to develop new hard skills, such as a new procedure or task, than it is to develop a new soft skill…?” Organizationally, finding a talented individual with the right soft skills should reflect much of your hiring effort, knowing that hard skills are important, but tend to be easier to train up.

Here are some of the technical areas that a marketing director should be very familiar with and capable of speaking to:

  • Writing and Content Creation
  • Digital Advertising
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Social Media
  • Email Marketing/Marketing Automation
  • Data and Analytics
  • PR/Media Relations
  • Traditional Advertising

Download: How to Choose the Right Digital Marketing Agency

Thinking about partnering with a digital marketing agency too? Download our guide to figure out everything you need to consider when choosing the right agency for your business.

Hiring the Right Digital Marketing Agency

Many organizations think that they can skip past hiring a marketing director and jump right into a relationship with a marketing agency. They can, but only in certain circumstances, such as when you are a sole proprietor, or start up, does that make the most sense.

For the majority of small and medium-sized businesses, hiring a marketing director, or marketing manager, to facilitate the relationship with an outside agency is the ideal situation. What most organizations should be thinking about isn’t, “Can I replace my agency with a marketing director (or vice versa).” What they should consider is how an agency can complement or enhance the skills of their current marketing department.

While marketing directors are Jack and Jill’s of all trades, the function of the role is to know just enough about everything to be able to bring together a cohesive marketing plan, and that might require outsourcing a variety of custom skillsets such as:

  • Digital Advertising – Look for an agency that can help you understand the right digital ad platforms for your specific business and goals.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – If your goals include growing traffic, search engine exposure, and ultimately leads or sales from search engines, you’re going to want an agency that knows how to perform search engine optimization.
  • Content Marketing – Content goes hand-in-hand with SEO, but it’s really at the root of all good digital marketing. Find an agency that has strong writers who can write for a variety of mediums, including website and blog content, digital ads, email, social media, and more.
  • Email Marketing / Automation – Find an agency that can help you choose the right email platform, design custom mobile-friendly emails, curate segmented email lists, and write high-performing email copy.
  • Social Media – Look for an agency that can help you identify the right social media platforms, leverage tools to automate social posting, and develop content specific to each social network.
  • Reporting/Analytics – Find an agency that uses reporting and analytics to help you understand how your digital marketing efforts are impacting your business success.

Marketing Director and Agency – a Happy Marketing Marriage

We know that the decision to hire a marketing director, or an agency, is one of the biggest decisions an organization can make. The right fit can set your business up for future marketing success, whereas the wrong choice can lead to a messy breakup. However, even the right director or agency can have trouble succeeding without the right support. That’s why the combined efforts between a marketing director and an agency can help growing businesses thrive.

Are you looking for the right marketing professionals to grow your business? Aztek is a digital marketing agency that helps create and execute practical marketing strategies based on your goals, whether you’re adding to your marketing team or outsourcing marketing efforts. Reach out today to talk to us about how we can help drive success for your business.