When to Choose a Digital Marketing Agency or an Outsourced CMO

You?re getting ready to choose a digital marketing agency to help your company grow, but are you certain that an agency can provide the help you need?

You’re getting ready to choose a digital marketing agency to help your company grow, but are you certain that an agency can provide the help you need? 

Lately, we keep getting asked how a marketing agency compares to an outsourced CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) advisory group. Both entities usually have employees that fulfill marketing tasks, and the staff of both companies can look very similar on their websites. Yet, both companies take a much different approach when marketing your business.


What’s the difference between a digital marketing agency and an outsourced CMO?

The most fundamental difference between both entities is that the outsourced CMO focuses on increasing the lifetime value (LTV) of customers and decreasing their cost to acquire a customer (CAC), whether media is involved or not. They create benchmark KPIs (key performance indicators) and develop and execute strategies to accomplish those goals. 

The outsourced CMO is usually an expert at digital and traditional marketing, but instead of initially focusing on a media campaign like a marketing agency would, they strategize business growth with no bias towards any particular marketing channel. 

They initially focus on optimizing the channels that provide the most amount of business for the least amount of time and money, as well as channels with the highest upside for success. This is the same approach a full-time CMO takes when initially hired.  Once that new CMO understands the company, it’s processes, employees, and other key relationships, their first strategic move is rarely spending money on media. Instead they often focus their available resources on areas of their business that align with increasing customer value.  The outsourced CMO is no different, except they’re employed on an as-needed basis.

In contrast to the above, a marketing agency is often hired to fulfill specific promotional tasks like media buying, branding, and web design, and is usually not relied upon for non-media related marketing strategies. 

Due to their fairly narrow focus, marketing agencies can provide a great value to companies that have optimized the majority of their marketing channels and are now focused on sourcing new customers through advertising and/or building positive brand awareness. 


Pros and cons of working with digital marketing agencies

Digital marketing agencies are experts at client acquisition, which makes them invaluable to companies in scale mode.  Utilizing tactics like Facebook and Google ads, SEO, email marketing, and even traditional advertising, the marketing agencies allow businesses to grow, preventing their clients from overstaffing their internal marketing department.

The marketing agency business model has been very successful for 70+ years because it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement where both the agency and client share in the success of the campaign.


  • Fill in gaps in capacity
  • Experts in the complex world of paid digital media
  • Help you gain access to many skill sets, without having to make a dozen new hires
  • Manage projects end to end


  • Focused only on only media channels for acquisition 
  • Your best interests or theirs: the average agency has twelve employees and a sizable overhead, which often dictates a media-heavy marketing solution, whether it’s in the client’s best interest, or not
  • Poor communication and execution: agencies are notorious for hiring staff directly out of college and assigning them big clients in a sink or swim environment


Pros and cons of working with outsourced CMOs

When initially working with a client, marketing agencies will assess a handful of media-related channels to acquire customers.  In contrast, an outsourced CMO considers over 20 acquisition channels, works with the client to create at least one viable concept for each channel, rates each idea, then puts them into a phased strategy.   

So upon being hired, an outsourced CMO often focuses on strengthening the channels responsible for the most amount of business, as well as uncovering new opportunities within similar channels.  

While SEO and Google ads may be a great fit for some companies, offline marketing strategies can deliver solid results for other kinds of businesses. This underscores the outsourced CMO’s value, that they can assess any acquisition channel and create a marketing strategy that mixes the best of digital, offline, and guerilla marketing tactics into a connected, comprehensive marketing strategy.

When an outsourced CMO is hired, they usually explore the following channels, creating a viable idea for each one, then rating it based on its potential success:

  • Business development relationships – Swapping referrals with businesses, or paying businesses a percentage for successful referrals
  • Digital Marketing – Utilizing digital marketing to create brand awareness, trust, or new clients
  • Inbound marketing – Creating content on the website and utilizing digital marketing channels to push traffic to each content piece, creating a gravitational force around your brand that leads to new customers
  • Press features – Getting free press and online traffic in exchange for sharing your expertise
  • Email Marketing (automation) – Targeting segmented lists of current and past clients with an automated email sequence can provide a huge life in business and increase client lifetime value
  • Sponsored content – Often for very affordable rates, you can sponsor blog posts and emails that will reach your target audience
  • Affiliate marketing – Incentivizing gurus and influencers to advertise your product or service, in exchange for a percentage of the sale
  • Referral programs – Incentivizing or encourage previous clients or customers to refer you
  • Trade shows – Attending industry trade shows and making connections with prospects, partner companies and industry reporters
  • Speaking engagements – Getting in front of an audience of your ideal clients and customers, whether a free or paid engagement
  • Meetups – Attending local events where potential partners and prospects are likely to be (much smaller scale than conferences)
  • Webinars – Using the rule of one to many, webinars help you reach more of your ideal audience, whether live or automated
  • Influencer marketing – Compensating relevant industry influencers for blogging or posting about your product or service
  • Traditional advertising – Radio, print, TV, and billboards are still big revenue generators for many businesses, large and small
  • Offline events – Hosting local events or customer appreciation days can bring in new revenue
  • Product marketing – Creating a free app or introductory product to bring in more leads

These are some of the more popular client acquisition channels but in total, there are more than 20 separate channels.  This initial approach takes much longer than a typical agency discovery meeting, but by assessing every available channel, coming up with a viable idea for each, rating each idea, then prioritizing them into a phased strategy, it helps to provide clarity and a sense of direction for both the company and the outsourced CMO.



  • Helps prioritize marketing activities based client LTV and CAC
  • Expert at digital, traditional, and guerilla marketing tactics
  • Not biased to particular marketing channels



  • Don’t always manage projects end to end (your staff may fulfill some tasks internally)
  • While not a threat to an existing CMO or VP of Marketing, they can be perceived in this way and meet a lot of resistance, hindering the project and its results


Who does the work at a digital marketing agency?

While agencies may use a freelancer for a small part of a project, they prefer to use their employees whenever possible. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing.  It’s great to have the consistency of all marketing services under one roof, with one project coordinator managing the entire process. But on the other hand, this can lead to communication issues and underwhelming execution.  For example, the CEO or co-founders in most agencies are involved in pitching new clients. But when they land a large account, it’s often assigned to someone that lacks the required depth of experience that couldn’t have landed that same account on their own. 

This is the crux of running a marketing agency. To maintain a healthy profit margin, they have to strike the right balance between profitability and staff expertise.  Sure, they’d love their entire staff to be experts in their own right with 10+ years experience. But the reality is, the overhead required to staff an agency of 30 employees with that level of expertise would double that agency’s payroll.  

So this means every agency has a handful of experts that delegate strategy and tasks to capable employees.  

This method has worked for 70+ years, and it continues to.  Yet concurrently, the internet of things has given rise to a different approach to market your company that connects you with a higher level of expertise for every aspect of your marketing campaign, producing exceptional results with (oftentimes) a smaller investment. 


Who does the work at a CMO advisory company?

Many outsourced CMO advisory groups are Google & Facebook Partners that have a few employees to fulfill the critical, everyday marketing related tasks like managing digital ads, SEO, and web design. But instead of hiring in-house teams of content writers, web developers, designers, and videographers, the outsourced CMO connects their clients with a handful of seasoned experts to fulfill specific tasks.  

This approach is superior to marketing agencies in two ways: 

  1. The outsourced CMO hires only experts as their employees because they can afford to pay them top dollar
  2. For services the CMO doesn’t offer in-house, they involve a seasoned expert to fulfill them, while the CMO manages both their in-house staff and outsourced experts

You might be thinking “Well, that’s not a big deal, anyone can go to UpWork and find a ton of outsourced freelancers.” Yet that’s where the outsourced CMO is different.  They don’t just search UpWork for an email marketing expert, then cross their fingers the freelancer does a great job.  In most cases, the outsourced CMO has worked with their experts for years.

So how does this benefit your company?  Simply put, many outsourced CMO clients get better results by dealing directly with the CMO as they plan and execute their campaign with complete transparency.  In most cases, the CMO’s clients pay the outsourced experts directly and the CMO and staff manage their work to ensure its part of one cohesive plan.



So who should you hire?

First of all, there’s a good chance you weren’t familiar with an outsourced CMO and how they differ from a marketing agency.  So when you’re choosing a digital marketing agency or an outsourced CMO, you need to fully understand your goals and desired outcomes.

If you’ve been executing a successful marketing campaign for years, both online and offline, and are expanding into a new geographical area or are adding a new product to your product suite, for example, than a marketing agency would be a great fit.  They would assess your goals and create a cost-efficient media strategy to get you in front of your ideal target audience.

On the other hand, if your company can benefit from the above tactics, but you also haven’t optimized your online and offline marketing strategies, an outsourced CMO advisory group can invest the time and resources required to dramatically change the growth trajectory of your company within six months. 

Share this post

Share on linkedin
Share on facebook
Share on twitter

Recent Posts

Most established Partner in Central California

Web Marketing Association
Numerous national marketing awards

Speaker at national conferences on Google Ads