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Multifamily: In-House or Agency for Your Digital Marketing

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Multifamily marketers have spent much of the last two years evaluating, reevaluating and adjusting to the changing behaviors and needs of our renters. How can we reach them? How can we engage them? What do they want from us? (Functioning websites, accurate pricing and anytime communication, for starters.)

With a new year comes a new set of opportunities. Ideally, we’ll all take the lessons learned during the pandemic and continue to improve on our marketing. But realistically, do we have the time?

Imagine, your company has just unveiled exciting plans to grow the portfolio. Better still, it recognizes the importance of a strong digital marketing presence when it comes to attracting prospects. As the marketing manager, you have an important decision to make:

Do you grow your in-house team or hire an outside agency?

Both options are common in multifamily marketing, as is the choice to use a combination of the two, with the in-house team managing one set of projects—such as creating lease-up flyers—while an external agency oversees other projects—such as managing SEO and PPC ads for the lease-up.

If you’re struggling with this decision, or wondering how to find the right balance, it’s important to consider the strengths of each approach, as well as the budget and bandwidth of your operations.

When to keep marketing in-house (or not)

Wondering if your in-house team can meet the needs of your properties? Digital marketing can be like a web, as you layer additional strategies, the overall strength and reach should increase.

That begs the question, if you build your in-house team, how many people will you need? Will you hire generalists and/or specialists? Some strategies can be grouped and overseen by a single person, but the more you layer on, the more likely you are to lose out on expertise and analytics. Can you sufficiently develop your own unique approach if everyone is a generalist or trying to oversee too much?

Let’s look at the pros and cons of in-house marketing.

In-house pros

  • Control: You control and manage all your accounts.
  • Culture: Your team has a deep understanding of your brand and corporate guidelines.
  • Visibility: You have instant insight into your portfolio, occupancy and reputation (hopefully).
  • Consistency: It’s easy to manage messaging across your portfolio.
  • Flexibility: You can adjust budgets and messaging immediately.

In-house cons

  • Lack of resources: Many in-house teams struggle to get the staffing they need to support multiple properties and schedules.
  • Bandwidth issues: Smaller teams are pulled in many directions, making it difficult to manage SEO, ads, reviews and social media at once.
  • Skill gaps: SEO and marketing data analysts are often highly skilled professional roles that cannot be mastered by multitasking marketers.
  • Incomplete analysis: In-house teams are often saddled with moving from one critical priority to the next without the time to analyze what’s working. As one area or portfolio is improving, it may not be obvious that other areas are suffering.

When to hire a marketing agency (or not)

If managing your multifamily marketing in-house seems impossible—due to staffing concerns, scope creep or anything else—you might consider hiring an outside agency. A marketing agency can take on as much or as little as you want.

Choosing an agency that is focused on property management will save you a good deal of time because the staff will understand the challenges and opportunities of the industry.

If you’re worried that working with an agency will mean you have to hand over all control and you’ll lose oversight, rest assured, that is not the case. Your marketing agency should be an extension of your team. A good agency is going to offer you a dedicated marketing specialist that oversees all the properties in your portfolio. This ensures your brand messaging is consistent while working with a marketing partner.

Agency pros

  • Time savings: An agency can manage the heavy lifting, day-to-day maintenance and technical audits. This frees up your team and bandwidth to focus on bigger picture and strategy.
  • Growth: As your portfolio grows, onboarding is simple and there’s no loss of management to existing properties.
  • Scalability: When you work with a digital marketing agency, they have the resources to grow with you at a fraction of the cost of adding in-house resources.
  • Expertise: An agency has the resources to hire specialists, resulting in a higher return on investment.
  • Corporate partnerships: Marketing agencies often have strong relationships with big brands like Google, Facebook, Yext and others. Your in-house team is unlikely to have the same support, knowledge and access to beta features.
  • Oversight: As the marketing decision-maker, you’re still key in driving the success of your brand. Working with an agency expands your team, giving you the ability focus on higher value analysis, instead of day-to day-adjustments.

Agency cons

  • Expense: Most agencies charge a fee per property and/or per service. For large portfolios, this can add up to the cost of an in-house marketer. Ask yourself, would one in-house person be able to get the same results? In many cases, it would be hard to grow and scale.
  • Delayed access: Meetings may need to be scheduled a few days out vs. being able to reach your team member immediately. Nonetheless, you should have a contact that is available to consult with and answer your questions during business hours.

Additional considerations

One of the often-overlooked benefits of an agency is that team members have an opportunity to work in a collaborative, marketing-focused environment. Agency creatives have peers to bounce ideas off and learn from. That collaboration provides access to a variety of voices, with different levels of experience and ideas.

In addition to that—or maybe especially because of it—it’s important to have confidence in the people you’re working with. If you’re already working with an agency but don’t have a dedicated contact, or don’t have visibility into your real return, then it’s time to reconsider that relationship.

There are a handful of agencies focused exclusively on digital marketing for multifamily and senior portfolios. Working together, you can leverage their expertise and bandwidth to achieve your marketing vision.

Of course, the most critical piece of any marketing program is results. Whether you choose to keep your marketing efforts in-house or leverage an agency approach, be sure you can easily track marketing metrics and measure the return of your investment. When you can prove success in terms of awareness, leads and leases, stakeholders will be more likely to advocate for your team, no matter if it’s in-house or outsourced.

Catriona Orosco is a search marketing expert with more than a decade of experience in real estate-related marketing. She is currently the director of REACH by RentCafe, a full-service digital marketing agency serving the multifamily property management industry.