In-House vs Agency vs Freelancer: Pros, Cons + What to Consider

By Vanessa Taylor

Your company is taking off – a growing customer base, some brand awareness and a team that truly believes in your mission. And to bring your brand to the next level of growth, you know you’ll need additional support. Your team is ready to invest in marketing and/or public relations and your faced with an important decision: do I hire an agency, a freelancer or keep things in-house?

This is a question we understand very well. In addition to providing our own variety of programs that serve critical needs at critical times, we’ve assisted in finding valuable in-house hires that have helped brands structure themselves for continued growth. We’ve also directed clients to trusted, extremely capable freelancers when appropriate.

So, back to you. It’s time to make a major investment in marketing and PR but you have no idea which level of support makes sense for your business. Let’s look at your options:


Average Cost: $30,000-180,000 per year

*One person with 5-25 years of experience; retainer + supplemental expenses

The Ups: Freelancers and/or specialists are very dedicated to their clients – sometimes entirely to one – and are usually extremely knowledgeable about niche spaces. They can provide highly useful, insider perspectives, and are cost-effective for brands with limited resources.

The Downs: Freelancers can’t always access tools and technology to help them analyze data and trends, build and evolve media lists, identify and manage influencers, or generate insightful reports. Highly specialized pros will know your space…to the extent that they may be wearing blinders and unable to see the big picture that media, in particular, so eagerly want to explore. And being individuals also means when they’re out of pocket, or run out of hours in the day, you’re out of luck.

Single In-House Hire

Average Cost: $78,000-125,000 per year

*One person with 0-4 years of experience; salary + insurance allocation + payroll taxes + actuarial value benefits

The Ups: An in-house hire means you have a dedicated employee learning your language and fully absorbing your vision and mission. They have direct access to your SMEs, they can easily represent you at public events, they can help you manage your external relationships and partners, and their goals unquestionably align with yours.

The Downs: As with freelancers, they can be limited in their ability to access critical tools (i.e., if you don’t provide them, they don’t have them). Also, like freelancers, anytime they’re out of office or pulled in too many directions, or if they leave the company, your priorities slip through the cracks. And not having an outside perspective on what’s working for other brands and industries means they don’t always present new ideas.


Average Cost: $120,000-240,000 per year

*2-4 person team with 20-40 years of combined experience; retainer + supplemental expenses

The Ups: An agency’s primary and most considerable asset is its resources. Within a single agency, you have access to an entire team of knowledgeable professionals that will collaborate across disciplines on the ideas and tactics that will lead you to success. They have tools and technology that provide critical insights, years of experience with what has and hasn’t worked across multiple sectors, global networks of diverse media and agency relationships to support a variety of markets, and a host of services under a single roof that make it easy for your marketing efforts to evolve with your business. You also never need fear being put aside when a single team member is unavailable, as an entire crew is ready and able to jump on your requests.

The Downs: Some agencies can be expensive relative to your needs. The really big ones can treat “little” clients like nobodies in favor of serving the “big fish,” handing them off to junior professionals as soon as the ink is dry. They’re full of people that know a lot about a lot of things, but probably not as much as you know about your specific niche.

Ok – where do you go from here?

Start by making an honest assessment of your goals and resources for external communications. Important (and informative) questions include:

  • Are you building a foundation of exposure, or seeking to build on top of a foundation?
  • Are you competing in a crowded market, or helping to define a new industry?
  • Are your audiences local, regional, national or global? Not just now, but in 2-3 years?
  • Are you or members of your team ready and available to speak to media, contribute byline articles, draft whitepapers, review and approve marketing design and copy, etc.? Or are you simply hoping to dabble in one or two areas?
  • Are you looking for temporary help with one priority initiative? Or are you interested in a long-term effort that will keep up with changes in the industry?
  • Are you seeking true strategic guidance – which sometimes means being told your ideas are not the right ones? Or are you seeking someone to execute plans you’ve already created?
  • And of course, what kind of budget can you reasonably commit to PR/marketing?

Your answers to these questions will help you decide the level of support needed to support the growth of your business.

Because that’s what every one of the entities listed above should be focused on. The growth of your business.

The Bottom Line: If the people pitching you their services aren’t talking about how the things they offer will expand your reach, impress your stakeholders, attract investors, engage your employees, fuel your other promotional needs, increase customer/partner/staff retention, introduce you to new markets or solve public-facing challenges, then – regardless of your budget, goals or timeline – it’s time to go somewhere else.

Vanessa Taylor is the general manager of Precision, a smart and nimble division that applies Matter’s full suite of PR services and vast expertise to brands with highly focused PR needs, like startups and rapid-growth brands, nonprofits and mature organizations with new initiatives. She’s also the manager of Matter’s Open Door program, which works with accelerators, co-working spaces and other member organizations to provide free education/training to entrepreneurs who need to manage brand promotion on their own.