As director of marketing, I spend most of my days listening to people pitch ideas for my company. They represent radio stations, TV stations and various Web sites, and they all have their own ideas regarding what to focus on for Metropolitan Pipe. It’s interesting to hear their ideas and I’ve considered some of them as viable options. But why should I trust these people who have no background in this industry? That raises a bigger question: When advertising, should you do it in-house or hire an agency?

I’ve always been interested in advertising and been pretty good with the creative part. At Metropolitan Pipe our staff includes me, IT manager Kevin Resendes, a copywriter who creates the text for the ads and an art director who produces the picture or video. That’s not always the situation when a company does its advertising in-house. There are benefits to doing it that way, but you may not get the quality you want.

There are three options for advertising your business most efficiently during this economic downturn: hire people to do it for you, do it in-house with existing staff or hire an outside agency. Here are the pros and cons for each option:

Option 1: Hire your own advertising staff

A good advertising team involves two or three people. Sometimes it includes a creative director who oversees everything and works with the copywriter and art director. But if you are hiring your own advertising staff, you only need the copywriter and art director. Why can’t one person do both jobs? That would be a terrible mistake. One of the best things about being in advertising is having a partner to bounce ideas off of. The two work together to create the best ad possible.

The downside to hiring an in-house staff is money, and that’s a serious issue for everyone right now. An experienced copywriter and an art director will expect to be paid big bucks. That cost is in addition to all the dollars invested in ads.

It’s not all bad, though. If you do a lot of advertising and want full control of how everything looks, this could be a good option. You would have people in-house who can do what you want them to do - print ads, radio spots and TV ads - and you won’t have to worry about finding outside help for anything.

Option 2: Do the advertising with your in-house staff

This is a pipe dream for most people. You may not be lucky enough to find people in-house who can give you quality ads for a fraction of the price. But if you are so fortunate, there are some big benefits. You already know and trust these people. They know the business better than someone from outside the company. Your staff should know your target customer and have enough product knowledge to put together a fairly competent marketing campaign.

A common misconception, though, is that your marketing people will automatically be able to do your advertising work. They may know the best outlets for advertising, but the creative part of the ad is a totally different matter. It is difficult to put together a great ad to generate the type of interest you want for your company.

The downside to using existing staff? They may lack experience and in-depth knowledge of advertising. I spend half of my free time reading books on advertising and public relations and studying the changes in advertising trends. I’m finally getting well-versed enough to put together an effective advertising campaign. Unless you plan to buy books for your employees and allow them substantial time to work on the advertising, your best bet is option three.

Option 3: Hire an advertising agency

This might seem like a bit much for a small company - working with advertising agencies that have clients like McDonalds, Wal-Mart or Verizon. In this economy, all business is good business. Also, an advertising agency isn’t as expensive as you might think. Typically they get about 15% of what you spend on your media outlets - TV, radio or print. Sometimes you’ll also have to pay them to create the ad and the Web site, depending on your contract.

An advertising agency has many resources and lots of experience in advertising. Anyone can throw together a picture and tag line, but the agency knows if they don’t come up with a good ad, you can fire them. Everything they do should be perfect and exactly what you want.

You might feel like a small fish in a big pond when dealing with big-time agencies - so why not look at smaller local agencies or those that are just starting out? The new ones will be trying to prove themselves, so they’re likely to go above and beyond to please you.

An advertising agency may not know your products as well as you do. Your marketing and sales staff has to work with the agency to make sure they get across the right message and feature the products you want to promote.

The importance of advertising

Regardless of which option you choose, be sure to advertise during these down times. The companies that look strong now will look even stronger when this economic crisis is over. If you’re about to start an advertising campaign, make it the best one you’ve ever done.

Consider these options and what would work best for your business. Copywriters and art directors are looking for jobs. You might have a diamond in the rough at your company. Or hire an agency. For the past few months I’ve been working with a marketing agency that has helped with the creative work and also does public relations. Some of these companies can even act as your IT department.

In the current economic climate, fear is driving a lot of people to be cautious and not start new things. But if we don’t do anything, we’ll never get out of this slump. We need radical ideas and a new way of thinking. What’s your big idea?