Some of the more common questions we’re asked during the sales process are “how do I know that I’m choosing the right content marketing agency?” or “what makes a good content marketing agency?”. Because the idea of content marketing is so new to businesses large and small, I wanted to create a follow up post to one created by Shannon this summer called 7 Elements of Choosing a Content Marketing Agency.
This post should act as a guide and a resource to develop better questions to ask as you go through the discovery and consideration stages of the decision making process.
Subject Matter Expertise
When looking to engage with a content marketing agency, one thing you need to be sure of is that they can write for your industry. Creating good content is hard enough without adding in a technical element that might be foreign to general writers. Keep in mind that it’s okay if your agency outsources content to subject matter experts who know your vertical; you just need to make sure that someone who knows your industry is producing your content from the very beginning.
Practice What They Preach
One of the biggest signs that you’re engaging with a winning agency is that they practice what they preach! Take a look at their blog. Do they provide consistent resources that actually provide value to their readers? What do they offer their audience in terms of premium content like eBooks, guides, white papers, and videos?
Provide Thought Leadership
Any content marketing agency worth their weight provides thought leadership in several different areas. First, they seek opportunities to provide their expertise to industry publications. Second, they are invited to speak and participate at different events and conferences. You shouldn’t worry too much about agencies getting published in Forbes, Huffington Post, Inc.com or any other national publication. Truth be told, anyone can pay a writer can get their content onto those websites. That’s our one, dirty little secret to share with you in this guide. Welcome to the new age of online PR. 🙂 Instead, look for consistency in publishing content that speaks to their audience.
Provide Case Studies & Client References
Before deciding on an agency to go with, you need to make two specific requests. First, you need to request case studies. Some agencies don’t publish full case studies on their website (like us) due to agreements with current clients not to publicly share their data, but can share them privately.
Second, you need to request 2-3 introductions to clients who would be willing to talk with you on the phone to discuss their experience. It’s best if the clients are somewhat related to your vertical, but they don’t have to be.
Here are some questions you might consider asking:
- Overall, how has your experience been?
- Has the agency delivered on promises made during the sales process?
- How is the quality of the content they are producing?
- How is the quality of the customers they are generating?
- How is their communication and reporting?
- Do they treat you as a client or as a partner?
- Do they work as though they are part of your internal team?
- Do they think outside the box?
- Do you believe they have your best interest in mind?
- Would you recommend them to a friend, family member, or colleague?
Have Clearly Defined Roadmaps & Success Metrics
One area where agencies tend to really struggle is in identifying success metrics for your unique business needs and mapping a plan that will help you get from point A to point B. The content marketing agency you choose should have a very good idea, before you close the deal, of what your business does and how you generate revenue. They should be able to provide you with some KPIs that are unique to your business. You should also request some sample client roadmaps that they’ve created so you can see how they operate on a weekly and monthly basis.
Provide Thorough Reporting
Along the lines of roadmaps and success metrics, your agency should be providing thorough reporting to you on a regular basis. Reports should include what’s being worked on, what’s scheduled, and any road blocks that they need your help in overcoming. Reports should also include your unique success metrics and how far along they are to meeting/exceeding your goals. At minimum reports should be delivered once per month. A good agency will deliver twice per month and hold in-person meetings or calls on a regular basis.
Have A Strategy For Each Channel
A good content marketing agency knows that content should fuel all other channels and create demand for a product or service. When engaging in content marketing, your agency should know how to leverage their content to improve your SEO, create more effective PPC campaigns, and skyrocket your social media presence and engagement.
A good agency knows that different channels require a different approach; you cannot take the same content and submit it to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram and see success. Your audience is conditioned to use each channel differently and requires a unique strategy to reach and engage with them.
It’s also worthwhile to note that you don’t have to attack all channels at once. In fact, a good agency will pick a few channels and focus on getting them right before moving on to additional ones.
Use Marketing Automation/Lead Nurturing To Convert More Prospects To Customers
Agencies that really understand content marketing know that not all leads coming through a website or any other channel, online or offline, are created equal. Every prospect is in a different part of the decision making process and require different touch points to move them through the funnel. When choosing a content marketing agency, make sure they understand and deploy a strategy for nurturing leads through a marketing automation platform. The platform used is irrelevant, but they should be able to make recommendations based on the stage your business is in.
Understand The Buyer Journey, The Sales Funnel, & How To Move Prospects Through It
If you can find an agency that understands how buyers make decisions, how they move through the sales funnel, and how to encourage prospects to take next steps, grab them and never let go. A lot of content marketing agencies just want to build and market content and don’t take the time to map the buyer journey and individual pieces of content to each step. Doing so will not only help you convert more prospects into customers, but also will help position you as an industry leader.
Build An Audience, Not Borrow One
Good content marketing agencies are interested in building you an audience, not borrowing one. If you think back to the days or MySpace, what happened when they shut down their services? Brands lost all that they invested in borrowing an audience on their platform. What happens if the four hundred thousand followers you have on Facebook disappear tomorrow? Smart marketers work to tap an audience, bring them to your “playground” and work to turn them into an owned audience that can be engaged with on your terms.
Sensitive To Your Brand
Every business is unique and every brand is unique as well. Agencies that understand this and know how to work with brand teams to make their lives easier is a huge win. You should look for an agency that has checklists and a process for creating content that’s in-line with your brand and can easily be reviewed by someone internally without sucking a lot of bandwidth.
Interested In Using/Repurposing Already Existing Content
Money is a sensitive topic, even in the business world. Many content marketing agencies want to get in and start producing content day one. Good agencies take a full inventory of all the content owned by a business and determine what can be reused/repurposed for other uses. This process can save businesses thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours that can be invested in other initiatives.
Make It Easy To Work With Them
Flexibility is huge when it comes to working with an agency. A good content marketing agency should be able to plug into your systems and processes without skipping a beat. Be wary of any agency forcing you to operate in a certain way in order to do business with them.
Ask For Data Up Front
You know the old adage — you don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been? The same applies to any form of marketing. Unless your potential agency understands where you are currently at, they cannot effectively put together a plan of action, scope of work, or accurate pricing to deliver the results you are looking for. You should plan on providing access to, or at the least, providing PDF exports of your analytics data, webmaster tools data, and lead generation data. Be wary if your agency doesn’t ask for this fairly early in the process.
View You As A Partner, Not Just Another Client
Solid marketing agencies view and treat you like you’re a long-term partner, not just another client. Pay attention to the words they use in referring to your potential engagement. Do they refer to you as a client or a partner? Do they send contracts or agreements?
Integrate With In-House Teams
Along the same lines as above, you will want to find an agency that integrates with your in-house team. Some agencies want to come in and run the show. This usually ends poorly. Good agencies understand that there are always going to be strengths and weaknesses inside of organizations and if they can plug the holes and make weaknesses, strengths, they are likely a good agency to do business with.
They’re Not Cheap
Good marketing — online or offline — requires a significant investment. Creating valuable content that drives brand awareness and gets a prospect to take action is expensive. There’s no way around it. One of the first things you should ask agencies is what their minimum retainer is. If it’s under $3,000 – $4,000 per month for a minimum of 6-12 months, they are going to have a really hard time producing results for you.
If you have a smaller budget than that, ask the potential agency where they feel you would be best to invest it. Good agencies will provide answers like, “hire an intern to help with x, y, or z”, “invest in a redesign of the website”, invest in conversion optimization to turn more if your visitors into leads”, or “invest in a marketing automation solution to convert more of your leads into paying customers”. These are the agencies that really have your best interests in mind and don’t just want your money.
I hope this was helpful for you in your quest to find the perfect agency. In the next couple of weeks we will be turning this into a downloadable guide/worksheet, so make sure you check back. We will also send it out via email, so make sure you subscribe to our newsletter.
If you have any follow up questions please fill out the form on our contact us page and either I or a member of our team will be in touch.