What to Look for in a Content Marketing Agency

The rampant popularity of content marketing across the marketing landscape in 2014 must be heartening to those agencies transforming SEO or PR teams into full-on content makers. But this same growth might give you some pause if you’re looking to hire or partner with a content marketing agency. You may find yourself asking, “Wait, wasn’t this agency a PR/advertising or pure SEO firm late last year?”

Maybe that firm *had* a different focus last year. But it now sees how 73% of B2B marketers are producing more content than they did a year ago (per CMI report), and how that’s opened up far more communication channels, including content marketing, social media marketing and more that raises client search rankings, visibility and brand awareness.

Let’s go through a checklist that might give you a little more insight into what to look for in a content marketing agency and how to choose the best firm to help meet your goals.

What type of agency lurks behind the ‘Content Marketing’ banner?

Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute nailed it when he wrote on his blog “Most SEO agencies don’t know jack about content marketing.” Be wary if your SEO agency has suddenly slapped a content marketing banner on its homepage. From an industry POV, it makes good business sense for the agency to do that because content marketing is so hot right now, but from a practical client solutions test, it may not work as expected.

73% Change in Content Creation
Content creation has grown leap and bounds in the past year

SEO agencies can make the transition to successful content firms (as the CMI post rightly points out and we’re happy to be included), but unless the agency has a clear strategy, execution and delivery plan of that content in line with client expectations, it may never get out of the starting gate.

Does the agency place implementation ahead of planning and strategy?

Generally, you need to look for three things when it comes to finding the right agency for you:

1. Strategic thinking: You have pain points that need help. You look to your agency to provide ideas here. What your agency can provide you with content marketing thought expertise cannot be understated.

But here’s how to give a prospective new agency a chance: share your marketing challenges with them, spin some curve balls at them, and then let them get to work. If they like your business and want your work, you’ll be surprised at the creative thinking that comes your way.

2. Ability to (over) deliver: Can your agency deliver on time, on concept and within budget? Does it have the business know-how to stay strong under deadline heat? An agency’s capacity to deliver and exceed expectations will certainly figure into your decision.

3. Professionalism and expertise: Does the agency have the chops to get the work done? Is its staff well-balanced with professionals from various backgrounds? Are its internal resources up to where you need them? These things matter in spades, whether you’re selling manufactured products, software apps, or a business to business service.

Some agencies often fall prey to showing ‘here’s what we’ve done’ rather than ‘here’s what’s right for you.’ If the agency shows an inclination for implementation, instead of a slant toward strategy and the whole package, start looking for a better fit.

Does the agency practice what it preaches?

If an agency doesn’t market themselves with the methods they want to be hired for, move on. It’s not hard to miss the signs, so keep an eye out for these few:
• Is the agency visible on social media?
• Is it updating and sharing its own blog posts?
• Has it offered premium content to attract leads and build up its client base?
• Does it continually innovate, finding the most interesting ways to reach their audience?

It’s one thing for an agency to produce great content for you. But a true digital content marketing agency must produce its own content too and market its brainpower. If not, it’s losing half the battle, and doing their brand a disservice. Why would you hire a web designer that doesn’t even have a website of their own? Same thing goes for a content marketing agency. They need to do what they want to be hired for.

Content Marketing Agency

Content marketing agencies absolutely should share insights, tips, techniques, thought processes and more with clients, competitors and the world. Doing so generally is rewarded with continued opportunities from clients, conferences and connections. For example Vertical Measures CEO Arnie Kuenn has heightened his profile within the content marketing industry from his continued sharing of relevant topics with peers and professionals. Others from the SEO industry are going this route as well. After all, content marketing is about being helpful and useful – in more ways than one.

How does the agency provide data from earlier campaigns?

Clients are increasingly seeking results and measurements from an agency’s campaigns to show content marketing ROI. What’s worked for others can have a significant factor in the agency winning your business. You have already wised up to the fact that content marketing works, but getting clear data about the agency’s other work will prove that the ROI will matter to the agency when it comes to your specific business.

That’s where effective content marketing agencies can rule. They become your partner in every aspect of content – educating you how to use content to always be in on the online conversation, how to drive certain narratives within your overall marketing plan, and how to stake some solid web real estate for you in your particular industry niche.

Can you make resources available to the agency and have staff to smooth the content on-boarding process?

Here is where the proverbial rubber hits the road. Let’s say you’ve chosen a content marketing agency and you’re ready to move on its recommendations. Are you geared up internally to make resources available to the agency? Have you chosen an internal point of contact (if not yourself)? Have you given the agency your user names and passwords for the sites on which content will be provided? Have you determined the internal content approval process? These are a few of the responsibilities that you must not only be aware of, but execute well in order to facilitate a smooth working client-agency relationship.

Talk to a prospective agency about their on-boarding process to make sure it fits within your company culture. Knowing what you’re getting into beforehand and if the agency has clear cut expectations will only serve to move your content marketing forward toward your goals faster. If there isn’t much of a process in place, you should question how easily the transition to a partnership will be with this agency, and if you can realistically see it working out in the long run. Know what you expect of an agency and what they expect from you in return.

Content Marketing Agency

(And finally) What can the agency teach your team?

How visible is the agency under consideration towards teaching content to its other clients? Does it run workshops on content marketing and social media best practices to other clients? Does the agency routinely spend time educating its clients on specific parts of the content marketing puzzle?

This extra step shows an agency’s commitment to the practice and pursuit of great content marketing. They are willing to spend time, energy and resources to grow your business, and educate your staff on why content marketing matters.

When an agency manages to show you that it has the right focus exhibited above, chances are good that it will make a solid match with great content marketing.