Avoiding Bad Agency Syndrome: The Experience Factor
(Special thanks to my girl Sophie for helping out with this week’s photo!)

“Experience.” Ask 100 marketers what they look for in a content marketing agency, and I’ll bet at least 75 percent of them will bring up experience. And if we’re looking to avoid Bad Agency Syndrome (B.A.S.), it’s not a bad place to start.

But what do we really need to look for when we say we want “experience?” Are experience and longevity the same thing? Must the agency have extensive experience in our exact industries? And what about the experience of the people who’ll be working on our content?

These are just a few of the questions I’ve heard from my marketing colleagues who are in the throes of the agency selection process. Let’s see if we can shed some light to help you make the right decision.

Experience Is Not Longevity

It astounds me how many agencies can cite five, 10, even 20 years in business, but still manage to do a crappy job for their clients.

Sure, you want an agency with a few years under its belt, but don’t stop there. Find out which types of clients they’ve been working with and exactly what they’ve been doing for those companies.

Look for a Comparable Clientele

If you scour the agency world looking for the one that can demonstrate decades of experience in your exact niche, you may have set yourself up for an impossible task — and you could bypass many viable candidates along the way.

Instead, look for agencies who have created successful content for comparable companies — organizations similar to yours in terms of

  • Size
  • Clientele
  • Brand character
  • Geography (local, national, or global)
  • Complexity of product or service

That last one — complexity — is a biggie. If your product or service is complex and you serve a sophisticated audience, the agency that does a terrific job for hair salons may not be a good fit. Many of our clients came to us after having worked with agencies who made big promises, but who in the end lacked the intelligence and sophistication they needed. Finding that out at the outset can save you major headaches in the near and distant future.

Follow Up on References

Asking for references is standard practice for the RFP process … but how many of us actually follow up?

Yes, of course every agency is going to provide names of clients who will sing their praises, but it’s still worth the time investment to make the calls. Be sure to ask detailed questions like

  • How long did you work with Agency X? Are you still their client, and if not, why not?
  • How well did they deliver on what they promised in their proposal?
  • How satisfied were you with the skill and experience of the content creators assigned to you?
  • What was your workflow like?
  • How quickly did they respond to emails and phone calls?
  • Was there anything that surprised you, positive or negative?
  • If you could pass on one piece of advice about working with Agency X, what would it be?

You can email references if you like, but I find people are much more forthcoming and spontaneous on the phone. Set aside some time on your calendar and make those calls. You’ll thank yourself later.

Ask any agency about their experience and they’ll gladly inundate you with a litany of success stories. But finding out if they have the quantity and quality of experience you need in a content marketing partner requires some investigative work on your part. Fortunately, the time you invest now can save you a tremendous amount of time, stress, and yes, money down the road.