Choosing the right content marketing agency can be overwhelming. There are a lot of things to consider, and you have to find the right partner if you want to be successful. If you’re not sure what to do or where to start, we’re here to help. We’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of the industry, and we want you to find one that works for your particular needs. So we’ve compiled our best tips and tells to help you find the right one.
First, Decide If You Even Need a Content Marketing Agency
A good agency is an investment because they are true pros. You don’t to waste your budget or their time, so consider whether you actually need one or not, and identify exactly what you need from them. Are you looking for strategy work? Simple content creation? Knowing this before you start your hunt is crucial.
If you’re not sure if you need one, start with our guide to figure out if you should use a freelancer, agency, or handle your work in-house.
How to Find a Content Marketing Agency
While there are a lot of decent agencies out there, you want a great one. That means rolling up your sleeves and vetting them. Here are 12 things to look for once you start your search.
1) PROCESS IS PRIORITY
How You Know: They tell you who you’ll be working with, when, and why.
Nobody wants to repeatedly be handed off to a stranger. The right agency will tell you exactly who will be handling your account’s business, creative, production, and promotion from the get-go. They should also talk you through their process and who your point person will be. Although the agency may know who’s in charge of what and when, you can easily feel neglected if this isn’t clear.
Pro tip: If you’re starting your search, here are 7 questions to ask to understand who they are and how they work.
2) RESULTS MATTER
How You Know: They present case studies.
An agency should never wrap a project like they’re sending off a message in a bottle, just hoping for the best outcome. The right agency wants to know what they did right, what they did wrong, and how to improve the process and performance for next time.Case studies show that they’re invested in their work and their clients.
Pro tip: Search for agencies who have case studies for work in your particularly industry or what you aspire to do.
3) THEY’RE VERSATILE
How You Know: Their portfolio will showcase a range of projects.
Even in dating, having a “type” isn’t exactly the coolest thing. It gets boring after a while. In content marketing, few things are less attractive than a “same thing forever” attitude, even if the agency’s good at it. Nobody wants to be predictable. Experimentation is the only way we achieve scientific breakthroughs, artistic masterpieces, and social progress.
Find a content marketing agency that wants to try the new and devour the unknown. Even if they specialize in a field (e.g., fintech), they should be pushing their own limits and constantly evolving. Hire an agency that you know is game and ready for anything.
Pro tip: Ask them to send you examples of their more experimental work. Even if it’s an internal project, they should have something on hand. (For example, we once made a music-themed video game just to flex our creative skills.)
4. DEMONSTRATED EXPERTISE
How You Know: They write thought leadership pieces.
The right agency always wants to learn more but is happy and confident to teach a thing or two. It’s a sign of wisdom. It’s also free, helpful advice. Look to see if your agency has a blog or a regular contributorship somewhere. You want to hear things like “we’ve observed these infographic trends lately” and “the industry’s been heading this way,” rather than “hold on, let me call my dad; he knows all about this sort of stuff.” You want experience, confidence, and presence.
Pro tip: Review a recent article before you chat; it’s a great ice breaker when you’re trying to get to know them.
5. INDUSTRY CONTRIBUTIONS
How You Know: They create industry resources to help people make better content.
A good content marketing agency does their work well and goes home for the day. A great agency sees the big picture and strives to be part of it. A great agency wants to elevate the platform and evolve the industry. They want to be the best in the business, but they also want the business to be better as a collective, which means they’re willing and eager to share—presentations, e-books, white papers, videos—all in the name of achieving new heights.
Pro tip: Ask them about the trends they’re seeing, and what they’re passionate about. These conversations can be inspiring for both of you.
6. COMMITTED RELATIONSHIPS
How You Know: They have long-term clients.
Never trust anyone who doesn’t have long-term people in their life. Oh, it just so happened that everyone you’ve ever encountered was a problem in the end? Weird. Sure, some engagements are bound to have their issues. But if the majority or all of someone’s clients don’t appear to stick around, it’s a red flag. Don’t put up with an agency you already assume will burn you in the end.
Pro tip: Look for a content marketing agency with a track record of successful partner relationships by searching their portfolio. Also find out how you can cultivate a healthy relationship to do the best work.
7. TRUSTWORTHY REPUTATION
How You Know: They have client testimonials and recommendations.
You want to know you’ll get your money’s worth from your agency, and word of mouth is always powerful. If an agency couldn’t find a single client to say something nice about them on their site, LinkedIn, or somewhere, run…run away. They aren’t just crooks but lazy ones at that.
Pro tip: Check out review sites like Clutch, which are a helpful resource to vet agencies and see what people really think of them.
8. GREAT COMMUNICATION
How You Know: They always make sure you’re on the same page.
Great work comes from great communication. The right agency will check in with you, talk through problems, and touch base regularly to avoid wasting your budget and destroying your timeline. Whether it’s double checking deadlines or providing visual references, they’ll do everything they can to make sure the conversation at the end of the project will be over margaritas—not problems.
Pro tip: You’ll know how good they are at communicating from that first meeting. Notice how well they’re listening and whether they’re taking the time to really answer your questions (or just saying what they think you want to hear).
9. SOLID BOUNDARIES
How You Know: They’re willing to say no.
If you just want yes-people, you won’t get the work you deserve. What you need is strong, creative counsel. But plenty of content agencies are willing to take on anything just to get paid.
The right agency will tell you when you’re accidentally working against your own goals. The right agency will explain why an idea won’t work, then present a better alternative. The right agency believes in the project so much that they can recognize (or, better yet, anticipate) when things aren’t working. Hire an agency to be your partner, not someone you can just bark orders at.
Pro tip: Ask about a time they said no to a client—and why. Ideally they’ll tell you why they said no, what they did instead, and why it worked. (For example, that’s what happened when we convinced Microsoft to do a video instead of an infographic…and ended up with 45 million views.)
10. TRANSPARENCY AT ALL LEVELS
How You Know: They tell you exactly what you’re getting.
If they’re dodging questions or not responding to emails, it’s only going to get worse. They should tell you what you’re going to get, how you’re going to get it, and how they’re going to make sure you do. From brainstorm to content creation, strategy to promotion, you should feel informed and confident every step of the way.
Pro tip: Ask them what you can do to help your collaboration. They’ll appreciate the consideration and vested interest in building a partnership—not just being treated like a gun for hire. (BTW, if you’re sending out an RFP, you can get better work by being transparent too. Follow these tips to get the best RFP response possible.)
11. RECEPTIVE TO CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
How You Know: They’re open to feedback.
Why would you ever, ever, ever work with anyone, any team, any agency that isn’t open to feedback? They don’t have to take it, but they should darn well want to hear it at the very least. Client-agency projects are like personal relationships. When was the last marriage vow that noted, “I love the way you never listen to me and refuse to change even when I ask nicely”?
Pro tip: A good agency solicits feedback and pushes themselves to grow. Ask them how they challenge themselves, and what they do to improve.
12. GOOD VIBES
How You Know: You hit it off from the start.
If you’re just doing a small rushed project, you’ll likely get away with a few emails throughout the process. But complex campaigns are an investment of time, money, and energy. They require a lot of back and forth and, sometimes, there are a few bumps in the road. You want someone you feel comfortable working closely with, especially under stress.
Pro tip: Honestly, there’s no pro tip for this one. When you feel it, you feel it.
What to Do When You Find the Right Content Marketing Agency
Finding the right agency is a relief, but the real work begins once you do. A good relationship is a true partnership, where you’re both invested in each other’s success. To help cultivate that dynamic from the jump…
- Here are 5 ways you can support your agency throughout the creative process.
- Learn about the different types of creative thinkers. It can really help your team dynamics.
- Find out how to split the workload correctly.
Above all, keep your communication lines open. Be open, be proactive, and be engaged.
And if your agency doesn’t work out for some reason (thought we hope it does), we’d love to be considered. Just holler at us.