Choosing the right content marketing agency can feel like a challenge on par with driving stick for the first time. There are a lot of things to consider, and you have to find the right partner if you want to be successful.
Finding Your 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. Not sure where to start? We’ve pulled together this all-time, super-great, can’t-lose checklist of traits that the “right” content marketing agency should have. Here’s what to look for.
1) PROCESS IS PRIORITY
How You Know: They tell you upfront whom you’ll be working with, when, and why.
Nobody wants to repeatedly be handed off like that person who doesn’t know anybody at a party—unless it’s open bar, in which case just enjoy yourself. The right agency will tell you exactly who will be handling account’s business, creative, production, and promotion aspects from the get-go. You should feel like a Monopoly piece—with an ordered process to your interactions—not like a whirling pinball bouncing around personnel. Although the agency may know who’s in charge of what and when, you can still easily feel like you’re getting the runaround, regardless.
The right agency plays good host from start to finish. And if they do, for some insane reason, actually have an open bar: never, ever leave. Apply for a job at the agency immediately.
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. More importantly, this workplace mindset should be obvious.
Case studies show invested time and personal reflection. Never trust someone who doesn’t reflect on what they do; it’s arrogant at best and sinister at worst. Humans look back and evaluate. Sharks just keep swimming forward. If your content marketing agency doesn’t have case studies, there’s a good chance they’re sharks.
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. Content marketing is rarely a this-and-just-this playing field. You could wake up tomorrow to learn consumers only want their content from skywriting, Shakespeare in the Park, or pigeons delivering tiny, adorable inch-wide screens that play hilarious GIFs on repeat. You don’t yet know the next big thing. Hire an agency that you know is game and ready for anything—because they’ve already tried a lot of it before.
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—not that bogus Robert Frost “take the road less traveled” kind (ugh, we get it, you lived in the woods). 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.
5. INDUSTRY CONTRIBUTIONS
How You Know: They create industry resources to help people make better content.
A decent content marketing agency does your work well and goes home for the day. A good 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.
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 even worse, all) of someone’s clients don’t appear to stick around, it’s time to make like a cartoon character when trouble’s afoot and just quietly tiptoe out the way you came.
Don’t put up with an agency you already assume will burn you in the end; even supervillains at least trick people into sticking around. Look for a content marketing agency with a track record of successful partner relationships.
7. TRUSTWORTHY REPUTATION
How You Know: They have client testimonials and recommendations.
You just want to know that at least one client in the history of this agency has had a good experience. I mean, even snake oil salesmen back in the day had a fellow grifter or two in the crowd—you know, the kind that pushes their way to the front and says, “Why, I’ve been using that there medley for years, and I’m fit as an ox and twice as smart!” 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.
8. GREAT COMMUNICATION
How You Know: They always make sure you’re on the same page.
Ask a lazy kid to do something, and it’ll get done right quick—but as rushed and messy as possible. Ask a studious kid, and you’ll get a slower, more methodical, carefully completed process. It’s the ol’ Goofus and Gallant comparison. The right agency will check in with you rather than assuming or guessing. To avoid wasting your budget and destroying your timeline, they’ll confirm deadlines and provide visual references, in hopes that the conversation at the end of the project will be over margaritas—not problems.
9. SOLID BOUNDARIES
How You Know: They’re willing to say no.
If you just want yes-people, hire a shop with Goofy’s skills and Donald Duck’s integrity. Hiring a production house willing to take on anything basically just extends your current content team. What you need is strong, creative counsel.
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.
10. TRANSPARENCY AT ALL LEVELS
How You Know: They tell you exactly what you’re getting.
Set goals and establish metrics. Your agency of choice should be eager to figure these out as soon as you’ve laid out a basic plan. The right agency is like a discus thrower, able to statistically strategize to gauge or predict a general outcome. The wrong agency is like someone who just lets a balloon go to see where it goes. When you ask for expectation, you probably don’t want to hear, “I don’t know; I’m as excited as you to find out!” Work with people who’ll make educated predictions, and you can know what to expect.
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”?
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 that cost good amounts of money often mean a lot of back and forth and possibly a few bumps in the road. When that time comes, you want someone you can easily talk to. Seriously, do you even understand how many deaths a person dies in awkward conference call silences? It’s a hundred at least, just sitting there after one of you says, “Yeah, let’s give Cathy a few more minutes to dial in.”
You want people bubbling with personality, who are friendly and quick on their feet, who can (in the very absolute least) successfully tell a popsicle stick joke. Not only will they make your process easier, more enjoyable, and near-bulletproof, but they almost always make the coolest things in the end.
So, there you have it. The “right” content marketing agency is filled to the salty brim with colorful individuals who want you to succeed, so that the work you create reflects well on them and hopefully nurtures a blossoming client-agency relationship. Go with the mad ones.
If you think we sound like we could be that agency for you, let us know! We’d love to chat.