12 Things to Look For in a Great Content Marketing Agency

by Travis Keith

Choosing the right content marketing agency can be overwhelming. Ideally, you want to establish a strong relationship, grow together, and do the best work possible. But if you’re not on the same page as your agency, it won’t be the right fit—no matter how many fancy awards that agency has won.

So how do you find the right agency? Luckily, we’re here to help. We’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of the industry, so we know what to look for—and what to run away from—when you’re on the hunt. Whether you’re looking for a little content creation support or a partner to help you build your brand strategy from scratch, you can follow these tips to narrow your choices down. 

Why Do You Even Need a Content Marketing Agency?

Content marketing requires a strong strategy, available resources, and the ability to execute it effectively. Not every brand has these things. Marketers already have enough on their plates, so a supportive partner can be invaluable. The right content marketing agency can give you the energy, expertise, and insight you need to achieve your goals—with less headaches. Here’s why.

  1. You get better (and more) ideas. A lot of brands get so immersed in their strategy or so determined to “try something new” that they pick an idea everyone’s excited about without considering how that idea relates to their ultimate goal. Conversely, some brands are so creatively burnt out they keep doing the same thing and getting the same subpar results. Not only can a content agency give you more ideas but they can point out flaws, suggest creative tweaks, and help you vet everything against your brand goals. When you’re so stuck in your brand you have tunnel vision, an agency provides objective insight, a safety net, and a sounding board.
  2. They guide your brand. When you’re working with an agency, you’re benefiting from the collective experience of not only the team working with you but the entire agency. That means you have more brains to problem-solve and gain a deeper understanding of your goals. It’s likely they’ve worked with many brands in many industries, possibly even several in yours, so they’ve seen just about everything that can go wrong. They can steer you in the right direction while offering their unique insight—not just from their experience but the experience of everyone they’ve ever worked with.
  3. They are true specialists. Really great content is the result of many hands. A content agency is a smorgasbord of talent. There are copywriters, data visualization wizards, designers, developers, and more who know not just what to do but how to create things that will help you achieve your goals. They can also lend their expertise to help you work within budget or suggest fresh approaches that can make your content more effective.
  4. They have the infrastructure. Silos and a lack of resources are the biggest culprits that cause chaos in content marketing productions. This sabotages your ability to create quality content consistently. As experts, an agency has an optimized production process to keep you on track, on brand, on budget, and on time.

That said, before you start your search, you need to decide if working with a content marketing agency is the right choice. If you’re not sure, see our guide to figure out if you should DIY or outsource to a freelancer or agency.

If you’ve decided that you do need an agency, know exactly why you’re seeking help.

  • What type of support do you need (strategy, content, distribution)?
  • How much of that work will you need them to do?
  • Who will be your stakeholders?
  • How will you share that work load?

You may not have the answers to all of these questions before you start, but these are important things to think about.

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) A Good Process

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) Real Results

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) Versatile Skills

How You Know: Their portfolio will showcase a range of projects.

In content marketing, few things are less attractive than a “same thing forever” attitude, even if the agency’s good at it. Experimentation is crucial if you want to push your brand to the next level.

Find a content marketing agency that wants to try the new and devour the unknown. Even if they specialize in a field (e.g., tech), 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 and maturity. Look to see if your agency has a blog or a regular contributorship somewhere. Reviewing this content will give you a sense of who they are and how they think. 

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 decent content marketing agency does their 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 their platform and their industry as a whole. This means they’re willing and eager to share presentations, e-books, white papers, videos, etc.—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) Lasting Partnerships

How You Know: They have long-term clients.

Never trust anyone who can’t maintain relationships. (If everyone else is the “problem,” it’s probably them.) 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 start work 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 with your agency to do the best work together.

7) A 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 can’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. 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) Open 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…

Above all, keep your communication lines open. Be open, be proactive, and be engaged. And, hey, if your agency doesn’t work out for some reason (though we hope it does), we’d love to be considered. Just holler at us.

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