Not all content is created equally. And not all agencies are the same.
Those are two truths worth holding close when assessing the dizzying array of firms promising to wow with whitepapers, inspire with infographics and blaze a trail with blog posts. The PR agency, the strategic consultancy, the search agency, the blogging shop, the freelance copywriter and the digital marketing agency all promise to fulfil the need for compelling content.
Every agency now says they know content but only some really do. Watch out for the firm that sells it as an add-on, a sideline or a value-add. Watch out for the public relations firm that beefs up its pitch thus: “Here’s a thought leadership report we could write for you. Oh, and here’s the complementary press campaign we’ve got planned to win you lots of coverage.” Nothing wrong with the latter part of the pitch given that’s the firm’s core competency. Content isn’t, however, and that’s the issue.
Beware the Trojan Horse sales technique
Content marketing is not about generating press coverage although that might be a consequence. It’s not about generating traffic although that too is a likely consequence. It’s about understanding your clients’ needs, priorities and motivations and then delivering content that fulfils those. Of course, looking at this from the content marketing agency’s perspective, it’s about helping your client’s clients find those answers. It’s an important distinction because an agency obsessed with keeping its own client happy has the potential to disappoint the client’s client.
To quote the founder of the Content Marketing Institute Joe Pulizzi, content marketing is about “attracting and retaining customers by creating [and] curating valuable, compelling and relevant content to maintain or change behaviour.”
Alternatively, if a more pithy definition is required how about this three word call to action from marketing consultant and author Jay Baer: “Just. Be. Useful.” Baer adds, usefully, that if content marketers “create things with intrinsic value … your customers will keep you close.”
The article, the blog post, the whitepaper, the video and the infographic all have to be compelling, tightly commissioned and produced from a position of both subject and editorial expertise. The freelance copywriter sitting in the corner of the agency that dabbles in content on the side is simply not going to cut it.
Distinguishing generalists from specialists
The best way to determine whether a future content marketing agency has what it takes is to ask the following questions:
- Does it have real editorial expertise?
- Does it have extensive editorial experience?
- Does it have deep subject expertise?
- Would I be comfortable if one of its writers interviewed my management team?
- Would I be comfortable if one of its writers interviewed one of my client’s management teams?
Those five questions will help distinguish the generalists from the specialists. Choose right and brand awareness, lead generation, customer retention and renown for thought leadership will follow.
Don’t be tempted to choose those who will reverse engineer the process. Make lead generation the only purpose of the content and failure will follow. Make great content the purpose and success will follow. Good content marketing agencies know the difference between purpose and consequence. And a good content marketing agency knows that its purpose is to produce content that best serves its client’s client.