By Russell Sparkman published December 9, 2010

How To Be a Successful Content Marketing Client

The first advertising agency is credited to George Reynell, who started what became known as Reynell & Sons in London, in 1812. The first PR agency, started by Edward Bernays, opened in 1919.

So, we’ve had several centuries now of experience with how clients work with ad and PR agencies to promote their products, services or causes, but how should clients work with agencies when looking for help with content marketing?

As Geoff Ramsey, CEO of eMarketer, proclaimed recently in a blog post, content marketing is a “critical” component of marketing in 2011. This trend has given rise to the emergence of agencies that have a unique set of skills and offerings, all based around content marketing.

This is great news, but many business owners and marketing executives are often unfamiliar with what a relationship with this newer breed of content marketing firm should look like. Those of us who have been running these types of firms really want you, the marketer, to succeed, but there’s a just a few things up front we’d like you to know about working with us in order to become a successful content marketing agency client.

Seek Outside Help

The problem:
The first problem is recognizing that you have a problem. For some reason, there’s a tendency to believe that all content strategy, content planning and development for a content marketing initiative has to be generated internally. This can be paralyzing for an organization. Not knowing where to begin, they often don’t even start. This is exacerbated by unfamiliarity with budgeting for outside content creation services.

The solution:
Seek the right outside help. Just as you sought ad agencies to design and craft your print ads, or your PR firm to write news releases and publicize your organization, your content marketing agency is a firm that will help you facilitate the planning, creation and deployment of content for your marketing or communications initiatives.

Get Organization-wide Buy In

The problem:
At the risk of stating the obvious, not having top down, or even horizontal, support will cause your content marketing initiatives to  die on the vine, if they even get off the ground in the first place. (In fact, according to the Junta42/MarketingProfs 2010 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends, lack of executive buy-in is one of the things that differentiates effective from less effective marketers.)

The solution:
Become the internal content evangelist. Arm yourself with data from eMarketer, with case studies from books such as Content Rules or Get Content, Get Customers. There’s a growing body of data and evidence that demonstrate that content marketing is a tactic that provides excellent return on investment. Avail yourself of it and move forward with confidence that content marketing will work for your business, service or cause.

Let the RFP R.I.P.

The problem:
The traditional approach to finding an agency through the Request for Proposal (RFP) process is a costly waste of time. Neither side, client or agency, is well served by the RFP today. Period. Time for the RFP to R.I.P.

 

The solution:
Find a content marketing agency that’s the right fit:

  • Get word of mouth referrals from peers
  • Follow the blogs of agencies you might consider
  • Follow their management on LinkedIn or Twitter
  • Study their services, portfolio and client lists
  • Narrow your choices to a few and then spend time with them. On the phone. In person. Have lunch or dinner together.

Yeah, sounds a bit like dating.  It is. You’re starting a relationship in which your content marketing agency is going to get to know you and your customers perhaps better than you know yourself.

Budget the Plan, Plan the Budget

The problem:
Related to the previous point about the RFP process, there are far too many options available to a client for a content marketing agency to easily answer the question of “how much will it cost?” In almost all cases, there’s no answer to that question without some element of advanced planning.

 

The solution:
Content marketing clients need to alter their approach to budgeting for marketing communications first by budgeting for a planning process. That’s because the content marketing agency is going to do research to gain insights into your organization, your product or service, and your audiences to develop an actionable content strategy, editorial plan, etc. All content should be designed based upon how well it will achieve specific desired outcomes.

During the course of the planning process, a detailed budget for the initiative will be developed. This works best when the client is able to provide the content marketing agency with a “not to exceed” budget amount within which to plan. Ideas that come up during planning outside the “not to exceed” budget can be flagged for development under future budget cycles.

Beware the Bright, Shiny Objects

The problem:
Marketers are sometimes distracted by topics such as social media and SEO, not realizing that these are tactics that tend to go nowhere without good content. Funds directed to these areas without a sound content strategy fail to generate adequate return on investment, leading to disappointed bosses and coworkers.

The solution:
Understand that content marketing is about driving relationships and engagement through content that’s relevant, compelling, educational or entertaining. Never create content just for the sake of creating content.  Work with your content marketing agency to develop a content strategy and content because you want to meet specific organizational goals, not because you want to use the latest shiny object on the social media shelf.

Don’t Build Rome in a Day

The problem:
Sometimes content marketing initiatives fail to launch because they appear complicated, come with long lists of things to do and may push the boundaries of financial and human resources.

The solution:
Recognize that your content marketing initiative can be designed based around existing human and financial resources. It’s better to get started with some content marketing today than to have none at all. For example, work with your agency to establish a ground game (and a following) that begins with a blog or similar editorial content and plan for your video series next year when there’s a budget, and so on.

Don’t Launch, Deploy

The problem:
There is still a mindset that thinks of marketing communications in chunks of activities, often uncoordinated, often tackled by different people or even departments. The launch of a web site. The printing of a brochure or catalog. The design of a tradeshow booth. And so on. This approach is costly, inefficient and misses opportunities in today’s multiplatform world.

The solution:
Content marketing succeeds when there is a planned deployment over time of content across several platforms or through multiple social media channels. Think of your content as an electrical current, and your social media channels, mobile platforms, etc., as the conduits to your clients or constituents. Well planned, quality content will flow effortlessly along these conduits, like electrical current flows along copper wire.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

The problem:
There is still an under-appreciation of the role of measurement and analytics, both in the planning and the deployment phases of content marketing. If you miss this step, it’s often tough to get funding.

The solution:
Confer with your content marketing agency about what to measure from the outset of the project. Content can be developed specifically to facilitate measurement and provide the basis for ongoing analysis of return-on-investment, as the basis for generating new ideas, and so on. This will require ongoing services in the form of a retainer with the agency. Invest in this. It’s worth it.

Make Adjustments, But Stick to the Plan

The problem:
An organization gets started with a content marketing initiative (a white paper initiative, new interactive web content, a blog, a video series, etc.) and then it falters because of shifting priorities and resources. The initiative hangs in a state of limbo or, in worst case scenarios, is deemed a failure and abandoned before its potential has been realized.

The solution:
Regroup and make a commitment to seeing the program though:

  • Make adjustments in the plan
  • Re-educate others in the organization about the content marketing strategy to improve buy in
  • Commit to creating or otherwise acquiring the content that’s part of your strategy
  • Measure results and act upon the findings
  • Look for short-term gains while at the same time giving the initiative time to mature.

It means having faith and commitment that if you “plant” your content garden, it will bear fruit.

If you take this advice to heart as you begin to work with content marketing you’ll not only see favorable, measurable results, you’ll have fun in the process.

What other suggestions do you have for finding the content marketing partner and working with them?

Author: Russell Sparkman

Russell Sparkman has 25 years of experience in visual communications (photography, video), the last 10 of which have been as the head of Fusionspark Media. Fusionspark Media specializes in content strategy, content marketing and content production across multiple platforms for B2B, B2C, non-profits and government clients. Fusionspark Media is based in Langley, WA, north of Seattle. You can follow Russell on Twitter @fusionspark and see him speak at Content Marketing World.

Other posts by Russell Sparkman

Join Over 170,000 of your Peers!

Get daily articles and news delivered to your email inbox and get CMI’s exclusive e-book Get Inspired: 75 (More) Content Marketing Examples FREE!

  • Ahava

    This is great Russell and valuable, practical advice. I love the part about the RFP. I also agree that people tend to become very overwhelmed by designing a content strategy and do need outside help. But that outside help needs to focus them on developing internal staff who can implement and understand strategy.