By Robert Rose published April 14, 2011

Do You Really Need A Content Marketing Consultant?

Okay quick – how many marketing consultants does it take to change a light bulb?  There is no shortage of punch lines here.   “It depends – how large is your budget?”  Or – “We don’t know – they never seem to get past the requirements stage.”  Or, here’s my favorite (maybe because I made it up) – “Four, one to change the bulb and three to blog how Seth Godin would have done it.

Okay, jokes aside – you may have seen that we have formally launched CMI’s consulting practice (CMIC). I’m so very pleased to have a leading role in helping CMI organize this important initiative, and I’m honored to be working alongside such a stellar group of people.

Putting the CMIC practice together got me thinking about how you can know whether it’s appropriate to bring in a content marketing consultant.  I mean, let’s face it – it’s your content. And using it to develop your organization’s position in the marketplace is a pretty intimate endeavor.  Only you can really know what position you want to take, what conversation you want to have – and ultimately what story you want to tell. So, when is it appropriate to bring in a content marketing consultant?

Here are three answers to common questions an organization will ask itself about being ready to bring in a content marketing consultant.

Isn’t content marketing common sense?

Absolutely.  But as Will Rogers said, “Just because it’s common sense, doesn’t mean it’s common practice.”

No one needs a content marketing consultant.  Reading this blog (and others) will no doubt provide every tip, trick, process and tool you need to successfully establish a smart content marketing plan on your own.

And, as I tell clients when we first start talking about content marketing, “This is your story, but sometimes you need help telling it.” Consultants help bring out your unique story – the one you want to tell – and help you set the stage to tell it.  If you think that’s a good idea, then it may make sense to bring in an outside consultant.

A good consultant will:

  • Bring the experience of previous engagements and help you avoid the pitfalls that are inevitable in setting any new large effort
  • Help uncover your unique conversation
  • Devise the execution plan
  • Reset expectations among the team, especially where there is internal disagreement about the details of how it will all get done.

Isn’t that why we pay the marketing department?  (aka It Costs Too Much)

This is a common objection for consultants in general.   In fact, calling an engagement “strategic” immediately puts the business user on the defensive.  Shouldn’t you be the “strategic” ones?

Frankly, a content marketing consultant should not be hired to set marketing strategy because it’s your story.  The consultant is just there to help you tell it and teach the organization how to do something new, more efficiently – or (by nature of the fact he/she is being paid) force the effort to the top of everyone’s priority list.

For example, I have a personal trainer.  He doesn’t have me do anything I don’t already know how to do, but he pushes me harder than I would push myself. Consequently, I prioritize exercise in between sessions so that I don’t lose ground and “disappoint” him.  That makes him worth his fee, which can be a valid reason to employ a consultant.

Our business is unique. How can this consultant help us?

When an organization says “our business is unique” what they’re actually saying is “our content is unique.”  And, this is true across *every* organization.

Part of the approach to content marketing is a generalized approach that attempts to find that uniqueness.  So, bringing in someone who doesn’t know *anything* about your business can shake the trees for some things that hadn’t been previously considered. Additionally, learning more about how someone outside the industry did something can provide invaluable insight about differentiating from the competition.

However, sometimes industry experience is helpful. For instance, previous knowledge of what is and isn’t appropriate in regulated industries like finance and health care can expedite the consulting process.

A good consultant with the right set of expectations should be able to help sort through the weeds.  They’ve done this before many times.  They know the pitfalls, the best practices and ways to navigate the politics of recruiting others in the organization.   They can provide sanity checks for getting things done, plan how roll-outs should be phased, suggest what kind of content velocity is appropriate, and ultimately, uncover the realistic opportunity for the marketing effort to succeed.

As someone who has been on both sides of the marketing consulting relationship,  I know how good and how bad the experience can be.

And no matter which side of the table you’re on, paying attention to those details prevents your content marketing engagement from winding up as a punchline.

Author: Robert Rose

Robert is the founder and chief strategy officer of The Content Advisory, the education and consulting group for The Content Marketing Institute. Robert has worked with more than 500 companies, including 15 of the Fortune 100. He’s provided content marketing and strategy advice for global brands such as Capital One, NASA, Dell, McCormick Spices, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Robert’s third book – Killing Marketing, with co-author Joe Pulizzi has been called the “book that rewrites the rules of marketing.” His second book – Experiences: The Seventh Era of Marketing is a top seller and has been called a “treatise, and a call to arms for marketers to lead business innovation in the 21st century.” Robert’s first book, Managing Content Marketing, spent two weeks as a top 10 marketing book on Amazon.com and is generally considered to be the “owners manual” of the content marketing process. You can catch up with Robert on his popular podcast - The Weekly Wrap. Follow him on Twitter @Robert_Rose.

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