By Craig Hodges published February 4, 2013

7 Tips for Choosing a Content Marketing Agency

scrutinizing candidates with magnifying glassAs someone who is up to his ears in the content segment, I love a good dose of research to keep me up to speed on what’s going on in the market — and, most importantly, where the market is headed.

I enjoyed the data that came out of the most recent 2013 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends research, put together by none other than the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs. There was also a very interesting line of information around outsourcing of content production, and some of the main challenges facing these marketeers today. 

So here’s what’s confusing me:

  • 54 percent of marketers plan to increase their spend. (I love this because it works, and also because I own a content marketing agency!)
  • 56 percent of those surveyed produce content in-house only, and that’s up from 38 percent the year before. (Slightly worrying for a content marketing agency, especially when you factor in the move from 4 percent to 1 percent of those brands that only outsource. So right now I’m thinking I might need a new job soon!)

But before I have to jump on the employment pages, I see a slide that tells me about the biggest challenges B2B marketers face today in content marketing, and I feel like we might be saved:

  • 64 percent say their biggest challenge is “producing enough content.”
  • 52 percent then say they “want to produce the type of content that engages.”
  • 45 percent  say they have a challenge of “producing a variety of content.”
  • And finally, 33 percent say that they “don’t know how to measure the content’s effectiveness.”

So just as we were about to turn off the lights, there comes some information that reassures me that there’s a future for content marketing agencies, which are well positioned to help marketers address content needs and challenges like these.

The four points above are front and center of what every good content marketing agency can do for its clients. So if the above challenges are real, why aren’t brands outsourcing their content efforts to the experts?

With this in mind, I wanted to make the process easier by coming up with the seven boxes you should tick when looking to outsource to a content marketing agency. It really isn’t that scary a decision when you break it down thusly:

1. Ensure that your chosen content marketing agency knows what the job entails — and how to do it! If you’re about to outsource something as important as the development of content that will likely sit on an asset your brand owns, that agency better have a reasonable track record. Make sure they give you some great examples of work they’ve done for other clients, as well as examples of the specific types of executions or strategies that you require to be performed for your brand.

2. You have to like them! Seriously. When you start to work with an agency, if there’s friction at the front end, there will no doubt be friction moving forward. Make sure there is a connection and a level of mutual respect that will ensure that communication remains clear and open.The best relationship is one built on mutual respect. From an agency perspective, they know the content marketing space intimately and have a pile of experience in what has worked and what hasn’t, so it’s not a bad thing to have a bit of push-back from them. No one wants a “Yes, sir. No, sir” agency. To get a sense of whether your working styles will be compatible, try asking yourself these questions:

  • Can I work with these guys on a regular basis without one of us being sent up on a murder charge?
  • Do they pass the beer test? Would I invite them out for a beer or two and actually enjoy it?

3. Do they know how to measure? Content marketing has quickly evolved from “that fun new medium that was nice to have and could occupy a little bit of the budget without anybody worrying too much about it.” Those days are gone, and now the discipline has to pave its own way in order to be considered a viable budget investment. As such, it must be measured, just like any other medium, and it must stand up against other mediums favorably. If an agency doesn’t know how to measure the effectiveness, then it’s time to move on to the next one. The easiest way to truly understand whether they know the art of measurement is to ask for some “detailed” case studies from clients that are still working with them. Understand what were “success metrics” at the start of the campaign, and then ask the agency to take you through how they achieved those and how they were measured. Lastly, ask for a reference from that client.

4. Do they practice what they preach? You know the old saying: “You would never go to a dentist with bad teeth.” Well, it’s the same with a content marketing agency. Are they blogging regularly? Are they ranking well for key search phrases? Do they have followers, fans, friends, and “likes?” Does their own site rank well on SEO tools like Alexa and Google Adwords? If the answers to any of these questions are “no,” then it’s time to go to another provider.

5. It’s all about traffic, baby! We have a great saying around this place: “You can build a beautiful hotel on the edge of Las Vegas, but if there are no roads leading to it, then it’s going to turn into a white elephant real soon.” Just like in Vegas, success is all about traffic. A beautiful content outline for a website is nothing without a plan to get the punters reading — ask your potential agency about their traffic strategies early on in your consideration process, so your content doesn’t get stuck on a dead-end road!

6. Have a look under the bonnet: It’s critical that you meet the people who are going to work on your account. Do they “get” the intricacies of your industry? Do they understand its unique challenges and opportunities? Do they understand your brand and its unique value in the market? Do they have the capacity (from both a scheduling standpoint and their access to/familiarity with technology) to deliver timely, accurate content that will drive users to start a conversation with you and your brand? You must look for your vendors to answer these questions knowledgeably and with care.

7. Do they have what it takes to put your business at the top of the Google list? Do they understand the power of search engine optimization and how to get your content ranking well on all the major search engines? Ask them about their strategies for making the content they produce as easily discoverable as possible.

So there it is. Follow these seven simple rules that brands should hold dear and you’ll never have an issue with producing enough quality content again. 

Get more advice from Craig on producing outstanding content by attending his sessions at Content Marketing World in Sydney, Australia, on March 4–6. Register today!

Cover image credit via

Author: Craig Hodges

Craig Hodges is the founder and CEO of King Content, Australia’s leading content marketing agency. With more than 20 years' experience in the content industry, Craig worked in magazines, publishing, internet radio and web development before embracing his true passion — digital content marketing. Check out the King Content blog and follow Craig on Twitter @King_Content.

Other posts by Craig Hodges

  • Alex Clifford

    Great article Craig! I particularly like the “Do they practice what they preach?” point.

    I think the best way of finding a content marketing agency is to only use one which you find through their content.

    Which… ironically is how many people will come across you Craig! 😛 Keep up the good work!

    • Craig Hodges

      Thanks Alex!

  • Doug Kessler

    Amen. Excellent list. Like Alex, I particularly like, “Practice what they preach’. I’m always amazed to see self-professed content agencies whose own content is just not very good.

    • Craig Hodges

      Thanks Doug.

    • Lee Odden

      Well Doug, if you would just stop raising the bar so high, the rest of us would look a lot better. 🙂

  • johnbottom

    Yep – a great checklist. I think there are other battles to be fought however – like taking a strategic approach to content marketing, rather than simply producing a few whitepapers etc when the mood takes you. I hope that, as brands realise the effectiveness of a proper, long-term strategy, the need for outsourced content support (both planning and production) will increase.

    Nice article Craig – thanks for posting

    • Craig Hodges

      agreed John.

  • Ruth Zive

    I’m quite sure that as content marketing continues to emerge as a business imperative, the cream will rise to the top. There are a lot of agencies who claim to be
    ‘expert’ in content marketing, but are really just using jargon to try and stay ahead of the curve.

    In due time, those agencies that can actually deliver will distinguish themselves from the pack (my agency delivers, btw).

    I would add to your list “Are they strategic?”. One-off projects that are initiated as a knee jerk reaction to a perceived trend just don’t drive results. We’ve found that only if we begin with a thoughtful strategic planning process (that considers value proposition, client pain points, business goals, sales cycle, etc.) can we really leverage content marketing effectively.

    • Craig Hodges

      Great point Ruth!

  • NenadSenic

    Hi Craig, good points. But I’m not sure about number 2. Do you really have to like each other and what exactly that means? What about an agency that delivers results, although you don’t like the CEO or sth like that?

    • Craig Hodges

      Hey Nenad– thanks for commenting on my post! I like to think that if you are preaching content marketing you should spend the time developing it yourself…after all its a great source of leads…so it makes good business sense to do this after we’ve made sure all of our clients are happy. As for working with people you like.. I always prefer to do that as life’s too short!

      • NenadSenic

        Ha, well put, Craig, the last sentence. Agree. 🙂

  • Kath Morton-Smith

    All these points are vitally important but a lot of content creation is being learnt not on marketing degree courses but by people just getting out there and doing it. This does take time and the learning curve is steep. Honesty is a good policy I find and pitching your prices accordingly.

  • Frank Govers

    Hi Craig, love your humor!
    I’ve two questions. I’m now also thinking about turning off the lights, because I would like to start up my own inbound/content marketing consultancy agency, but I don’t have any experience other than my love for content and data, roi as the base for decisions rather than emotions only, giving customers valuable information and a good background in operational marketing and sales. So is there any chance for me as someone who does not live up to your #1
    Secondly, how to convince companies that inboud and content marketing does not immediately result in double turnover, that it takes a bit of time.

    Thanks for answering the questions, for now I keep the light on!

    • Craig Hodges

      Hi Frank– I’ve always felt that the”harder I worked the luckier I got” so I have no doubt that if there is passion and persistence you’re half way there. Good luck!

  • KevinSChase

    Producing enough content will always be a challenge for any organization, especially in market conditions like the current one. Marketers have been tasked with more responsibilities and far fewer resources most likely leading to little time for content creation. I think two things will happen depending on the industry type. 1) Organizations with complex products (like healthcare) will reach out to marketing firms to develop distribution strategies and quantitative analysis of campaigns. Or 2) Organizations with less complex products will outsource the entire process. It will be interesting to see how agencies adjust to meet these demands.

    • Rebecca Caroe

      The issue for the total outsource option (which I love cos I’m a content marketing agency owner) is how authentically will the voice of the business show through? How the agency keeps the client engaged in the content production process is key to true success.

  • Sasha Zinevych

    Craig, this is a great article! Love the statistics. Meanwhile, could you please share your personal experience in dealing with marketing agencies? What was good and bad in your individual case (or maybe some case that you “witnessed”)?

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  • JohnTShea

    Great article Craig. I recently wrote a similar post on the Skyword blog about 9 ways content marketing agencies can differentiate their offerings. I’d love your thoughts: