By Michele Linn published November 26, 2013

The Dos and Don’ts of Outsourcing Content Creation

cmi research roundtableMarketers are always challenged to find enough time to accomplish every task they are charged with, so outsourcing a job like content creation may seem like an obvious solution. But, is it really an easy solution, when you factor in all the requirements of quality content marketing?

According to our annual content marketing research, about 50 percent of marketers outsource some aspect of content creation, with writing and design being the top things they get help with.

Below is a glimpse of the outsourcing landscape for B2C marketers in North America, specifically:


While outsourcing can be an effective way to get everything done, it’s not always a slam dunk — nor does it make sense in all situations.

In this final segment of our B2C research roundtable video series, Andrew Davis (author of Brandscaping), Julie Fleischer (Kraft Foods), David Germano (Empower MediaMarketing), Buddy Scalera (Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide), and Michael Weiss (Content Marketing Institute/figure18), as well as our moderator, Karen Budell (Imagination Publishing) discuss both the benefits and the drawbacks of outsourcing content creation.

CMW B2C Roundtable, part 3 from Content Marketing Institute on Vimeo.

DON’T outsource if you don’t have executive buy-in

As is becoming increasingly evident, content marketing can be used in various ways, by multiple teams across an entire organization — not just in the marketing department. To properly leverage such a broadly applicable asset you must have support from executives, as well as the ability to unite all these individual content pieces into one overarching content strategy —something that an outside agency is not always well-positioned to handle. As Andrew Davis asserts:

If you put content at the center of all of this and let advertising, PR, social media, digital media… I think you have a much better, more integrated program and a really good opportunity to do it. I think that you have to have a champion inside that can actually rally all those agencies to leverage the assets the company now owns to do that right. And if you don’t have a forward-thinking CMI, or you don’t have a CCO in place, it’s almost impossible for any content strategists from the outside to make an impact.

DO outsource to get a different perspective

It is so easy to get stuck in your own head when planning to execute on your content marketing strategy. If you can benefit from an outside perspective, it could be a good idea to bring in a consultant or agency. Experienced professionals can have a lot to offer — and they can help educate you and your team on better practices. Buddy Scalera sums this up well:

I think there has to be a healthy mix of both. It is hard for a CMO to be completely objective and they love their stuff, whereas an external person can come in and be like, ‘Look. I’m not as committed to this as you.’ So I think sometimes content strategists have to be a little adversarial against what the groupthink is.

DON’T outsource to just any agency

As Joe Pulizzi reveals in his post, 4 Truths About Content Marketing Agencies, many agencies have recently rebranded themselves as content marketing agencies, but they aren’t fully equipped to handle all aspects of this discipline. A few tips to help you determine if an agency may be a good fit for your content needs include the following:

  • Ask to see the content marketing work the agency has produced on its own behalf.
  • Request to see a sample of a documented content marketing strategy it has developed.
  • Listen to see if the agency is pitching a “campaign” (with a finite end date) versus a “program” (an ongoing initiative). Content marketing is a long-term strategy, not a one-time campaign.

DO outsource specific skills

Every company has people who excel at certain things, but very few organizations are good at every facet of content marketing. For instance, maybe your team understands how to create content, but it needs help with using paid advertising to expand the reach of your content. As long as you have someone in place to cover the critical skills, it likely will not matter if that person is internal or external.

DON’T outsource your creativity

While not explicitly touched on by our panel, one theme that popped up throughout Content Marketing World was that organizations can’t outsource their creativity. Simply put, you need to take time to brainstorm, see what others are doing (especially those outside your industry), and be ready to try new ideas. (Brad Shorr recently shared some suggestions to help make your content marketing process more creative.)

What have your experiences been with outsourcing? Do you think it makes sense in some situations but not others?

See more results from our B2C content marketing research by visiting CMI’s Research Page.

Author: Michele Linn

Michele Linn is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Mantis Research, a consultancy focused on helping brands create and amplify original research they can use in their marketing. Before starting Mantis, Michele was head of editorial at Content Marketing Institute, where she led the company's strategic editorial direction, co-developed its annual research studies, wrote hundreds of articles, spoke at industry events and was instrumental in building the platform to 200,000 subscribers. In 2015, she was named one of Folio's Top Women in Media (Corporate Visionary). You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

Other posts by Michele Linn

  • Rachel D

    If you are going to outsource content, you should definitely trial some content writers, see any articles/posts they are willing to share with you to see the style with which they write, as well as how informative the posts are. Everyone has a different writing technique and a different way to get a point forward – In sourcing your content can always ensure this is done effectively! But it’s just a matter of trial and error!

    • Michele Linn

      Great addition to the post, Rachel. You are so right that different writers are better at different styles, so a trial is critical if you are using a new writer. Same holds for design, too.

      • Erika Heald

        Giving the writer a couple of blog posts is also a great trial for them to see how your team’s process works, and if they are easily able to get what they need without being in your office, what a realistic timeframe is, etc.

  • Guest

    I’d also like to ass that it is almost always a good idea to outsource content promotion and post creation on social media networks – it is SO time-consuming!

  • Viktoriya Semyrodenko

    I’d also like to add that it is almost always a good idea to outsource content promotion and post creation on social media networks. SO time-consuming!

    • Michele Linn

      Viktoriya — I think some companies can have success with this, but I think there is something to be said about keeping the social media function in house because of the interaction that is required. I like it when that the person responding is a voice from the organization. However, it can help to work with a partner to figure out good processes. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  • Abbas Sarfraz Sheikh

    Another great lapse is that restricts outosourcing to content shops is the lack of subject-matter-expert-writers and floruishing of all-in-one-expert-writers. The former maybe good with the Blogging/SEO jargon ans style but they lack vision, has absolutely nill info about the target buyer/audience and generally follows the same style.

    A good way to test an individual/agency is to request a content strategy or just some buyer personas from them.

    • Michael Leander

      Agree, Abbas. But then again, who says that a CMO or team can’t brief content writers in the same way they would agency partners in general?

      • Abbas Sarfraz Sheikh

        They can. But again, most CMO/Team lacks in understanding what the best Content Strategy is. This is where an Agency is somewhat superior but they have their own drawbacks.

        However, whatver the case, an organization Content Strategy must lead them to be recongized as thought leaders- than to to be content factory!

        • Michele Linn

          Regardless of what you outsource, I think it’s key to have a strategy that all all participants (including outside consultants and agencies) understand. Without this, you are likely to get “meh” results.

          And while I do think that good writers can learn and write about most topics, there is something to be said for hiring someone who knows your industry well. I personally have found that these writers produce more thoughtful pieces.

          • Michael Leander

            Good point, Michele.

          • Abbas Sarfraz Sheikh

            My point exactly. Subject matter expert writers work well for industries that have very technical content. And yes they will be able to cover more insight and details.

  • Aaron

    Awesome Michele. I have seen time and time again, brands outsourcing content creation driven more by laziness than strategic initiatives. Companies should create content strategies internally and understand the audience, goals and metrics before looking for help with specific content. Right on!


    • Michele Linn

      Well said, Aaron!

  • Doug Kessler

    Great discussion and post.
    Maybe what you should outsource should be a function of the skills and talents you have in house.

    If you don’t have important skills in house, you may need to recruit people with these skills (if possible). But until then, you may need to get things done. And so outsourcing is the only route.

    I agree with the ‘fresh perspective’ point, too. In-house people can start to converge on one accepted point of view. A fresh pair of eyes can prevent that ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’ feel you can get from in-house teams.

    • Michele Linn

      Great point, Doug. Just as there is no formula for a content marketing strategy, there is no formula for what you should outsource (although there are best practices for each).

      As you go through planning, it’s important to identify where you have gaps — including skills gaps. That is where you often can get value outsourcing, if it is not something you want to bring in house.

  • JenKobylar

    The key to successful outsourcing is finding the right partner – and I do mean partner! An agency that is skilled in content marketing would never want it any other way. There has to be collaboration and the ability to tap each other’s expertise beginning with strategy and working all the way through to content promotion. An agency partner should bring a lot to the table – process, skill, tools, expertise – to make it an easier lift for the company to do their job – create meaningful and valuable copy. So much value in working together.

    • Michele Linn

      You’re right, Jen. Using an agency who is a partner can be key!

    • Sarah Bauer

      I agree, Jen. It helps for the process to be collaborative and in synch from the start, with both sides onboard with the strategy and its desired outcomes.
      Sarah Bauer
      Navigator Multimedia

    • Beholder Productions

      I also agree with Jen,every case is different because its only thru a true relationship that partners can be developed.

  • Professional Writing Service

    Good points on content outsourcing. Be creative but don’t outsource your creativity. Loved reading and I hope you would love this:

  • ronellsmith

    The outsourcing of content reminds me of the story Clayton Christensen (“The Innovator’s Dilemma,” the father of Disruption) tells about how Dell became obsolescent by outsourcing all facets of computer manufacturing. At some point, it causes you, as a business, to lose who you are, your core.

    I’m OK with collaboration. I understand the need to outsource certain aspects of content creation, especially as more and more emphasis is placed on agencies being strategic.

    However, if content is now the core of digital marketing, we need to be very, very mindful of the tasks and assets we are having outsourced. If not, content marketers begin to lose some of who were are, marketers whose prime currency is content.

    Content is already seen as a commodity in many parts of the business. We cannot afford to foster such thinking.


    • Michele Linn

      Great point, Ronnell!

  • Lilly

    writers know the art of asking the right questions while taking a brief. They ensure
    that they do not waste the client’s time or their own time producing copy that does
    not meet client’s needs.

  • Sergey Shevtsov

    “there has to be a healthy mix of both” — 100% agree.
    The thing is you can’t pick only one thing. If you choose to use insourcing solely you’re wrong, you take outsourcing only- you’re wrong again. You have to take advantages from every side and use them wisely. Now, this is a real marketing strategy that implies STRATEGIC choice of proportion.

  • Jim Young

    All great tips, Michele. As an outsourced content agency, we can’t agree more with “don’t outsource creativity”. In fact, we have many discussions with our clients to ensure that their creativity and ideas flow through the content we help create for them. It’s so important that Voice is not lost and their brand remains intact with every message to their audience.

  • Michael Bian

    A must read article always nice to hear some objective views.

  • Taylor Hetzel

    Great article and very interesting video! It seems like hiring freelance content marketers might be the way to go – you can test whether or not they actually understand the nuances of content marketing (as opposed to PR or advertising) by hiring them for something short term, and keep doing so until you find one of those rare persons who is actually good at it! Plus, you avoid being conned into paying for a pricy agency, only to find out at the project deadline that no one there is a real content strategist.