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A Blueprint for Ad and PR Agencies: Become More Competent in Content Marketing

I’ll be the first to tell you agency-based content marketing is old news. Establishing credibility and providing valuable content through books, magazine articles, and white papers has been the industry norm for decades. The world is already accustomed to looking to advertising and public relations agencies for guidance and that next big idea — be it creative, communicative, or a combination thereof.

But a major shift has happened, leaving many advertising and public relations firms in survival mode  clinging to existing clients while relying on unclear or unstructured business development programs to bring home the bacon. It’s a precarious position that is compounded by limited time and resources.

So what gives? Why are the former masters of creativity and spin locked in a business development death spiral?

To find out, lonelybrand studied over 300 advertising and public relations agencies around the United States. Our study set out to discover how the sharpest marketers in the world perceive digital communications and what they plan to do to take advantage of emerging trends in the space. We collected over 150 data points from each panelist on everything from analytics to content and mobile marketing.

Despite their legacy of tackling print-based content marketing, these top advertising and public relations firms are struggling to understand and execute sustainable initiatives in the digital age. Meanwhile, consulting firms, digital agencies, and new industries are moving in to grab mindshare, followers, and clients, and they are doing it with targeted digital content.

Time is a limiting factor. Regardless of industry, fewer workers and more work to do has led to long hours and (in some opinions) a dearth of creative energy. Our study revealed that agencies desperately want to implement more digital initiatives to build and support content marketing, but feel they are unable to given current staff workloads.

(Note: You can find additional data on this and 10 pages of plain-language analysis in our Agency Growth Blueprint 2012.)

In my next few posts — an exclusive series for Content Marketing Institute — I’ll explore our findings and address challenges to implementing effective content marketing programs for advertising and public relations agencies. Let’s start by taking a view of the landscape.

Creating a digital ecosystem

Great content marketing serves a purpose; in fact, it typically serves several purposes. But content marketing needs support to accomplish real business objectives. For agencies in the digital age, that means building a self-sustaining ecosystem of digital communications. Here are some brief highlights of six key components to great content marketing for advertising and public relations agencies, as well as some data on digital adoption. (Note: I ordered these components alphabetically.  The optimal share of time dedicated to each, and the order they should be attended to varies from agency to agency.)

Are you devoting enough time to measurement? We believe the best content marketers combine web analytics with inputs from other digital platforms to improve their efforts with each iteration. This may mean you’ll need to be fluent in several analytics languages, including paid media metrics and the ability to make data-driven decisions to guide content marketing tweaks, builds, and teardowns.

Customer relationship management (CRM)
For any agency, content marketing should be all about lead nurturing and the soft sell. Collecting prospect data in the digital age has never been easier, but what an agency does with that data after it is collected matters. Research social networks for additional information, keep leads segmented based on the piece of content that drew them in, and then create a schedule of follow-up activities. Store this data in a system accessible to anyone who handles marketing or business development for your business. Smaller firms may prefer easy to deploy cloud-based products while larger firms may need enterprise-level support.

Digital content
Driving interest in an advertising or public relations agency is easier said than done. A portfolio, client list, and endorsements are only part of the equation hence the need for more robust digital content. Blog posts, webinars, white papers, research reports, eBooks, landing pages, microsites, and entire websites are all examples of digital content that — once properly targeted — have the potential to feed the greater digital ecosystem. In fact, our data shows that 72 percent of advertising and public relations agencies using digital content marketing report closing deals in three months or less from point of first contact versus 54 percent without digital content marketing. But remember: Building content that connects with the target means having the discipline to stick to a regular schedule and aligning the work of your team members to make it happen.

Digital content must be formatted for smart phones, tablets, and various mobile-friendly browsers. While that task seems daunting, it may be as simple as eliminating visual extras and widgets from your content, as these might render differently (or not at all) when you are developing for multiple platforms and operating systems. By focusing on developing readable, concise content, you’ve already won half the mobile battle. But as more executives and decision makers are surfing on tablets these days, this oft-overlooked piece of the digital marketing ecosystem can no longer be ignored.

Search and paid media
It rarely makes sense for advertising and public relations agencies to buy clicks for complex and expensive services. After all, an ad can’t write the RFP for you. But supporting smaller downloadables like white papers, webinars, reports, or key blog articles with search engine marketing and paid media will funnel fresh contacts into the digital ecosystem and act as a feeder mechanism for your agency business development program. Our study reveals that 70 percent of agencies with a documented search strategy close new business in 3 months or less from point of first contact, versus 54 percent of companies without a documented search strategy. Here, it’s best to start with a small budget allocation for a key piece of content and optimize based on performance.

Social engagement
If agency content isn’t easily shareable and share-worthy, it won’t be shared, period. Unfortunately, the bar for shareable content is always being raised, and the rules change daily. That means keeping abreast of what’s happening in the social space from a B2B perspective in addition to a client-centric B2C focus. Websites like Mashable help keep digital marketers up to speed on the latest developments, as well as news and industry information sites, like Content Marketing Institute.

Results and insights

Before you get overwhelmed with all the details and the work involved, let’s look at the big picture: How do advertising and public relations agencies fare when they use a digital ecosystem approach to content marketing?

The results are clear: Implementing content marketing backed by these six key areas of digital means it will take less time to find and close new business.

Getting on board means aligning people and processes to create and populate the digital ecosystem. But it’s no longer a process that can be ignored if you want to stay competitive. Advertising and public relations agencies that fail to do so in 2012 may be miss out on big growth opportunities, or worse, lose clients to agencies that can offer these services.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.