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Do Agencies Practice the Content Marketing They Preach? [New Research]

Agencies are many content teams’ best friends. Some supplement the work of internal teams. Others handle all aspects of the content creation, distribution, and promotion.

Many create memorable, award-winning content for their brand clients.

But do agencies practice the content marketing practices they preach? How effective are they at using content marketing to attract and retain their own audiences and move them to profitable action?

Our latest research report, Agency Content Marketing 2019: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends, answers these and other questions about how agencies use content marketing to promote their services.

In October 2018, we released the B2B results from our ninth annual Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs survey. A total of 1,947 recipients from around the globe – representing a range of industries, functional areas, and company sizes – replied in June and July 2018.

Of those who participated in the survey, 320 indicated they work for a for-profit agency and are directly involved with or oversee content marketing to market their agency’s services. Here’s what those respondents told us.

Agencies are mature in their use of content marketing

In fact, 49% of those surveyed report that their agency is in the sophisticated/mature phase of content marketing. The sophisticated phase is defined as “providing accurate measurement to the business, scaling across the organization” and the mature phase as “finding success yet challenged with integration across the organization.” Only 21% say they’re in the young/first steps phase and 29% are in the adolescent phase.

49% of agencies say they’re in sophisticated/mature phase of #contentmarketing. @CMIContent #research Click To Tweet

Almost every brand uses a mix of advertising, traditional marketing, and content marketing today. It’s nice to see agencies progressing in their use of content marketing in their marketing mix.

Most consider their content marketing successful

Agency respondents report high levels of content marketing success: 32% say their agency’s approach to content marketing is extremely/very successful, while another 46% say it’s moderately successful.

Our research team looked closely at those who say their content marketing is extremely/very successful. They are more likely to have a documented content marketing strategy than those who report less success – that’s a consistent finding across our research.

Why is documentation critical? It fosters accountability. It aligns teams around a common mission or goal. Defining the agency’s mission or niche is essential to differentiate it in a world with so many agencies, from the big powerhouses to the smallest boutiques. To paraphrase CMI founder Joe Pulizzi, if your agency is trying to appeal to everybody, it’s for nobody.

If your agency is trying to appeal to everybody, it’s for nobody, says @joepulizzi via @cmcphillips. Click To Tweet

At CMI (and for many of the clients we’ve consulted with over the years), a documented content marketing strategy provides clarity on our target audience. As our strategy evolved so has our target audience.

Most agencies use storytelling to bring their message to life

Among agency respondents, 69% always/frequently use storytelling in their content. (Only 10% say they never use storytelling.) It makes sense – whether it’s paid advertising or content marketing, agencies are in the business of telling stories.

#Storytelling is used by 69% of agencies via @CMIContent. #research Click To Tweet

After working in agencies for a decade, I know the environment makes for great stories to share. Some options to explore include:

  • History: Let your audience know about what the organization is like. How did your agency form? Who are the founders and what’s their journey been like? What kind of interesting clients have you served? Is there a story on the history of the building where you work?
  • Case studies: Let your audience see themselves (or their problems addressed). Share clients’ challenges, goals, and results. Keep the focus on the client. (Readers will understand that your agency did the work.)
  • Team: Let your audience know who they would be working with. Find creative ways to highlight team members. Avoid the typical Q&A and find a way to showcase the staff, their work, and the fun. Consider adding team members’ names (and contact info) to the case studies to connect your people to your work.

More than half pay for content promotion

Over half (59%) of agency respondents say they use paid content promotion methods. Sponsored content on social media is their top method by a long shot (79%).

79% of agencies using paid content promotion use sponsored content on #socialmedia. @CMIContent #research Click To Tweet

Many expect higher content marketing budgets in 2019

More than half (58%) of the agencies expect their 2019 content marketing budget to increase compared with 2018. Of those who expect an increase, nearly a quarter (24%) expect an increase of more than 9%.

Where to invest these additional dollars? Here are a few suggestions:


To make sure your content is resonating, invest time in reviewing analytics. If you haven’t already, install Google Analytics on your website and find an analyst. And explore the many analytic tools available. 

Content creation

The crux of content marketing is content creation. A solid plan with resources is a must. If your analytics show a need that your team can’t fill, invest in new members, subject matter experts, or freelance writers.

In-person events

Here at CMI we know the value of in-person events. Consider investing some of your content marketing budget in small events. In fact, 50% of agency respondents say they increased their use of in-person events over the last 12 months. Andy Crestodina and the Orbit Media team host a monthly Wine & Web event where community members and clients can get together to learn from industry experts.

Consider investing some of your #contentmarketing budget in small events, says @cmcphillips. Click To Tweet

And don’t forget about in-house events. Thunder::tech, an agency in Cleveland, holds a Friday event for employees called beer::30. Interacting with your internal team in an informal environment is a great way to find subject matter experts, brainstorm ideas, and retain employees.

Building community

Create a hub where you can be a leader, a voice, and a connector. Given that only 31% of agencies are doing this, there’s real opportunity here. Communities want these leaders to manage the group and its members, add value with content and conversations, and educate without a sales pitch. The Spin Sucks Slack group run by Gini Dietrich is a great example. It’s well curated, with hundreds of agency folks sharing information, offering advice, and helping each other. Find a need in your industry to create something valuable.

Email/marketing automation

Are you engaging your audience without trying to up-sell them? Our research shows that only half of agency respondents have used content marketing successfully in the last 12 months to nurture subscribers/audience/leads. (Creating brand awareness and building credibility/trust are the top two goals they have achieved.) Make sure your audience knows what’s happening at your agency. Create a drip campaign to new subscribers that may not be clients (yet). Build your database so you can see who is subscribing. This can give you robust data from which to create a target audience for your next paid advertising or sponsored content campaign.

Agencies believe in content marketing

One of the most exciting findings from the research is that 74% of agencies are extremely or very committed to content marketing – that’s higher than the B2B, B2C, and manufacturing segments studied.

Perhaps this isn’t surprising considering that agencies are filled with skilled communication professionals who see the value of content marketing as part of an integrative approach.

Where will agencies go next?

While this research explored how agencies use content marketing to promote their businesses, in 2019 we’ll also be studying the types of services agencies offer their clients.

Agencies provide account management, creative services, production, traffic, media planning and buying, PR, digital media, and more. It only makes sense that they offer content marketing services so they can provide a holistic and integrated marketing and advertising program for their clients.

Are you looking for even more insights on content marketing for agencies? Content Marketing World 2019 includes an agency workshop, an agency track, and a branded content track. Register today. Use code BLOG100 to save $100. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute