How to choose a content marketing agency 

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So you’ve used our infographic and you’ve come to the conclusion that you might need some agency help with your content marketing.

What next?

Choosing to work with an agency is not an easy decision. There are hundreds of options in the UK alone, all with unique styles, individual cultures and different specialisms and expertise.

How do you find the partner that’s right for you?

To find out the answer to this question we asked two of our clients who not only work with Axonn, but both work with a number of other agencies to provide support for their in-house marketing operation.

Primeast is a medium-sized learning and development consultancy  that facilitates performance improvement in the fields of Leadership, Organisational Change and Teamwork for organisations around the world. Their marketing team use agencies because they “don’t have the resource in-house and it’s good to get a new perspective”. While they still do a lot of marketing in-house, content creation has proven difficult for them, as they found “there were only so many people who were happy...to create content from scratch”. The average lifetime of their agency partnerships has been “five years plus.”

Hatstand is a financial consultancy operating globally across seven different offices, but only has a small marketing team. They too use a handful of different agencies to support their in-house team. Hatstand’s choice of partner “depends on the agency... for example if we’re using a PR agency we purely use them for their expertise and knowledge they have in that sector...knowledge, expertise in that particular sector [is] key”. They like to use agencies because they give an outside perspective and “things can get blurry in-house”. Hatstand don’t always have the tools in-house to do everything they want with their marketing, and they want to pick and choose the best agency support they can find. 

So of all the options out there, how do you pick the right agency for you?

1. Address your content marketing needs

Both Primeast and Hatstand use a few different agencies. Both companies are aware of the strengths and limitations of each agency they work with, so don’t rely solely on one for all their needs. Hatstand, for example, use one graphic design agency for smaller projects but use Axonn when they want a project turned around more quickly. Primeast did do content creation in-house, but like to use Axonn because they find that their writer “comes up with suggested ideas for articles [they] might not have considered”. Using Axonn allows them to be “more consistent at putting content out on a regular basis, whereas it has been very sporadic in the past”.

As explained above, Primeast and Hatstand use agencies for different reasons, so it’s important to figure out why you need an agency before you start looking - is it for time-saving or expertise? Is it to get an outside perspective? Is it because you don’t have the resource in-house? This is the starting point you need before looking for an agency.

2. Be clear about what you want

Primeast said their biggest frustration when choosing an agency was “the ones that just don’t get us and think we have a commodity to sell and we don’t. It’s the absolute opposite of what we do… No matter how many times we tell them what we do they are so tunnel-visioned with what they want to sell us they can’t see it”. So it is important to ensure you find an agency that really gets you, understands your business and doesn’t just push their agenda onto you. Primeast also said while they are “really open to hearing about other services that are out there”, they are “quite clear about what we can and can’t do, and what we can and can’t spend.” 

3. Understand that it’s not either/or

Both Hatstand and Primeast have in-house marketing teams that their agencies complement - it is not a case of in-house versus agency. They both recommend using an agency to support the work they already do in-house.

Hatstand said: “[If a marketing project comes up] we could probably do it ourselves, but then everything else we are working on at the time gets stopped,” so instead they speak straight to their agency so their own marketing doesn’t suffer.

Primeast have a similar perspective: “We still do a lot of marketing in-house. We do try to do as much as we can in-house. And for anyone...wondering whether they should or shouldn’t get an agency, the best thing to do is look at what you can do realistically, what can you achieve by yourself without any outside help. If you are doing it now and it’s not working, why isn’t it working? And go and explore, and [ask] is it worthwhile actually paying somebody else for their expertise? And then that frees you up to carry on doing the in-house stuff you’re already doing, that’s half of it gone, and so you can focus more attention on the other areas that you could perhaps have more success at.”

4. Look for an agency that understands your needs and really “gets” you

One of the biggest reasons to turn in-house when it comes to content creation is the struggle - or at least the perceived struggle - of explaining to your agency exactly who you are.

Primeast said: “Don’t make any assumptions that the agency will get your business and what you do just from looking at the website. You do need to invest time in front and make sure they do get the business and take it from there.”

Hatstand believe it’s important to ensure at the pitching stage that an agency has really done their research on understanding who you are and what you do. “I’ve had many agencies, especially PR agencies, who will say ‘you should be doing this, you should be doing that’ when actually they don’t understand the business or anything like that. It’s definitely important when you’re being pitched to that they do understand what Hatstand does and have done a bit of research into that.”

5.  Find an agency that fits with your values and culture

“Culture” and “values” can sometimes sound like fluffy marketing-speak, but both Hatstand and Primeast stressed the importance of finding an agency who really “fit” with them and had a similar ethos and work ethic.

For Hatstand, this was about working with an agency who are “a little bit smaller where you can just pick up the phone and speak to someone and have an account manager, instead of I imagine, a huge company, [where] finding someone to speak to can be difficult sometimes”.

Primeast felt very strongly about the culture connection. They advise anyone picking an agency to “choose very carefully, choose on fit. Choose a company that fits your values, your ethos, your way of working - because it’s obvious to choose someone who produces quality content or quality graphics or quality marketing. What isn’t so obvious is whether their values and approach align with yours.”

6. Be clear on your deliverables

One of the biggest challenges when bringing an agency on board is convincing the decision-makers in your business that the cost of outsourcing is a necessary spend and ensuring you get the most value from your agency.

Hatstand suggested asking your agency for a “key deliverables document”, which bullet points “what they were hoping to achieve on a monthly basis...senior people are not going to read pages and pages of stuff so if you put it into a one-page document, all we had to do was pass that information over on what we’d get and achieve on a month-to-month basis so that was really key.” If you can get this from your agency it makes it much easier to justify that spend.

Primeast also face questions when it comes to the cost of outsourcing, especially the sometimes intangible nature of what an agency can achieve, but they believe using a content marketing agency is invaluable to them: “You’re going up the Google rankings, you’re easier to find, when people do find your site there’s really interesting stuff for them to read. You can proactively share articles with your customers, which proves you’re at the cutting edge and you’re thought leaders.” 

7. It’s a relationship - and it takes work on both sides

Like all relationships, the agency/client one takes time and nurturing on both sides. Primeast believe in not only finding the right agency, but “finding the right people within an agency”, and see their Axonn writer as “an extension of their team.” Primeast invested a lot of time upfront to ensure their writer really understood their business and goals. “Even though it did take a lot of time and effort on our part... I think Clare [Humblestone, their writer at Axonn] really gets our business now and she has intelligent conversations with the people she’s interviewing.”

Finding the perfect agency is not easy, but like any relationship, it’s worth putting the time in to find “the one”.

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