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19 Jun 2014

5 Questions to Ask Before You Hire a Content Marketing Agency

5-Questions-to-Ask-Before-You-Hire-a-Content-Marketing-Agency

If the first thing that comes to mind when you hear CMA is the Country Music Awards, then your first self-examining question should be:

Do You Know What Content Marketing Can Do?

If you only know content marketing as a buzzword, please do some research. That may be why you’re reading this right now. Thank you. Surfing the Vertical Measures blog is a great start; visiting the Content Marketing Institute is another good launch pad. Branching out via the links there should fill you in on what people generally mean when they promote and employ a content marketing strategy.

Finding out more about content marketing allows you to ask better questions of the content marketing agency (CMA) you’re thinking of bringing aboard, potentially for a long, fruitful business relationship.

Content Marketing at its root is a way of keeping customers and potential customers aware of you who are and what you do by giving them materials online. In turn, these resources drive customer engagement which leads to a financial action.

Each step along the way is important. To use video as an example: if your videos are boring or generic content, people will forget easily and look elsewhere. If you’ve got Oscar worthy videos and they make your audience laugh or cry (whatever your goal is), but no one knows they exist, then they never see it to remember it. And if you generate a lot of attention but it doesn’t translate into sales, then it all feels like wasted effort.

If you’ve only worked within traditional marketing – where a sales teams goes out to drum up business, pushes sales and almost demands attention – rather than earning it – then you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the inbound nature of content marketing.

As in so many things, the bottom line is, if you don’t know what you’re asking for, you won’t be happy with what you get.

5-Questions-to-Ask-Before-You-Hire-a-Content-Marketing-Agency-q1Is Content Marketing a First Step or Last Minute Desperate Move?

We’re not going to lie – content marketing takes a few months to catch hold and start to work for your website site and your company as a whole. If you expect it to turn your search engine rankings or your reputation or your sales around overnight, it’s not going to work that way. Content marketing isn’t a campaign; it’s a complete culture that persists and involves every department.

So hopefully, you’re coming to an agency because you’ve done some research, and are looking for an ongoing shift in your marketing practices. You may be trying to avoid traffic and visibility problems in the future rather than confronting and wrangling existing problems. Marketing in general is not something that ever needs to be or should be done in the emergency room.

As with looking after your own physical body, maintenance and prevention goes a long way for your overall site and company health. To continue the metaphor a little further, routine self-examination also helps prevent much more serious problems down the road.

If you are confronting an emergency situation – rankings or sales plummeting, Google penalties – other more in-the-weeds SEO work such as link pruning or developing a disavow list might be better options. PPC advertising might also be a solution, if you’re in that “desperation” mode following a penalty or sales are looking very rocky.

A content marketing strategy buoys visibility for your site with the search engines. Suddenly they know your site is alive! alive! (more like an emerging butterfly than Frankenstein, though) and Google and Bing pay more attention to what you’re doing. If the strategy continues, like in any relationship, they come to trust your site as a valuable source of information and expertise and accept (i.e. rank) you accordingly.

Of course, the twin ideas behind content marketing are to first attract people to your site (visibility on search engines) and then keep them coming (people remember you and want to visit – and new people still find you via search engines). Content marketing is one of those instances where the only great publicity is good publicity; the bad keeps people away.

Are You Going to Be Doing Any of the Work?

Often, agencies expect to do the hard work of creating and implementing a content marketing strategy. A content marketing agency also generally holds the expectation that its clients do some of the small detail work to finish the last step; that is to work with their own site to get content live.

That’s a little quid pro quo that helps cement the idea of teamwork between agency and client. However, an agency CAN do it all; everyone just needs to understand expectations up front. That often comes in the initial conversations with your new CMA as you set out the scope of work involved. It can and should come up again if you’re in the middle of a contract and request new work that the CMA hasn’t done for you before.

This single step of setting out what both parties expect the other to do in the relationship can go a long way toward a happy marriage of the minds. Without knowing what people will be doing, plans can rapidly deteriorate.

For instance, your company may not have the skill set to add embedded code for graphics or other elements; you may not have anyone who can add SEO elements to your various blog posts, free guides, videos and other content honey you’re using to draw buzz to your site.

And that’s perfectly OK, fine and reasonable. If you don’t, that needs to be communicated and expectations set up front, accordingly.

A content marketing agency is also, often, willing to do some training for some of these steps but that does take time. You have to make the money decision: is it worth your team doing it or handing over that work to your new best content marketing friend?

5-Questions-to-Ask-Before-You-Hire-a-Content-Marketing-Agency-q2Are You Willing to Communicate – and Then Sit Back?

When you start a new relationship, there’s a lot of talk early on as both parties learn about each other. It can be romantic and love at first sight. It can, however, also be one of those awkward dates that goes down as legendary for all the wrong reasons.

A couple never stops learning about each other. New interests and new events come up and each is an opportunity ripe for spontaneity. This definitely happens with companies, as well, but for business budget projections, surprises aren’t often welcome.

With a business relationship, such as hiring a CMA, a lot more planning is necessary. This initial period of getting to know each other is ripe for over-communication and proving what they can do.

So early on, get everything out.

Make sure everyone understands the expectations for both short-term and long-term goals. Talk and over-communicate to lay out a clear path ahead for what you’re paying for. A good company will not want to sound mysterious; they will want to explain.

The best relationship with a CMA is not about going steady, it’s about getting ready.

And once you’re ready, step back.

Ask yourself: with all that preparation, can you step away and let the action flow? If the plan is set up exceedingly well early on and you realize with your research that many aspects of content marketing take time, then it should be possible for you to reach your goals.

You have every right to change everything every month, but that’s not what’s going to work best. That’s a lot of surprises to absorb for everyone.

5-Questions-to-Ask-Before-You-Hire-a-Content-Marketing-Agency-q3Can You Alter Your Current Marketing Practices?

Marketing in 2014, and for the last several years, is no longer about a single approach. There are so many facets of what can be done that your job, or the job of any marketing agency who works with you, is to identify what will work best for your organization’s goals.

That may require changes. It will definitely require integration of content marketing into what you’re doing now. It will require creating the aforementioned culture of content marketing, where every day there are opportunities and every person can contribute.

Online and content marketing gets the majority of the attention these days for two reasons.

  1. A lot of the growth is in this area.
  2. It’s still a learning experience for everyone, as the rules continue to change.

When new equipment keeps on getting added to the playground, word spreads around the neighborhood that there’s something else to get excited about. The old swings don’t get ignored, the slides and rock walls still get used, but people don’t talk about them as much. It’s the same with marketing; a lot of the 0ld methods still work but the lion’s share of the talk and energy and success is with a focus on content, content distribution including mobile integration.

Hiring anyone new in your organization is an important step. Hiring a content marketing agency that can both explain and help shape your future is a decision that should take some time, research and planning so you know you have a good fit going forward.

If your company goes into the relationship knowing all your questions have been answered and with a firm grip on expectations for everything you’re paying for, then everyone has a good time. Just ask Alan Jackson.