Over the last three years, companies have been shifting their content creation from in-house staff to agency partners.
In fact, in 2016, there was a 10 percent shift from in-house to outsourcing—that’s a big change in a single year.
And for good reason: Successful inbound marketing requires a lot of content, and many departments don’t have enough in-house staff to meet all of their content creation needs. Unfortunately, though, not all agencies give their clients the quality content and service they deserve.
Take our quiz to find out what grade your agency earns in content creation.
1. Which description best fits the content planning process with your partner agency?
A. I really don’t know. They just send us random blog posts and social media content, and we use them. They’re the agency, though - so they know best, right?
B. We do all of our strategy and planning in-house and tell the agency specifically what we want. And usually it works out.
C. Our agency partner meets with us to plan out complete inbound marketing campaigns. Together we outline target audiences, keywords, and content to reach each customer persona and level of the sales funnel. It is a cooperative effort that leaves both in-house staff and agency representatives with a complete understanding of our objectives and how we will meet them.
2. Who writes and designs the content your agency creates?
A. Ummm … writers? Designers? I really don’t know—we never have any contact with them. We only communicate, sporadically, with our account manager.
B. Junior staffers and interns. I’ve talked to a couple of them about projects, but they seem to always be new to the agency and our account; there is a new person almost every time.
C. Seasoned, professional writers with a depth of experience who have become valued members of our team. They know their craft and have taken the time to get to know our company, our customers and our challenges.
3. How would you describe your agency’s understanding of your brand position and how they use it in your content?
A. We shared our logo and taglines with them, but frankly, much of the content we receive could apply just as easily to any of our competitors in the same industry. In fact, I’m not sure the content isn’t some stock material with a couple of names changed.
B. Our agency does a good job of using the visual brand elements—colors, fonts, logos, images—and drops in our key phrasing from time to time, but sometimes the approach just doesn’t quite fit. I’m not sure they really “get” us.
C. Our agency is intimately familiar with our brand position because they helped create it. Since they have been in on the process from Day One, they tailor every piece of content, from email newsletters and videos to blog posts and downloads to our overall brand as well as specific campaigns.
4. Is the marketing content you receive from your partner agency on-message?
A. Sometimes. Often it seems only tangentially related to our business, though it includes the keywords we asked them to use.
B. Usually. We try to be as specific as possible when asking them to create content, and provide them with the messaging phrases included in our brand positioning documents.
C. Always. Our agency collaborates closely with our in-house staff to ensure that each individual piece of content maps closely to its target audience including the specific persona’s pain points, the targeted stage in the buyer’s journey, the benefits of our solutions, and the format we want to use. Each piece fits seamlessly into a broader campaign.
5. Can your agency provide all of the different content formats and other services you need?
A. No. They can write blog posts and outbound emails, but if we need design work, videos, or more in depth strategy development, we have to contract with additional agencies or freelancers.
B. Most. Our agency has a staff of writers and designers, but there are some projects they aren’t able to handle. It can be frustrating when a campaign involves a variety of formats, and working with multiple agencies yields campaign elements that don’t mesh well due to different approaches to the material.
C. Yes—the agency either handles all elements of our campaigns themselves or through strategic partners, and my account manager ensures that every part of a campaign contributes to the whole. They have taken us from brand position development and website creation through our entire inbound marketing automation launch and the content that requires.
6. How often does your agency complete projects on time?
A. Rarely. I am constantly contacting them to find out the status of projects, and have even begun giving them false deadlines just so we can ensure that content is completed when we need it.
B. Usually. Most projects are completed by the deadlines we agree to, but there are a few that fall through the cracks. We only get status updates if we specifically request them, with no set schedule for when they will contact us.
C. Always. Our agency pulls in whatever resources they need to get a project completed on deadline, and they consistently update us according to a schedule laid out in the original contract or agreement.
7. How often do you have to rewrite your agency’s work for content and brand/messaging reasons?
A. Frequently. They don’t take time to review plans with us before starting their writing, which means what they send back often misses the mark and seems like they don’t really know much about our specific organization.
B. Sometimes. I can see the difference when they assign another new staff person to our account who hasn’t done enough research. It would be nice to have some consistency and work with the same writer and designer for more than 6 months at a time.
C. Rarely. Our agency’s writers and designers spend time on the front end learning as much as they can about our organization, brand, customers, market and objectives. Because they become so familiar with our industry and brand, their content consistently addresses the specific issues we are targeting with each campaign.
8. How often do you have to rewrite or edit your agency’s work due to errors in grammar or poor structure.
A. Frequently. Sometimes I wonder if they even run spellcheck before sending blog posts on to me. I have begun to think that my time spent editing could as easily be spent writing the material myself from the beginning.
B. Occasionally. I think my agency rushes things through, sending them directly from a junior writer to me, without having the account manager or another experienced writer edit and proofread it first.
C. Rarely. I almost never have to make corrections to the copy we receive from our agency partner. It is easy to tell they take pride in doing it right. They have even created a style sheet specifically for our organization to maintain consistency in how we refer to job titles, handle acronyms, and use (or avoid) industry terms and jargon.
So, how did your agency do?
If you answered mostly “As”:
You are already looking for a new agency, right? If you answered “A” to 5 or more of these questions, it is clear this is not the agency for you. The A answers are signs of an agency that is not taking your organization seriously and is only interested in churning out content—any content—to meet page totals without regard to the quality of what they are producing. As you search for a new marketing agency to be a part of your content creation efforts, consider the criteria included in our HubSpot Partner Agency Checklist.
If you answered mostly “Bs”:
Your inbound marketing agency is doing a pretty good job, but there are things you should talk with them about when negotiating any new contract or extension. If you are sending a lot of content creation work their way, ask to be assigned to a specific writer or designer who can take time to get to know your company and your marketing strategy more deeply and improve the consistency of the messages in your marketing content. If your agency is willing to take a more involved approach to strategy and planning, you may be able to delegate more of the detailed content planning (such as creating the specific instructions for each piece of content with a form like our Mapping Content to Personas template).
If you answered mostly “Cs”:
Congratulations! You have met your perfect marketing agency match! The relationship you have with your marketing agency speaks just as much about the quality of your department as it does the quality of the agency, because it takes commitment on both sides to creating a strong working connection that benefits your bottom line. Continue to keep lines of communication strong, to involve your agency partners in your overall and long-term planning, and to set high expectations for the work they do for you.
Why is a strong connection with and quality results from a marketing agency partner so important when creating content? Because content is the backbone of inbound marketing and the fuel that keeps your marketing automation running.
If you aren’t already working with an agency to help fill your content creation needs, download these resources to help you decide how much content (and help) you need, how an agency can help, and what you should look for in an agency:
Do you have an agency horror story? Or praise for your current partner? What is the best—or worst—thing a marketing agency has done? Please share in the comments!