Content Cordon Bleu: The Agency Struggle

Julia ChildAgencies in marketing, PR, advertising and web dev are expanding their offerings to include content. This is happy news for creative minds, writers, project managers and even clients who recognize the value of quality content. The evidence is my inbox. But it’s a little concerning to me that agencies aren’t prepping well before serving up this new offering to their clients.

Digital publishing is misunderstood and underestimated. It’s no Easy Mac. It’s more like a three-cheese macaroni with bacon and a homemade crumbly crust, add a gourmet side salad; it requires time and careful preparation in order to produce that satiating, feel-good sensation. Now that I’m on the topic of food, I’m going reference the restaurant industry, because most food service industry models are super-efficient. And in our line of work (streamlining everything!) I can’t think of a better analogy. Here are some of the questions I ask my clients who are hungry for a solution to their content dilemma:

What’s on the Menu?

Are your offerings clearly defined? Are you offering content in packages? At a flat rate? Does it align with your other offerings? Would you eat sushi at a burger joint? Think about it. If content isn’t your specialty, then you want to simplify. Don’t offer anything you can’t produce. Make it easy on you and your staff. Understand what you offer and be good at offering it. Because once you start customizing things for your clients, every little contract deliverable will eat up tons of your time. And complication leads to time and money wasted when you could’ve had a turnkey solution.

Tip: Understand that if you’re going to start offering blogs, for example, it’s critical to know where they’re published, how they’re published/shared, and how to hand-craft a strategy around a blog. This may require talking to editorially-oriented people or other businesses engaging in the blogging practice.

Who’s in the Kitchen?

Are you serving up 5 white papers and 10 blogs to Client A, but 50 landing pages to Client B? Do you have the STAFF to back this up? Ask 90% of the agencies I work with. The answer is “no.” I’m talking account managers who can develop some sort of creative brief; editorial people to organize, review and edit the content; then someone who’s tech savvy enough to publish through the right channels and report on impact. Sorta like how a waitress, cook and food runner all work together to produce the best dining experience. It all begins with mastering your menu. Then, you’ll be on the path to figuring out who will manage and develop the content.

Tip: Once you nail your content offerings, figure out if content development is going to be an undertaking you can handle on your own, or if you need more players to help. Make sure you have the qualifications and staff to execute the content part of their contracts.

What’s cooking?

All the ingredients you need that are fundamental to content development are 1) content offerings, 2) content players to deliver it, and finally, 3) content creation. Your menu might be appe-teasing and your waitstaff attentive. But that doesn’t mean your chefs can cook an on-point medium-rare filet. Back to the kitchen. Your game plan should include not only who is going to produce this content, but how. Make sure whoever writes the content is qualified and understands your objectives. Some agencies like to hire in-house writers, but the outsourcing option has been more popular (and cost effective) for many.

Tip: Find out what sort of talent you need to create the content. Industry experts? Wordsmiths? It depends on your offerings and what you need to do to fulfill the contract deliverables. Create a plan that’s going to efficiently extract what you need from your client in order to produce the content. Creative briefs come in handy, as well as all-encompassing questionnaires that layout the content objectives. Whoever’s writing the content is going to need it!

Many agencies who are new to content don’t even know what a dangling modifier is, let alone the difference between a blog post and a news article.  If you’re in a content dilemma, be sure you’re offering something you understand and have the bandwidth to create.

Don’t forget to tip your server.


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