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How Do Content Marketing Agencies Price Their Services? 6 Questions to Help Cut Costs

By Kathryn Hawkins. Agency Process
Image Credit: Vladislav Reshetnyak under CC0

What does it cost to hire a content marketing agency or writer? Make the most effective use of your marketing budget by answering these questions.

If you’re considering hiring support for your content marketing needs, one question will probably be near the top of your list: How much will it cost?

It’s a totally reasonable question, especially since your department likely has a certain amount of budget allocated, and you need to understand what you can buy with it. But the answer isn’t always as straightforward as you might hope.

Unless you’re working with a company that treats content as a commodity, with no room for customization in the process, you’re unlikely to find a “buy it now” price. Instead, your pricing will be based on a combination of factors related to your company’s industry, needs, and processes; as well as the agency or writer’s capabilities and market demand for their services.

Having worked first as a freelance writer, and now as a content marketing agency principal, I’ve drafted hundreds of proposals over the last decade. Here are the primary questions that go into our approach to pricing content marketing services—and how you, as a potential client, can make the best use of your budget:

1. What level of support do you need?

Like many agencies, we offer varying levels of support, from the marketing team that just needs extra content to scale, to the scrappy startup that needs us to act as their entire marketing and PR department. The costs will obviously be considerably lower for the client who just needs a few articles a month compared to the client who needs not only written content, but initial content strategy, editing, project management, art direction, graphic design, and distribution support.

How to cut costs: If you have a strong internal marketing team, incorporate them into your plan and only use a vendor for the services you can’t support in-house. While a freelance writer might be a good and cost-effective fit for a company that only needs occasional content, if your needs are more extensive, you’ll want to budget for a higher level of agency support to ensure that your projects run smoothly and meet your business goals.

2. How much prep work have you done before seeking help?

When a client comes to us with a fully fleshed-out editorial calendar with detailed outlines for each assignment and a thorough creative brief for associated design, the pricing will be considerably lower than a client who only has the foggiest idea of what they want to accomplish and needs us to brainstorm on messaging, buyer personas, content calendars, design concepts, and all the rest.

We’ll happily work with both types of clients (and building a content strategy is one of our absolute favorite things to do), but of course, the client who’s already established clear specs and expectations for the job will end up with a lower budget, while we’ll establish a more agile, hourly-based retainer for the client who needs more support, so that we can establish and optimize the right strategy together in the coming months.

How to cut costs: Be as prepared as possible. Come armed with a messaging framework, buyer personas, an editorial style guide, a design style guide, and a detailed content calendar. If you don’t have these reference documents on hand, this is generally where your agency partner will need to start.

3. How will we get access to the information we need to complete the project?

Will we be able to complete the entire project based on existing resources that you’ve shared with us and/or simple web research? Or will the project require us to complete detailed interviews with multiple subject-matter experts and stakeholders? If it’s the latter, that additional research and interview time will be factored into the budget. (Keep in mind though that it’s often well worth having your content team interview your SMEs—by thinking like journalists, they can deliver far superior results.)

How to cut costs: Get transcriptions of speeches and webinars that will inform the work, and provide your content team with all external and internal documents they may need—while keeping in mind that some additional interviews may still be necessary to deliver the best results.

4. How many stakeholders are involved in the project, and how will revisions be handled?

Content projects sometimes hit snags when there are too many cooks in the kitchen, and everyone has their own requests for changes (which may even contradict other stakeholders’ feedback). We find that projects work most efficiently when there’s an internal contact appointed to aggregate and clarify all internal feedback prior to each revision on our end. That way, we can comfortably budget for the project, knowing that it will move smoothly since the internal contact will guide her team in the right direction at each stage along the way. If the client doesn’t have that internal review structure in place, we’ll need to increase the budget, or even work hourly without a fixed estimate, to plan for uncertainty.

How to cut costs: Develop a clear stakeholder review process (for example, content marketing manager, then subject-matter expert,  then CMO, aggregate feedback, then send back to agency for next draft) and agree to a limited scope of work (i.e., an outline plus two rounds of revision) to get an accurate fixed budget for your project. If design work is included, enlist your creative director to guide the process and provide detailed feedback to the agency’s designer (we typically use sticky notes directly on the design draft for feedback), rather than delegating design direction to a non-designer on the marketing team who might offer fuzzier critiques.

5. How complex is the content subject matter?

Do you need content about which dog breeds are the most hypo-allergenic? That’s the kind of article that can be easily written by a recent grad with access to Wikipedia, although a more seasoned writer can likely put a more engaging spin on the material. On the other hand, if you need content that’s intended to convince a product manager to choose a multimillion-dollar IoT solution, you’ll need an editorial team that understands how to dive into the technology and spotlight the benefits of your solution—so you’ll need to budget for a top-notch writer or agency with proven experience in B2B technology.

How to cut costs: In this case, don’t. You get what you pay for, and if you hire someone who doesn’t have the relevant skills or subject-matter knowledge to write knowledgeably about your industry, you’ll likely need to hire someone else to rewrite it—so make sure that you invest wisely the first time around.

6. What kind of commitment are you able to make?

If you’re willing to make a larger commitment to a company or contractor, they’re more likely to give you a break on the price, given that they’re able to reduce their marketing expenses and can plan around guaranteed income. At Eucalypt, we offer a break on our per-project pricing for ongoing content retainers, which start at three months, and include additional pricing incentives for 12 month contracts. It often takes a reasonable amount of time to onboard an agency or writer and get them up to speed on your company, so when choosing a vendor, make the longest time commitment that you’re comfortable with, so that they can be invested in your success too.

How to cut costs: Ask your agency about their minimum budget levels and what incentives they can offer for longer-term packages. You might also find that they’re willing to include use of software tools at no extra cost for certain packages, or offer a slight discount if you’re willing to commit to monthly direct deposit payments.

Knowing all this, how should you prepare to make the best use of your content marketing budget? Here’s a quick recap:

  • Get organized: Do as much of the initial content strategy work as you feel comfortable with, and ensure that you have all relevant resources organized to share with your content team. Build a documented review process to ensure the content can move smoothly through revision cycles.

  • Find the right partner: Look for a vendor that has experience in similar industries to yours, and make sure that they can support all of the capabilities where you’ll need assistance.

  • Invest in the relationship: Review an agency’s past work and testimonials to ensure that you feel comfortable with them, and then make an agreement for a long-term project or retainer, so that you can benefit from any pricing incentives the company may offer.

Finally, remember that content marketing is a complex process, and you’re not likely to benefit if you choose a provider based on price alone. By all means, get a few different quotes to evaluate, but keep in mind that an experienced agency or writer can provide far more value to you than an untested writer or a generic content marketplace. Be clear about what you want, and build a streamlined process for working together, and you’ll be able to build a strong, cost-efficient foundation for your content partnership.

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Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins is principal and chief content strategist of Eucalypt Media. She has worked as a freelance journalist for media publications and managed inbound marketing and content strategy for corporate and nonprofit clients for more than a decade.

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