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How Should You Choose a Content Marketing Agency?

By Kathryn Hawkins. Agency Process
Image Credit: Ty Nigh used under CC2.0

Learn how to find a partner that hits the sweet spot for your company’s content marketing program.

Looking for support with your content marketing efforts? First, you’ll need to make the decision whether to hire in-house, choose an ad-hoc group of freelance writers, or contract with an agency.

Going the agency route is the right call for a lot of companies, but it can also be a more difficult decision: Most agencies require a certain minimum contract term or budget to get started, so you can’t just call the whole thing off, the way you can with your intern who showed up two hours late on his first day of work.

As a result, you need to focus on making the right choice from the start. Here are some ways to identify a strong agency for your needs:

  • Tap into your network for referrals.

    If you have colleagues in similar industries, it’s worth first reaching out to them to find out what service providers they’ve been genuinely thrilled with. LinkedIn is often the best source for generating solid referrals—so put those providers on your short list, but don’t stop there. With referrals, you’re likely to get recommendations for providers in your local area who may not fit your exact needs, and big providers who might be outside of your budget. If you’re seeking a specialized service from a smaller vendor, you may need to look a little harder in some cases.

  • Check third-party reviews sites for testimonials.

    One of the best ways to get a true sense of some of the best service providers in a particular space is to tap into the knowledge from platforms dedicated to vetting and reviewing vendors to identify the market leaders. For the last few years, we’ve been asking clients to provide testimonials for our agency on Clutch Research—it’s an independently verified source where clients can be totally honest about a company’s successes and shortcomings. Clutch also puts together an annual Leaders Matrix to identify the top agencies based on the data they’ve gathered. Using platforms like this, you’ll be able to get a detailed look at actual client-driven case studies, not the glossy versions that the agencies themselves may present. (But be sure to choose a platform that doesn’t allow agencies to pay for placement: Clutch is a reputable source, but many others are not.)

  • Dig in and learn who your top contenders are.

    If you’ve identified a few agencies that seem like a fit, take the time to learn more about them and how they operate. Do they take a one-size-fits-all approach to their strategy, or are they willing to take the time to understand your brand and how to work with you? Do they price by the hour, or work on a fixed budget? Read through their blogs to gain more insight into their experience and culture, and look at other resources they’ve developed to get context on how they work with clients and view the industry as a whole.

  • Talk to them.

    At this point, it’s worth hopping on the phone with a few top contenders to learn more about their background and philosophy—which will also give you insight into how the agency interacts with clients. Are you able to talk with a principal or senior strategist with many years of experience, or are you already being pawned off to a junior staffer fresh out of school? This is a good indication of how you’ll be treated over the course of your engagement if you choose to work together. At this point, you should also ask them for sample work relevant to your field, and learn more about their workflow processes to make sure they can align with how your team is managed.

  • Get a proposal or two (but no more)

    At this point, you’re likely to have a pretty good idea of who your top contender is—so get them to send you a proposal. We don’t advocate issuing RFPs or asking multiple agencies to participate in a bidding war; if you’ve already done your background research and talked to your top choices, you should be down to just a frontrunner or two by now, so be respectful of their time so that they can develop an ideal solution for you.

    Get a sense of how each one is quoting on the project and what’s in and out of scope, and ask questions to make sure you’re on the same page. Many agencies won’t commit to fixed deliverables at this stage if you don’t have a solid strategy in place, and that’s okay—they should still be able to give you a sense of pricing for different options down the line. (Here, we’ve outlined some of the variables that come into play when pricing out a project.)

While cost is obviously one factor to evaluate, you’ll also want to think about the agency’s experience, philosophy, and capabilities when making your choice. Basing your decision on budget alone could cost you much more if the work ultimately isn’t up to par, so prioritize quality and experience above all else. By making sure the team you choose checks all the right boxes, you’ll be able to build a long and successful 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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