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On Becoming an Agile Content Marketing Agency

By Kathryn Hawkins. Agency Process
Image Credit: Jake Hills

To help our clients, it’s important to offer flexibility in our retainer model. That’s why we’re learning more about agile project management as a marketing agency.

Agile project management has become the go-to strategy for many web and app development agencies. But what is it at its core, and how is the practice applicable to marketing agencies? In particular, what does it take to run an agile content marketing agency?

This is something we’ve been thinking about a lot lately, for a couple of reasons.

First, a lot of our clients are tech startups, and need to innovate or die. For instance, we work with an awesome app development agency, and have been helping them develop content that explains many of their workflow processes more clearly to their potential clients. They collaborate closely with internal tech teams, and use Sprint meetings to explain where things are at any given point, what bottlenecks need to be removed, and what changes need to happen to ensure progress. This means it’s often impossible to scope out an entire project from start to finish—instead, the team will pivot as necessary, based on what they’re discovering along the way. They know that being agile results in a better, more cost-effective product for the end client.

Secondly, our agency has been growing and we need to find a way to manage that growth effectively, without losing the flexibility and work-life balance that we guard fiercely. Focusing on an agile, results-oriented framework helps us accomplish that.

As a disclaimer, we are only beginning to dive into the Agile methodology, and while we aren’t using all of the tools and practices that many web development agencies do, we appreciate the general philosophy behind it and are using that to inform our own business practices. Here’s what we’re taking from it.

Agile employee management

We hadn’t thought much about applying the rules of Agile project management to our own agency until a consultation with Leslie Camacho, former CEO of EllisLab, who now runs a consulting firm for web agencies. We came to him for some advice in advance of hiring our first full-time remote employee (note: we’ve since hired a local marketing pro named Jesse Baines, and she’s awesome!).

Leslie encouraged us to loosely adapt the principles of Agile, and suggested starting each day with a short videoconferencing meeting, in which we each address three questions:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What do you plan to do today?
  • Is there anything you need assistance with to accomplish those goals?

We’ve always been a deliverables-focused agency, so that approach made a lot of sense to us—with our freelance writers, we're purely deliverable-based, with rare exceptions. Typically, we assign an article, give a deadline, and expect to see it when it’s due in exchange for a fixed fee. We’re fair, honest, and straightforward. We don’t care how or where the work is done, just that it gets done by the deadline.

So now that we’ve brought Jesse on board, we’ve stuck with a modified version of that approach. While we have some scheduled calls with clients throughout the day, and daily morning check-ins (or “stand up meetings”), she’s largely working independently to get through a series of tasks that we’ve set up on our project management system, Teamwork. If there’s nothing scheduled, she doesn’t need permission to take a break—we’ll trust that she’s doing the work that’s been assigned and will ask for help if she needs it. And, if priorities change, we can easily move tasks around based on what actually needs to be done.

An agile approach to client relationships

We’re also looking at how we can become more agile with our own clients. In the past, we often focused on a purely deliverable-based approach to our engagements with clients. That works well for them because there are no surprises when it comes to the fees, but it also means that it can be difficult to turn on a dime if something that you’re trying isn’t working the way that you’d hoped it would.

Some agencies lock their clients into long-term engagements (often tied to expensive software solutions) and set up editorial calendars and social media strategic plans as much as a year in advance. But how can you possibly know where your business will be that far in the future? And how do you know what your customers and prospects will respond to best?

While it’s important to do some amount of longer-term planning, it’s just as crucial to stay nimble and tie your content themes and marketing plans to what your customers or prospects are really looking for. If you’ve locked yourself into an annual package that you can’t change, you could be heading full steam ahead in completely the wrong direction.

As an agency, we are restructuring how we build our client plans so that we can evolve our services along with their needs. While we are a retainer-based agency, we develop our content plans no more than a quarter at a time, and we can make modifications to content that we haven’t yet assigned, or switch up social channels or marketing strategies when the ones we’re testing out aren’t proving their value. We often reserve space for “news-based” posts in our editorial calendars, allowing us to respond in real-time to trending content in our clients’ industries, helping increase their relevance and social influence.

By staying agile, we can work to optimize the success of the work that we’re doing for our clients, and check in with them regularly to see what’s changed on their end and how that should be reflected in our marketing work.

We don’t believe in “campaigns” or “programs” when it comes to our clients; we’ve built our company on establishing genuine relationships with our partner organizations and learning what makes them who they are. That means staying agile and flexible enough to know what’s good for our clients at any point in time, and doing what it takes to help them grow for years to come.

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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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