They say there’s no such thing as a dumb question. And while a quick perusal of Yahoo Answers might suggest otherwise, I mostly agree — but some questions are certainly better than others.
So it goes without saying that when it comes to finding a fit with a content marketing agency partner, asking good questions is half the battle.
Companies looking to augment their team with a content marketing partner require a specific skill set, yet many companies don’t know what they’re looking for. There are reputable sources of information on how to approach creative agencies for work in general, but few address the unique needs of content marketing.
We’re here to help with that.
Here is a list of relevant questions, organized by general focus, that will highlight which content marketing partner can best handle your needs.
Do you have a proprietary process, and is it holistic?
Rationale: This question begs an answer that is half philosophical, half logical. Your content marketing partner should communicate that they not only understand your pain, but have a comprehensive, data-driven, proven approach to solving it (based on company objectives, business objectives, communications objectives, etc.).
How will it work with our existing brand strategy?
Rationale: Respondents can outline how their strategy will take into account your brand, your industry, and your customers. Bonus points if they include a Venn diagram of the three intersecting. The explanation should also highlight how their approach is more effective than what you’re already doing.
Describe your agency’s creative process. How do you consistently put out great content?
Rationale: Any random viral video can demonstrate how one-off fame is possible, even by a leopard-print-pajama-wearing weirdo. But a good content marketing partner should be able to produce compelling content over and over again. There’s no single silver-bullet blog that will solve all your marketing problems. With content marketing, the whole is always greater than the sum of the individual parts.
How do you continuously keep content fresh, useful, entertaining, and provocative?
Rationale: The answer to this question should shine the spotlight on an exceptional editorial team, a team that includes editors who are based in strategy and writers who are experienced and specialized. Keep in mind that there’s a difference between copywriters who specialize in short ad copy and headlines and brand journalists who have a background in long-form storytelling.
Also, be wary of in-house staff. A small team of writers should not be writing all the content. You’ll get better results from a content marketing agency partner that comprises a large, distributed network of diverse writers with unique perspectives and talents.
What features highlight the prowess and experience of your team?
Rationale: If a prospective content marketing partner has an excellent track record, they’ll appreciate the opportunity to brag on the people who got them there.
How do you ensure that content is not only read, but amplified?
Rationale: This is not Field of Dreams — merely posting quality content does not mean that it will be read. In fact, the chances are that if it isn’t amplified, it won’t reach anyone at all. It’s the job of the marketing agency to promote the content via a number of channels that are known to reach specific targets. Whatever the channel (whether it’s email, social media, paid search, influencer marketing, employee communications, etc.), your content marketing partner should have a proven record with it.
The ways of reaching people are growing every day, and no one channel works every time. Be leery of agencies that merely respond with, “We tweet it,” or “We natively post it.” You have to have a plan; otherwise you risk winding up like so many other organizations that spend precious resources on content creation, only to have 17 people see it.
What kind of analytics do you pull and why? How do you measure success?
Rationale: OK, that was a lot of buzzwords. Perhaps if you use them all in the question, the answers provided will be thoughtful and thorough (and relatively free of buzzwords). You want a content marketing partner that uses a variety of metrics to measure success, to form future strategy, and to highlight areas that need improvement. Random metrics can’t do the job; you need the right metrics that result in actionable data.
Here are some useful terms that should show up in the answer to this question:
- A/B testing
- social listening
- CRM integration
- engagement and conversion metrics
- brand affinity/net promoter score
How do you collect customer data, like email addresses and demographic information?
Rationale: Agencies have a variety of tools at their disposal when it comes to data management. Ask questions and learn as much as you can about the platforms they’re using and the methods they employ to actually collect it. And be sure to pin down how your prospective content marketing partner will use that data to optimize your company’s marketing efforts.
How do you safely — and manageably — store it?
Rationale: However they store their data, the key is to do so safely.
Who owns the data?
Rationale: If a client and their content marketing agency partner part ways, it’s important to know who “owns” that data moving forward. Most often, the client should retain that data, but always be sure to check.
What is your content marketing philosophy?
Rationale: The old guard likes to credit success to face time (rounds of golf, steak dinners, off-hours networking, Don Draper stuff), but what they haven’t accounted for in those meetings is how the client has interacted with the brand before they walked into the room.
Today’s agency should be making those initial interactions warmer, easier, and more advantageous with content marketing. Whichever content marketing partner you engage, it should have a handle on the latest content marketing trends, know how technology continues to redefine processes, and have a philosophy as to where content marketing can fit into your strategy, now and in the future.
Give me an example of a client who required last-minute changes. How did your team respond to those demands?
Rationale: Stress has a way of revealing true colors. Every agency has gone through trouble spots with their clients — how did they manage it? Hopefully, they were flexible and responsive, and able to pivot to meet those demands while strengthening the relationship in the process.
As a client, you want a content marketing partner that perceives your stressors and is able to match your urgency for an outcome. Generally, you should get the feeling that they won’t panic, but will empathize and offer assurances that this is just as important to them as it is to you. And, of course, be able to fix the problem.
What do you like best about working at your agency?
Rationale: It’s imperative that you have a good working relationship with your content marketing partner, but how do you get a realistic view of their corporate culture and client relationships? Open-ended questions often net unexpected insights, so don’t overlook this part.
Above all, check to make sure they practice what they preach. You should be able to get the dirt on this yourself by reviewing them online, reading their blogs, perusing their social media channels, etc. If they aren’t doing a great job themselves, why would you expect them to do a great job for you?
Finding a content marketing partner doesn’t have to be an onerous process. With the right questions, you can filter out prospects that don’t merit a second glance.