How to Find a Content Marketing Agency to Seriously Grow Your Business

people brainstorming to represent a content marketing agency
people brainstorming to represent a content marketing agency

Every week I speak to startup founders, B2B marketers, and consumer brands who are struggling to break through in this crazy and noisy world.

They’re all looking to find a top content marketing agency to help them grow their business.

Why? Because they know content marketing has the power to deliver real marketing ROI. The thing is, even knowing this to be true, they often feel overwhelmed by the prospect of hiring a full-time agency like ours.

It can be daunting for sure. It seems like every agency offering any type of marketing-related services claims to “do” content marketing, and finding the real experts isn’t easy.

But consider this: content marketing has proven to be 3x more effective than traditional marketing, and it can increase your organic traffic, grow your brand, and boost your conversion rates six-fold. Most importantly, it positions your brand as a thought leader in your industry — one that your potential customers will feel like they can trust.

With those kinds of results at stake? Finding the right content marketing agency is worth the effort.

Quick Takeaways:

  • Mediocre content will never boost lead generation or drive engagement
  • Most organizations aren’t equipped to create high quality content on their own.
  • It’s easy for SEO and PR firms to claim that they “do” content marketing
  • But most of them don’t have the expertise to do it effectively.
  • A specialized content agency will actually help you save costs on content creation and distribution
  • You need to find an agency that has an undying focus on business goals, understands your niche and your audience, and can serve your future needs too.
  • Professional alignment is just as important as the services an agency delivers. It’s important to find an agency that understands your vision and whose communication and delivery styles work for your brand.

What Makes a Good Content Strategy?

The foundation of a strong content marketing strategy is quality content. Seems obvious, right?

Maybe so, but you’d be surprised at how many companies settle for churning out mediocre content stuffed with keywords and full of invisible text. It isn’t 2008, and real content marketers have moved on from using outdated tactics to help companies get results that can sometimes look good on paper but don’t really drive the kind of traffic they want.

Instead, content marketing uses regular, high-quality, genuine content to actually achieve results from a well thought-out strategy. It doesn’t happen overnight, or even in a month. It takes time, effort, and commitment. But good, consistently delivered content can transform your business’s potential and open the door to exponential growth.

Which leads to the number one content problem for businesses and agencies: if your organization doesn’t already have in-house content creators, where does this quality, original, hyper-relevant, value-driven, expertly-crafted content come from?

The answer: content marketing agencies. Let’s dive into why every agency wants in on the content marketing game, how you can spot the real thing, and how a good content marketing agency can seriously grow your business.

Why are Some Agencies So Quick to Say They “Do” Content Marketing?

Many agencies whose core business is SEO or PR will claim they can “do” content with little experience or expertise. How is a company seeking content marketing services supposed to know who does it well and who doesn’t? And why would agencies say they do content marketing without the know-how in the first place?

Well, 70% of marketers are actively investing in content marketing and the industry is predicted to stay on the rise. Even more interesting, a survey done by SEMrush reports that while 84% of companies are using a content marketing strategy, only 51% would rate it as above average.

Graph showing 84% of companies report having a content marketing strategy

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Graph Showing 51% of companies rate their content marketing strategy as good

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Clearly, an opportunity is there for agencies to step in and help brands implement the content marketing strategies they can’t execute on their own. As a result, content marketing is suddenly appearing as a service many agencies provide, even if they don’t actually have experience or expertise in this specific area.

Why Should You Work with a Content Agency?

Working with an agency isn’t just about seeking a high level of content. There are a lot of practical reasons why you may want to hire out rather than handle content in-house.

Cost-Effective Content Creation

Hiring a full-time content writer, video producer, marketing event planner or other role is always going to cost more than outsourcing. When you work with a reputable agency, you pay only for the content you need for your organization without having to worry about the costs of onboarding and training, benefits and a full-time salary.

Resources to Cope with High-Demand Projects

When you need to quickly increase your content for a new campaign or beef up your overall strategy, a content agency will have the resources to cope with the extra work.

A Broad Content System

Instead of limiting your strategy by the skills of your in-house team, you can work with an agency to have all of your content needs fulfilled by experts. You may have someone in-house to develop well-researched white papers and blog posts and a talented digital illustrator to create infographics, but with a content creation agency, you can access the full spectrum of specialized skills that go into developing great content where there are gaps in what your in-house team can do.

Ability to Stay on Top of Marketing Trends

When looking for a content marketing agency, make sure the people you are talking to have been in the industry, have led client-side content marketing projects, and have the ability to build the business case you need to succeed, to develop the content your audience wants, and to measure results your executives want to see.

Why Finding the Right Agency Isn’t Easy

The challenge for most companies is identifying a stellar agency that truly has the content marketing capabilities to achieve results. There are quite a few agencies out there that have rebranded themselves as content marketers to meet industry demand and grow their own businesses.

But many times, while they may excel in other areas of marketing, they don’t necessarily know  content marketing. SEO and social media strategists, digital advertising firms and website design services – a quick search will reveal dozens of these cross-specialty agencies that have started offering content marketing in addition to their bread and butter services.

This blurs the lines and makes it difficult for companies to know the true-blue content marketers from other marketing professionals who are offering content services. But there’s a big difference between the fakers and the makers out there, and that difference will translate into real content marketing ROI.

What to Look for in a Content Marketing Agency

There are plenty of content creation agencies out there, but not all of them will be ideal for your brand. Here are the factors you want to consider to make sure you connect with the right one.

Well-Written Content

A good content agency should know how to tell their story themselves, and do it in an interesting way. That means clearly outlining services and their process, providing some helpful case studies and content to help you evaluate them and make a decision.

In our opinion, great writing is a non-negotiable must-have. Even if you’re creating infographics, video or less copy-oriented content for social media, the agency you hire has to be able to string together the words to tell the story.

Clear Strategy and Process

Content marketing is more than writing a few blog posts. It takes an understanding of the buyer’s journey and the client’s goals. Content marketing experts will help you figure out who to talk to, when to talk to them and what to talk to them about. And a content process will help you get from ideation to publishing and distribution smoothly.

An Audience-First Approach

Buyers are totally in control of the process these days, which means content needs to be helpful, not promotional — at least at the top of the sales funnel when you’re trying to attract attention and build trust. Audience-first means you have to figure out what your audience wants during every step of the buyer’s journey, and a good content marketing agency will know how to guide you.

Subject-Matter Expertise

How successful has your content creation agency been in the past? What kind of content  have they made for other clients in your industry? The only way to win at content marketing is to have a very firm grasp of the industry you’re writing for, and even the best content marketing agency on the planet may not be the most suitable for your organization if they don’t specifically excel in your niche.

Look for case studies within the industry or work that’s been done with clients in a similar space. A content marketing agency can’t produce “high-quality content” without understanding the obstacles your customers face and the unique aspects of your industry.

Of course, there are some SEO, PR and digital agencies that really can do content marketing, too. But it’s crucial to figure out who’s doing the work and what their experience is before working with them. Otherwise, you risk wasting money at best, and damaging your brand at worst.

Ability to Serve Your Current and Future Needs

It’s not just about the content you need now, but also the direction you are heading when it comes to your content. For example, if you work with a content writing agency that produces blog posts and social media posts, will they be able to write the scripts for your video series you were planning for next year or will you need to find another content provider?

Think about your company’s priorities for both now and in the future, and be sure your content marketing agency has all of the capabilities needed to meet them.

An Undying Focus on Business Goals

One way to distinguish a standard content creation agency from one that knows its salt is intent – are they just amazing at producing great content, or are they also working to align content with your brand’s specific marketing goals?

Ideally, your agency will be able to deliver tailored content for your distinct objectives. As your objectives change, your agency should be working with you to tailor your content to meet those evolving goals instead of simply churning out the same content.

A Strategic Mindset

Real-deal content marketing agencies offer more than just high-quality videos and optimized blog posts. They also help you build smart, data-driven strategies that achieve measurable results.

If your content marketing lacks strategy, you risk diminishing the impact of each piece of content and every dollar invested. When it comes to being able to deliver a winning strategy, you want to see a foundation of research and data, funneled through creativity, skill and foresight.

Actionable Buyer Personas

One useful litmus test we recommend for evaluating content marketing agencies is asking to see samples of their buyer personas for other clients. The actionability of their buyer personas is a good indicator of how far they’ll go to understand your customers and make sure a positive customer experience is felt throughout your content.

Personas with a lot of detail, that are updated regularly, and that draw upon both qualitative and quantitative customer and market research are hallmarks of a good strategy.

Excellent Storytelling Skills

Your brand’s story is the thread that strings together all of your content. Really proficient content marketers will be able to identify and express your brand’s history, personality, and vision better than you can.

A Creative Approach to Repurposing Content

Repurposed content isn’t just about recycling good content to squeeze more out of your content budget. It’s a way to emphasize your message and deliver a more holistic experience for your customers. If your content isn’t being repurposed creatively, you’re missing out on the benefits of having a really good multi-channel strategy.

A lot of resources go into your in-person events and heavy-research white papers – how will these big hitter content pieces be reformatted into infographics, ebooks, podcasts and blog posts? Ideally, your agency will take a creative approach rather than using a standard recap format for repurposed content.

For example, you might use surveys and gather quotes from participants and speakers at your marketing events to use for infographics and unique social media posts that will keep your audience interested months after the event. This kind of tactic goes a lot further than merely posting a recap blog about the event.

Ongoing Strategy Assessment

Once your content marketing strategy is implemented, what system is in place for measuring its reach? You want more than a documented strategy and reporting on metrics. How will your content marketing agency evaluate how well both the strategy as a whole and its individual moving parts are doing? What is the process for refining the strategy as needed?

This is where the use of an agile marketing methodology is helpful. But, even if your agency doesn’t use agile methods, you still want to see a level of flexibility and a process for tracking and responding to missed benchmarks.

Tech Mastery

One of the most important qualities to look for in your content marketing agency is being well-versed in marketing technology. You want more than vanity metrics and flashy campaigns — you want a deep understanding of what can be done today, how martech is evolving, and what is possible in the future.

Right now, martech is evolving all facets of marketing, including content, faster than most of us are aware of. It’s critical to have an agency that is aligned with this reality on your side and that is proactively implementing leading technology tools to improve their work and their content.

Line graph showing martech landscape growth 2011-2020

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Alt-Text: Line graph showing martech landscape growth 2011-2020

Marketers have to move out of their comfort zone in order to think like data scientists, so it won’t necessarily be easy to find agencies whose strongest quality is being tech adept. But the ones that do? They can deliver the ROI you’re seeking.

Vision and Attention to Detail

The best content marketing strategies stand out because every nuance – everything from email subject lines to in-depth case studies – all perfectly fit within your strategy, express the unique personality of your brand, and reflect how your company meets customer needs.

This means every piece of the puzzle needs to be well thought out as to its purpose and how it supports, complements or enhances other facets of the content strategy.

The Right Content Services and Solutions

Content agencies sometimes offer expanded services that go beyond delivering content and content strategy, like web design or social media management. Evaluating an agency’s complete set of services can help you decide which is best for your company.

But remember: if there are services you want out of an agency that they don’t provide, it doesn’t need to be a deal breaker. In fact, there’s always a risk with a jack-of-all trades agency, and agencies who claim to do everything when it comes to marketing may not excel in specific areas the same way specialized agencies do.

Good agencies will answer your questions about their services honestly and be able to give you examples and client testimonials to back it up. If they can’t provide a specific service you need, they’ll refer you to other agencies in their networks who they know to be reputable and capable.

What Makes a Good Content Marketing Partner?

Choosing a content marketing agency is not just about skill level and experience, but also alignment on goals. The agency you hire will become a long-term partner. There has to be some value and vision alignment, or at the very least a solid working relationship rooted in respect.

Once you’ve determined an agency can provide the services you need, it’s important to take an honest look at relationship potential. Just as with any partnership in business (or life in general), there has to be compatibility.

Some helpful questions you can ask:

  • What is this agency’s ethos, work ethic, organizational culture? Do they resonate with your organization?
  • How do they communicate with their clients? Virtual meetings, phone calls, emailed reports?
  • How intimate or professional are they in their client relationships? Will these practices and traits mesh with your organization in the long-term?

Find the Right Agency for You

So, your content marketing agency has to be strategic, preferably staffed by international chess champions, have analytical minds that rival the employees of Deepmind, and the visionary aptitude of, let’s say, Stanley Kubrick. They need a trophy room at the office for all their awards. And, you have to get along with them.

No big deal. Super easy.

But seriously, you might be thinking: where do I start in finding a content marketing agency that checks all of the boxes?

In practice, no content marketing agency is going to get a gold star for every single quality and qualification you’re looking for. But, with the right approach, you can find an agency that will align with your vision and can help you achieve your marketing goals.

Here are some steps to get you started:

  • Do your research – get to know potential agencies by reading their content, learning about their services, and following their social media profiles. Over time, you’ll get a feel for which ones might be a good fit.
  • Narrow down your list to 2-5 agencies you’re seriously considering.
  • Start the conversation. Here is a list of questions to ask potential content marketing agencies.
  • List the strengths and weaknesses of each of your top picks, both in general and in relation to how they fit specifically with your company.
  • Talk to stakeholders like mutual partners and other clients to get a more dynamic perspective and to make a better-informed decision.

Finally, choose the content marketing agency you want to partner with and take over the world. Well, at least your industry.

If you are ready to get more traffic to your site with quality content that’s published consistently, check out our Content Builder Service. Set up a quick consultation, and I’ll send you a free PDF version of my books. Get started today–and generate more traffic and leads for your business.

Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

6 thoughts on “How to Find a Content Marketing Agency to Seriously Grow Your Business

  1. Thanks fo the continued insight, Michael. Looking at your criteria for selecting the right content marketing agency stung a bit… I’m bringing this to my team to help fill in our gaps… there are a few.
    Many thanks,
    Jim Edwards
    Spry Ideas
    Ann Arbor, MI
    (Yes, U of M did win the Big 10 Championship last night)

  2. Great post, I think SEO gets forgotten about so readily in content marketing these days, but I think that often just results in meaningless output to fulfil an agreed quota. Old SEO techniques don’t work anymore, Google algorithm changes have managed to wipe out old thin content with black and grey hat activity that were keeping them up the listing, have now been replaced with longer, broader content pages. For me though the new SEO is research into the topics and sub topics a page and it’s outreach supporting cluster content have to cover to be a success. Engagement metrics are now key to success as well, so remembering the marketing element of content marketing is crucial. I wonder how many people actually manage to maintain the 20/80% ratio of the two?

    1. That’s a great point Paul. I still believe SEO is the foundation of all modern marketing. Great content simply answers the questions buyers are typing into search engines. But the job isn’t done once we provide the answer. We also have to market that content. And I bet the percentage who maintain the 20/80 is sadly low.

  3. Thanks, Michael for another great post on an important topic. In addition, the company or the person hiring a content marketing agency should prepare for the project in advance, and enable the agency to achieve desired results. Probably, that’s another blog post, but before one hires an agency, the person needs to have a clear list of goals, direction, and objectives while making time and resources available to guide the project, as needed.

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