Figuring out how to actually run a content marketing program is not easy. The idea is still relatively new, does not run like a traditional marketing program, and there’s a lot of noise that makes it easy to get pulled in the wrong direction.

And so, companies are beginning to issue Content Marketing Requests for Proposals (RFPs). While the RFP process is not perfect, and often considered a pain by potential providers, issuing an RFP is a good way for a company to solicit ideas, gather some intelligence and make a more informed choice.

If you’re stuck at the starting gate, unsure of how to proceed with content marketing and even who to turn to for answers, it might be time to issue a content marketing RFP. If you decide this is the right direction for your company, here’s a template to follow in building that RFP:

Part 1 of the Content Marketing RFP: About You

Company background and situation analysis. A brief history of your organization provides context to potential partners. Try to give an honest assessment of your current situation – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. If the potential providers understand your opportunities and challenges, they can craft a response that is more likely to be useful in the long run.

Goals. Very simply, what are you trying to accomplish? Why has your business decided to try content marketing? Is it to increase your audience and grow the top of the sales funnel? Is it sales enablement? Different goals require different types of content and different distribution strategies.

Target audience. Who are you trying to create a content-based relationship with? It could be scientists with PhDs, or it could be an internal audience of blue-collar workers. The agencies you invite to participate need to know this in order to make the right recommendations, and also to understand the potential complexity of the content they’ll be creating and how best to deliver it to the audience.

Competitors. It’s helpful to provide the RFP respondents with a list of your competition. It gives them additional context. They can see who’s doing what, assess what works and what doesn’t, and help you to find the sweet spot of a need that is currently unanswered.

Scope of proposed initiative. Sometimes, all you need is someone to help you determine the strategy. Other times, you have that figured out and need content creation and distribution. Or, perhaps there’s a Phase One (strategy) and a Phase Two (ongoing execution). Know what you’re asking for.

Budget. We know you’re squeamish about revealing what you have to spend. You think you’ll be giving away too much. However, if you don’t provide budget parameters the responses you receive will be all over the budget universe, and you won’t be able to compare apples to apples. Worse, you might get back awesome-sounding proposals that there’s no way you can afford. It’s like house-shopping—of course that million-dollar mansion is going to be better than the middle market home you can actually afford, but seeing that only leaves you frustrated. So, go ahead and tell the agencies your budget. It’ll save you both time and effort… and maybe even heartache.

Part 2 of the Content Marketing RFP: About Them

Services they provide. There are many different pieces to content marketing, and a lot of agencies want to claim that they offer it. But they might really just be an SEO firm, or a social media agency. Ask specifically what services they offer.

Content marketing philosophy and approach. This is a way to weed out the posers from the true practitioners. You don’t need a graduate-level discourse on the history of content marketing, but a good partner will have an idea of what works and what doesn’t and why that is the case. Depending on your precise needs, having an agency that can also serve as a thought partner is likely a good thing.

Measurement. Are there specific metrics they track, or specific platforms they use to gauge whether a program is working? Really, what you’re trying to learn here is that they actually pay attention to whether what they do works, or if they’re only focused on activity so they can rack up billable hours.

Fee structure. If you’re following this template and provided a budget, you have every right to understand how they intend to use that budget. Do they bill by the hour? If so, what are their rates and how long do they estimate each task will take? Do they bill flat monthly fees? If so, how will you know that they’re actually working for you, and not just cashing your checks?

Preferred platforms. Increasingly, there are agencies that are built completely around the idea of operating a specific platform for you – you especially see this with “HubSpot agencies.” In our experience, these agencies tend to focus on running the machine, and not necessarily on doing great work that will help you succeed. However, if managed well, this can be exactly what works for you. Either way, you need to know if the agency is hell bent on putting you on a specific platform and what that means for how you work together. This is also an opportunity to find out if they use any collaboration tools such as Slack, Basecamp or Trello, and whether they’re amenable to using whatever your team uses.

Content creation team. You need to know the team you’ll be working with. And, while freelancers can be a good supplement to the core team, if they’re doing all the work, ask yourself whether you actually need the agency to manage the process. The answer might be yes, but then again maybe it won’t be and you can save yourself that agency markup.

Onboarding process. How do they get started with you? You need to know what your initial experience with this agency is going to be. Do they have a kickoff session that gets them 80 percent of the way there? Or do they need to take three months to immerse themselves in your business? Either approach is fine, but it needs to work for you.

Case studies and work samples. Yes, this is very important – you need to be able to figure out whether they can actually don’t the job. That doesn’t mean they have to have done something exactly like your initiative in the past, but they should be able to show several examples where they’ve been successful that have a logical parallel to what you’re intending to do. And they should be able to provide references for their work too.

And don’t forget to include the logistics

Lastly, remember to include the logistics of the RFP—timelines and due date, how you’ll go about answering questions anyone has, and perhaps even a preferred format, which will make it easier for you to compare each agencies’ response.

Developing a content marketing RFP takes some planning and some elbow grease. However, it’s well worth the effort since it will help you reach your goal of finding the right partner to move your business forward.