We were pitching a prospect last week on a possible content marketing program, and they told us the design agency they currently use was “getting into content.” That claim seemed like a stretch, so we checked.
It took one paragraph of one blog post to determine that, no, this was not an agency committed to producing great content – but it might be an agency looking to squeeze more dollars out its clients by claiming to provide a new service.
We easily discovered missing basic punctuation, mangled phrases and misspellings (it’sstraightforward, folks, not straight forward). It looked like they had dictated the post to Siri and not bothered to clean it up after they texted it to themselves. Far, far worse was the fact that the post had no point; it was, as a certain presidential candidate might say, just words.
Note to future client: that agency is not “getting into content.”
Hiring a recent college grad who took a few English courses does not a content agency make.
Here’s the point: Every agency is saying they’re getting into content marketing. But are they really? Or are they just saying that hoping that you’ll hire them to do the work… even though they can’t really, ya know… do the work?
Then again, how are you supposed to know if they can actually write?
As the head of marketing at your company, there are ways to discern whether the agency you’re considering is really focused on content, or they’re just saying they are.
Check out their blog.
Look for the basics – spelling, grammar, etc. But look beyond that, too. Is the writing perfunctory, or does it have personality and energy? In other words, is it the type of quality writing that speeds you along, or is it so boring you give up after a couple paragraphs? Or is it needlessly long because some SEO “pro” told them all posts have to be 2,000 words?
Lastly, do they seem to have a strategic approach to their own content marketing? Is there a cohesive theme running through their blog posts? Are they writing about the Oscars one week, client success the next week, and their new VP of Such-and-such the next week?
Ask for links to their existing clients’ content.
This is especially applicable if the client is in your space. It’ll show you how well they understand your industry and how they explain industry-specific concepts.
Ask them to write samples.
If you’re not sure about the agency’s writing ability, engage them for a small project – have them write five articles for you. When we’re pitching a client in a new industry, we often will create a post or two to demonstrate a) our ability and b) our eagerness to work with the client. We don’t even wait for them to ask; we offer.
And, don’t be cheap – if it’s your idea to ask for samples, offer to pay for them. Better to pay a small sum now and find out how qualified the agency is than to sign a 12-month contract and realize after six weeks that they can’t do the job.
Important note: The purpose of this small project is to find out whether the agency can create content, not to determine whether content marketing will be successful. You can’t publish a couple blog posts and expect customers to suddenly flock to your website, and you can’t magically reduce your 12-month sales cycle to a couple hours. It’s marketing, not fairy dust.
Ask if their content creators are freelancers or in-house.
It’s fine if the agency uses freelance writers. After all, there are a gazillion freelance writers and the gig economy is a real thing. However, if all of their content creators are freelancers, I’d question their commitment to content marketing.
This may come as a shock to some of you out there, but there are some agencies that are willing to stretch the truth about their capabilities in order to get their hand into your pocket. For the good of your organization, you need to call them on their BS.