The thought of a creative agency outsourcing their content marketing strategy and development might sound crazy, but take a moment to consider the alternative. Creating your own content as an agency seems like it would be a one way ticket to affordability, flawless execution and perfect strategy… but is it?
Here's a question: Are you a health nut? Do you work out at least 4 times a week without fail and eat a perfect diet every day? Maybe you do… but, generally speaking, when humans get stressed they don't take care of themselves well. All things considered, the office of a creative agency can be a pretty stressful place. Doing the due diligence required to execute on a top level content strategy, creative production and format mix for yourself (instead of clients) is typically the first thing to get ditched for, well… a cheeseburger.
Why Is In-House Content Marketing Such A Challenge For Agencies?
1. Low Priority Compared to Clients
Agencies work hard to develop and maintain strong relationships with clients. That means hitting deadlines, being responsive and delivering work that client's love. Sometimes this means late nights at the office, calling for backup and keeping the coffee fountain running. Clients mean everything.
To offer competitive market pricing on their creative services, agencies must stay lean and work with only top talent to survive. That means very little wiggle room for internal projects.
It's usually not the financial investment in content marketing (which many agencies are more than willing to provide) that ends up being the problem. More often, it's the time and availability of their top talent.
Most agencies (especially digital agencies) know that in order to demonstrate thought leadership through content marketing, they must leverage the most insightful subject matter experts on their teams. The problem is, they're usually too busy working on projects that feel more important at the time.
2. Taking Your Own Knowledge For Granted
Agencies (or businesses in general for that matter!) are very close to the projects they work on. They understand their business inside and out, and because of this, often lose track of the details they need to effectively make their point to a larger audience.
The closer people are to a subject, the more effortlessly their minds "fill in the gaps" as they speak, read and write about their expertise. (If you've ever had coffee with a data scientist you'll know what I'm talking about!) People's minds have evolved this way to build efficiency into their daily lives, allowing them to filter out things that might slow them down. The problem is - this is the kiss of death to content marketing.
One of the major objectives of content marketing is to engage and inform your audience on a deeper level, provide new perspectives and start conversations. If you are too close to the material and can't see where the gaps are, you'll lose your audience.
Instead of providing a satisfying experience, you'll leave them with more questions than they had when they started. At our office we recommend an interview style approach to content. More frequently asked questions get flushed out, and by asking them, your content journalist may uncover cool insights you forgot you knew.
3. Skepticism & The Bragging Complex
Just like some film stars can't watch their own movies, it can be difficult for some experts to write about their own merits. It is a chicken and egg situation because
showing expertise is one of the most effective ways to build trust in your capabilities and win new business. On the other hand, no one likes a show off. Working alone to strike this balance can be a daunting task.
In creative agencies this reflex is compounded by the subjective nature of the work they do every day. Presenting creative to clients can be a very humbling experience at times. Because of this, it becomes extremely difficult for top execs in agencies to talk about their "amazing work." It's the reason most of their news revolves around the awards they have achieved as "proof" instead of the genius it took to win them in the first place. BUT, it is exactly that genius - that exceptional train of thought and process - that content marketing strives to demonstrate because in the end, it's not about the awards, it's about the work. Prospects want to know what you're all about and what it's like to work with you in a very real way.
The right content marketer will be able to pull this information out and develop it into pieces of content with far less internal conflict and greater efficiency. Being presented with a complete story, instead of lamenting over your every word, will help you believe your advice is just as valid as your peers and stop second guessing yourself as a pro.
4. Reluctance To Invest In The Best
"Put that down, those cookies are for the guests!" When it comes to content, most agencies save the best resources for top clients. Their business depends upon impressing and keeping them, so it's not uncommon for them to do whatever it takes to make them happy.
The unfortunate downside to this is obviously that they place the responsibility of content marketing on the shoulders of whoever else is available. This creates an internal "ad-hoc" approach to content marketing and can lead to discontinuity, entry-level "thought leadership" and disappointing results.
5. Cutting Corners On Strategy
Agencies wouldn't DREAM of creating a client campaign without an approved strategy in hand. However, when things are done for themselves internally - and in a rush - strategy is often the first thing to get the axe.
Agencies understand target marketing and "know who their prospects are" but only 35% have a documented content marketing strategy. – Content Marketing Institute
Along with the ad-hoc content tragedy touched upon in section 4 above, cutting corners on content strategy hurts results in other ways. Having a broad blanket sketch of who your target audience is compared to having a detailed document outlining the pain points and priorities of specific buyer personas is night and day. The strange thing is, most agencies know that the more specific your conversation is with segmented individuals, the more effective your campaign will be – but they skip this process anyway!
In addition to the issues listed above, this creates a downward spiral where goals are not documented, content is not focused, success becomes hard to measure and faith in the process diminishes. This results in even less interest in content strategy next time.
The Shoemaker Without Shoes
"A skilled or knowledgeable person often fails to use their skills for the benefit of their family and people close to them." – usingenglish.com
This old idiom poses a major threat to agencies doing their own creative work. Success is relative but ROI is not. Consider the opportunity cost of
making your own shoes. In many cases, even a barter system with another agency could be more advantageous in terms of accountability and driving results.