Not all content marketing agencies are created equal. This is a fact that, if overlooked, can end up costing you lots of wasted marketing dollars and can leave you scrambling to clean up the digital mess left in the wake of a bad content marketing agency.
Investing in an agency can save you time and money by allowing you to avoid hiring in-house talent and adding new salaries to your team. It can also, however, completely backfire if you don’t do your research and learn as much about an agency as you can before you hire them. Here are 10 questions you should be asking a content marketing agency before you sign any paperwork.
Top 10 Questions to Ask a Content Marketing Agency Before Hiring
How long have you been in business?
There are two schools of thought on this. With an experienced content marketing agency, you get a team who has been through most situations, received their bumps and bruises, and learned lessons along the way that have helped them perfect their operations.
On the other hand, you’ve got the new kid on the block, who may not have the experience, but is highly motivated and energized to make a name for themselves, and they are going to put 150% of their effort into making sure you are happy.
What’s the right answer for you? It really depends. This question is more or less a starting point for you to get the conversation rolling and learn more about the content marketing agency you’re considering for your content marketing. Once you know what level of experience the agency has, you’ll want to find out more about what that experience entails. Delve deeper to find how that experience relates to you.
Do you have any experience in our industry?
If you’re in the travel and tourism industry, and the content marketing agency that is pitching to you has largely worked with clients in the financial industry, they may not be a good fit. The problem is that the audience, subject matter, tone, messaging and other factors can be vastly different.
It’s not 100% necessary, however, that an agency works specifically in your industry. While it does help, sometimes an outside perspective can be helpful. It can help to eliminate bias and can often lead to innovative ideas. This works better if there are similarities between your industry and the agency’s area of expertise. Sometimes the best way to determine whether an agency is a fit in relation to this question is to compare what they’ve done with what you’re trying to do.
Can you show us some examples of previous work?
Case studies of successes that agencies have had working on similar projects can provide you with excellent insight into how your project might turn out if you choose to work with them. In addition to case studies, ask for related references. While case studies are typically created by the content marketing agency itself, testimonials from clients come directly from the mouths of the clients and can offer unbiased feedback about working with the agency in question.
Examples of an agency’s previous work, coupled with testimonials from clients, are highly valuable. These items can provide information about things like types of work they’ve done, clients they’ve worked with and how they’ve organized their team to take on certain projects, which brings up the next question.
How do you staff a project?
The impact that this answer has on your decision will likely depend upon the size and type of project you’re working on. If you’re looking to hire an agency for a large-scale project that requires the creation of 1,000 pieces of content, you probably want to avoid agencies that do it all in-house. It’s likely the staff they’ve got is already working on a bunch of other projects, and adding a project this large will put them so far underwater, your project is likely to drown along with them. In cases like these, look for an agency that has a large network of contractors like writers, editors, project managers, graphic designers and others built up. These agencies can ramp up staffing for large-scale projects and scale back down for smaller projects.
Don’t rule out agencies that do it all in-house, however. If your business is small and your content needs are small, a boutique-sized agency may be the perfect fit. Additionally, if you delve deeper, you may find that the boutique content marketing agency you’re interviewing excels at management and brings in a larger partner agency to do the production while they manage the overall scope of the project. Take the time to learn more about the people, processes, and tools used by the agency.
Do you have a management tool?
Agencies that don’t use a management tool, which are probably few and far between, should be ruled out. Unless your project is extremely small, there will be a significant number of moving pieces and parts that require a good deal of organization.
There are a variety of management options, so ask the agency to share some information about the tools and systems they have in place. Some may use software that they license from an outside vendor, while others may have their own software that they license to you. Others create customized tools for each different client. Consider each option carefully, and decide what you feel will work best for you.
Next, you’ll want to look at how the agency gathers all the information that goes into the content that they manage.
What is your research process?
The only wrong answer here is, “We don’t have a research process.” The chances that you’ll receive that answer, however, are slim to none. If you do get that answer, promptly advise the agency that they should find a different line of business. Marketing, of any kind, requires research. Without it, it’s all guesswork and gambling (which could be fun, I guess).
The right answer to this question can take a wide variety of forms. Research processes can differ greatly from agency to agency. Here are a few key elements that you’ll want to make sure the agency includes:
- Know your company
- Understand your goals and objectives
- Target audience research
- Industry and market research
- Competitor analysis
There will likely be other elements included in companies’ research processes, but these five should be staple components. Companies should also be continually honing their research skills, along with other skills necessary stay on the top of their game.
Does your team receive continued training?
Content marketing is a field in which best practices and trends change so quickly that it can sometimes be hard to keep up. You wouldn’t buy a computer that uses technology from the 1990’s to do work that requires today’s computing standards, would you? So why trust the health and well-being of your content marketing to an agency whose practices are outdated?
Make sure that the agency you hire is in the habit of providing their team with continued learning opportunities. Whether that means sending team members to attend conferences, conducting in-house training sessions, encouraging dedication of time each day to reading and research, enrolling in online training, or any number of other tactics, a quality agency will have these in place.
All of the questions above are just part of the equation. Next, you’ll want to ask the agency to sum it all up for you and give you their best elevator pitch.
What makes you the best fit for us?
Any good agency will be willing to admit when the fit just isn’t right. If a project is too large or too small, involves work that isn’t within an agency’s area of expertise, or any number of similar factors, a respectable agency will tell you so up front. If you don’t get an answer to this question that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy, that’s cause for concern.
The agency you hire should smoothly integrate into your overarching marketing plan. They should understand your agency as much as an outsider possibly can, and you should get a sense that they’ll be easy to work with. You don’t want to hire an agency that’s too lenient and is afraid to tell you when you’re wrong, but you don’t want to hire one that’ll be a jerk about things either. Make sure the agency you hire is a fit in every way.
What do your services cost?
While the answer to this question may ultimately determine whether you hire an agency or not, you should ask this question next to last. The reason is that you don’t want to risk missing out on the agency that is the best fit for you just because the price tag was a little higher than you originally assumed it would be.
Cost should be one of the last considerations. While you obviously need to stay within your budget, don’t let your budget steer your decision fully. Take all of the above into account. If the agency is the perfect fit for you, but they’re a little expensive, don’t make the mistake of settling for an agency who’s less of a fit just to save a few marketing dollars.
Ask for a proposal. It’s 50/50 whether an agency will divulge their pricing up front. Many times they’ll want to put together a proposal based on the scope of your project. Each project is different, which makes it difficult to put an estimate on something without working it out piece by piece. If the price is right, there’s just one more question you need to ask.
When can you start?
All other things considered, it’s important to know that an agency can produce within the timeframe that is required of your project. Here are a few things you’ll want to consider when asking this question.
Never hire an agency that says they can start tomorrow.
- This is a red flag that they aren’t very busy, which might mean that they aren’t very good
- There should always be a ramp-up period during which the agency is getting the team in place, conducting research, and doing other necessary prep work
Avoid an agency that is wishy-washy about start times.
- An inability to set at least an estimated start date could mean that you’re getting involved with a highly unstable agency
Be wary of an agency that pushes the start date too far out.
- This may be a sign that the agency doesn’t have it all together and is buying extra time to account for the inevitable stumbles they’re expecting to encounter
Once you have the answers to all of these questions, you’ll be able to form an educated opinion as to whether or not you want to work with a particular agency. I encourage you to form some questions of your own, and add those to the list. The more questions you ask, the better informed your decision. Being well informed about the agency you plan to hire can help you get the most out of your marketing dollars and avoid any problems that come along with choosing poorly.
What other questions do you recommend asking a content marketing agency before you hire them? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.
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