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- Jon Miller, founder, Marketo

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Tag: agency

Quality work – why I constantly assess our agency model

On my mind: How to describe team members at our content marketing agency. That’s partly because we’re preparing a new website – nothing radical, just something every company does. But it’s also because of an article from a partner at a VC firm.

The founding general partner at Eniac Ventures talks about team slides in decks that companies use when they’re seeking seed-stage investment. Several things caught my eye, as they relate to Collective Content (although we’re not looking for investors). Number five on his list is “If you have shared history, make that very clear” – so we’ll be doing that, for example.

Our core team averages about 20 years working with B2B content, as writers and editors. That’s across a mixture of agencies, such as PR and content marketing, and working for B2B companies. But mostly we’ve all worked in journalism (another way we’re different from other agencies). Even our wider roster of part-time specialist writers and designers tends towards the higher end of experience.

This is in contrast to agencies where a team of junior writers often means lower prices, along with a we-can-turn-our-hands-to-any-content approach.

 

Process affects

How does all this affect the way we work with clients? There’s one obvious way and it goes like this: Collective Content works to a four-step process for much content – a white paper or e-book, say. Other agencies, often where content is produced by a faceless ‘pool’ of writers (have you heard about our ‘farm fresh’ content theory?) will feed content back into a cycle of edits and other amends numerous times.

This happens because each stage isn’t as well planned, and because their model is based on cheaper, less experienced writers who iterate again and again. I don’t want to mention Shakespeare’s monkeys. But I just did.

 

The difference

The results – to be honest – can be the same. In one model (ours), a group of experienced writers and editors takes fewer stages to get the right outcome. In the latter model, where a larger group takes several more rounds of work but at a lower per-employee cost, the overall price tag to a client is similar.

Clients don’t necessarily have a preference. They just want a good result.

But I prefer doing things thoroughly at each stage, with the highest-quality people and fewer stages, to keep everyone’s blood pressure at a healthier level.

There is always a trade-off across speed, quality and price. Focusing on quality doesn’t necessarily make you slower – but it can maintain project sanity.

 

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

 

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One question to ask your would-be content agency

 

Due diligence when choosing any kind of agency – any kind of supplier – probably says: Ask more than one question. (In fact, I know it does.)

But what’s the most important thing to ask?

The answer is usually a variation on: Can you show us some work you’ve done?

When you ask this, you probably want to see something good, something inspiring. It’s also useful if it’s for a company like yours.

This is the main way agencies vouch for their credentials. (Some might even have shown you ‘creds’ decks.) But is it valid?

It’s not. Here’s why. A couple of years ago I blogged about How do you know if someone is a good writer? And the issue here is similar. It is very hard to prove that what you are being shown is by that agency. Maybe it’s by the agency but the key creatives have moved on. Maybe they subcontracted much of the work and you’d be better off hiring the key person or team elsewhere.

Or maybe the work isn’t really sharable at all. There are plenty of content audits we would never dream of sharing, as they’re not externally-facing. Think of all the projects covered by NDAs.

The short answer is that you don’t know if that agency can replicate the same quality of work for you.

Interrogate your agency

What’s the answer? One exists: that’s the good news. It involves not looking at finished work but asking the right questions of your would-be agency – interrogating them (spotlight in the face and sleep deprivation not compulsory).

Now there are plenty of questions you could ask… but here’s the one you should:

Q: How do you work?

Want a bit more flesh on those bones? You want your contact to tell you about their processes –  the at-the-coalface, creative processes. Oh, they’re in commercial and don’t do the work themselves? Tough luck. Either they have to know this or they put someone else in front of you who does.

Here’s what you should expect: an explanation of processes and personnel, including the processes and people unique to that agency. Because who doesn’t want some special sauce?

If an agency can’t explain the processes or won’t tell you about their people, these are big flashing warning signs. If they use third parties, you have every right to know who they are, where they are and what kind of access you can expect.

I don’t care if they put any number of flashy creds decks or videos or ‘past work’ in front of you. You don’t know for sure that these are authentic or relevant to you.

Before I leave, know that other routes are important too. Ask to speak to past clients. Ask what can be done for your level of budget. Ask about effects on your actual bottom line rather than marketing KPIs. Those are good lines of interrogation too.

But the one question to ask above all is about the how and who of an agency, not the what.

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

Download our exclusive research and report ‘Will PR and content marketing play together nicely?

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Content Agencies Part 1: Specialise

What follows is controversial to some. The message of this post is: do one thing well.

That’s what we believe in, speaking as a content agency. We think it’s good to specialise at being great at content. But others in agencyland would disagree. Which is why this is controversial.

We live in an age of integrated agencies. They might start out as media buyers. Or designers. Or PRs. Or a digital agency – which is a pretty wide catch-all in itself.

Then they add on complementary services. And content is complementary to all the other types of agency service.

So we get how everyone now ‘does content’. We openly partner with a number of agencies (smart guys!) for whom we’re the content arm. That makes sense all round.

But us? We’re not about to branch out.

In this series we ask one fundamental question: What makes a great content agency? After this post we will talk about all kinds of things – transparency, agency models, experience, pricing and more – but we think that, being content people, specialising on content is what we should do. Maybe not 100 per cent. But 90 per cent-plus.

That doesn’t just mean knowing how to write or edit or present or commission or do one of dozens of other content things. It means marrying all that with subject matter expertise. But these are still all fundamental content disciplines.

Do you agree? What’s been your experience, as someone buying content services or as someone else providing them? We’d love to know.

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

Need content right now? Try our new WriteNow on-demand service.

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Contact us

Contact us to find out how we can help you:

Email:  tony.hallett@collectivecontent.co.uk

Twitter:  @ColContent

Facebook: facebook.com/CollectiveContent

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/collective-content

Phone:  0800 292 2826