Business advice: Content Marketing Agencies

by | Jun 2, 2014 | Agency Roadmap

Content marketing agencies need a stronger business strategy than "Make It Go Viral!"

Content marketing agencies need a stronger business strategy than “Make It Go Viral!”

I work with all kinds of digital marketing agencies, including content marketing agencies. In my experience, content agencies face some unique opportunities and challenges.

Knowing these structural factors is the first step in creating a business strategy to help you and your agency succeed—both to recognize new opportunities and to avoid predictable problems.

After all, everything’s easier when you plan ahead—versus dealing reactively with problems.

These observations apply to agencies doing 100% content marketing, as well as to content work done by generalist digital agencies. [Updated: May 2022]

Common Business Factors for Content Agencies

For content marketing agencies I help, here are some common factors:

  1. A focus on retainers (good for revenue stability, but requires consistent monthly delivery to avoid termination by clients)
  2. Long-term client relationships (good for revenue predictability, but makes it harder to raise average rates over time; and clients and the agency often become complacent)
  3. Option to outsource production work to freelancers (good for flexibility in staffing and cost-control, but requires more management and recruiting overhead than salaried teams)
  4. Google keeps rewarding whitehat “create good content” approaches (mostly positive, although this can lead to complacency for whatever’s going to happen five years from now)

Opportunities for Content Marketing Agencies

Retainer Expansion: If a client’s happy and they’re seeing results, they’re likely to expand their retainer. You need to demonstrate value, of course. You can do this through regular reporting and through aligning your work to their metrics. Consider that many of my clients are shifting toward transparent deliverable-based content marketing packages at their agencies, rather than the more traditional “X hours a month” retainers.

Partnerships for Revenue: You can do whitelabel or agency partnership work for other agencies that don’t have in-house content marketing capabilities. Here’s more on the pros and cons of whitelabeling.

Evergreen Value: Major Google algorithm changes continue to reward a “create good content” whitehat SEO strategy. If you’re doing that, your clients should be in good shape. Compare this to agencies doing blackhat SEO or “grayhat” SEO—what worked a few years ago is this year’s “disavow” request.

Challenges for Content Marketing Agencies

Differentiation: Clients can’t always tell the difference between your agency charging $150-250/hour (or the project equivalent) and a well-positioned freelance copywriter who charges $75-100/hour. Indeed, that freelancer may be a better match for smaller clients, although this creates new opportunities for you in serving bigger clients.

Client Expectations: If clients are expecting you to go “make it go viral” or “rank 1st in Google,” there’s going to be a major mis-match. Reading my eBook on client expectations management can help, but some clients may be so demanding that they’ll never be happy. If clients want a huge retainer, this can stress your agency as you struggle to hire people to fulfill the work.

Indispensability: Clients can become overly reliant on any one strategist at your agency. I ran into this as a PM at a web agency, where a client was deluging a particular strategist with requests. We ultimately set some boundaries and I explained that going to me first was the fastest way for him to get results. The biggest risk is that if that employee leaves (which she eventually did), does the client trust that the rest of the agency knows their account?

Need Help?

Need help beyond what I’ve shared here, either in charting your agency’s strategy or getting perspective on what other agencies do? I’m glad to help—please get in touch.

Image credit: Viral cat photo from Udo Springfield, via Creative Commons

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