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How content marketing agencies can be more effective than hiring in-house

How content marketing agencies can be more effective than hiring in-house

Hopefully it’s pretty obvious that we are a content marketing agency, but just in case it isn’t, we are. So, it’s tricky to be objective when it comes to this in-house versus outsourcing debate. Instead of trying to do that, we’re going to go ahead and make the case for agencies like ours.

According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), 59 per cent of Australian marketers outsource at least one element of their content marketing strategy. That stat chimes with an increasingly common theme for us: in-house content marketing teams looking for help with particular campaigns or tactics. What they need is topping up or filling in the gaps.

But the flipside of that stat is that 41 per cent of marketers don’t need any external help. They’re able to meet all of their content marketing needs with their internal teams. The challenge for agencies here isn’t convincing brands to outsource everything or bashing in-house teams by painting them as an inferior option.

Instead, we need to demonstrate that we have the ideas, flexibility and skills to complement what in-house teams do. That means being able to give them what they want when they ask for help. But it also means showing them compelling new opportunities that they might not yet have thought of.

In this post, we’ll highlight some of the areas where we believe content marketing agencies can add real value to in-house teams. But let’s start with outlining the range of different skills involved in creating and executing modern content marketing campaigns so we all know what we’re talking about.

10 essential skills for content marketing success

Content marketing campaigns are about a lot more than writing blogs. Here are 10 skills you should have to hand if you want to beat the competition and smash your ROI targets:

  1. Strategy and Planning: Content marketing campaigns start with a good understanding of your target audience. For that you want someone who can create user personas that define who you’re targeting, what they want from you and what actions you want them to take. From there you can decide your primary and secondary conversion goals for your content marketing campaign and have a clear idea of how you’ll measure success.
  2. UX: Expertise in user experience (UX) has become part of the core content marketing skill set in recent years. You will want your content to be presented in an accessible and engaging format so that you can extract the maximum value from it. Good UX makes it more likely that users will enjoy your content and that you’ll drive more conversions from it.
  3. SEO: Analysing your site and comparing it to best-practice SEO and to what your competitors are doing requires an SEO specialist or at least a strategist with strong SEO credentials. But you also want your writers to have a good understanding of how search works. Blogs and landing pages flow a lot better when the writer isn’t just following someone else’s instructions.
  4. Writing: Content marketing campaigns almost always involve some writing. But writing snappy ad copy and writing a technical whitepaper are very different. A lot of campaigns need contributions from more than one writer.
  5. Design: A challenge for all content marketing campaigns – whoever is in charge – is finding ways to set your content apart from the competition. Access to a graphic designer is a good way to put your brand’s unique look and feel on the content you create, whether that’s on your website, on social media or in your emails. Designers also give you opportunities to recycle your best content ideas into new formats.
  6. Web: Your UX and SEO analysis won’t do you any good sitting in a slide deck. The recommendations need to be implemented so you can show your content in the best possible light and make sure the right people get to see it. A lot of marketers can handle the basics of a website CMS like publishing a blog post or changing a landing page template. But at some point you’ll need a proper web developer to implement your ideas.
  7. Video: As with graphic design, videos are a chance to separate your content from what your competitors are doing. Video is getting cheaper and easier to make all the time, but creating really valuable and reusable video assets requires more than a smartphone app.
  8. Social Media: We have a rule that we never like to rely on one channel to get our content seen. But while anyone can post on social media it’s really a thorough understanding of the ad products that makes the difference these days. Organic reach on most social media sites is increasingly limited, making ad spend essential for getting the right eyeballs on to your content.
  9. Google Ads: As with social media campaigns, anyone can do Google Ads, but not everyone knows how to do it well. And if you’re spending more than a few hundred dollars a month on your ads that knowledge can make a big difference to your ROI.
  10. Email and Marketing Automation: Content marketing without marketing automation is like getting dressed up in your glass slippers and magic party frock, but deciding to give the ball a miss and stay home. If you want to get real value out of marketing automation, you’ll need lots of good content but also someone who’s comfortable with your chosen platform.

10 ways content marketing agencies can be more effective than hiring in-house

So, no in-house bashing but here are our 10 ways that content marketing agencies can be more effective than doing it all on your own:

1. Expert sharing

We’ve led with this one because we work with a lot of mid-sized organisations that would never need a full-time person in most of the disciplines we listed in the previous section. Using a content marketing agency is a bit like a timeshare in that regard: you don’t need and can’t afford to live in that fancy villa. But staying there for two weeks every summer makes for a great holiday and fits your budget.

UX analysis of your website might help find ways to improve conversion. But that doesn’t mean you want a UX analyst on your payroll, occupying space in your office and complaining about their squeaky chair. Of course passing on the hassle, risk and management overhead to your agency will be reflected in their fee.

2. Good versus great

This one is also about expertise. A lot of the skills you need for a content marketing campaign are on a broad spectrum. Let’s take writing, for example. It should be easy enough to find someone on your marketing team who can get their head around your brand voice and smash out a half decent blog. But that’s not the same as a professionally trained writer who knows how to use source material properly, understands SEO and can write in different registers. An agency should be able to give you access to genuine specialists in each field.

3. Fresh eyes

A trap that a lot of brands fall into is running campaigns that appeal to them rather than to their audience. In-house teams that live and breathe one business every day can sometimes struggle to put themselves in their customer’s shoes. An agency is a fresh pair of eyes. They can look at business from the outside and break through some of the group-think that pervades when the same people talk about the same issues over an extended period of time.

4. Single focus

We’ve lost count of the number clients and prospects who were supposed to be running their own content marketing campaigns but need our help because they’ve been given too many other things to do. One of the temptations, especially for smaller brands, is to prioritise other things over updating the blog or creating new high value assets for social media.

5. Accountability

It would be unfair to say that in-house teams don’t have to answer for their results. True, some in-house teams get an easy ride on ROI, but so do some agencies. The big difference though is that if you’re unhappy with the results, changing your in-house team is more difficult than changing your agency. If you’ve chosen well, your agency will a) know that and work harder to avoid losing your business; and b) offer flexible enough terms that you’re not tied in if you’re not happy with the results.

6. New products

As part of the effort to stay relevant and retain clients, content marketing agencies need active product dev. That’s not to say in-house teams can’t come up with new ideas and tactics. But client relationships for agencies are a constant cycle of pitch, convince, prove, repeat. Getting access to these new products can be a real advantage when it comes to staying ahead of the competition.

7. Stability

This might seem like an odd one to put in a pro-agency list. You would probably think that in-house is the more stable option. After all, we’re talking about permanent hires sitting in your office, not an agency on a temporary contract.

But in our experience, in-house marketing teams often have high staff turnover. A lot of marketing jobs are entry level, meaning people move on after 12-18 months. Unless you have a big, growing team, chances are they’ll move on to another company. We’ve plenty of client relationships that have lasted longer than multiple iterations of in-house teams.

8. Ebbs and flows

We already talked about the flexibility you get with a content marketing agency, but don’t feel short-changed by us revisiting the point. This is different enough to warrant its own entry. We find the most effective way to do content marketing is campaign-to-campaign. You set some goals, build a strategy, execute that strategy, analyse the results and then go again.

Content marketing agencies are better equipped to deal with this feast-or-famine approach. If you’re relying solely on your own people then you can sometimes find they’re massively over-worked during a campaign and then kicking their heels while you gear up for the next one.

9. Fresh faces

Like any marketing campaign, sometimes content marketing needs a reboot. Changing the people can be a good way to hit the reset button. If you’re using a content marketing agency, that doesn’t mean you have to fire your agency and hire a new one. You could just get some of the people working on your account changed.

Perhaps you want some new, more radical ideas from a new strategist. Or maybe the writing has gone a bit stale and you want to rotate your bloggers. An agency should be able to accommodate those sorts of requests and action them quickly. Changing up people on your in-house team is trickier, unless you have a big team with multiple people in each role.

10. Upskilling

Our last point assumes you’re doing what most brands do: some hybrid between all in-house and over-reliance on an external partner. Ideally you have enough expertise in-house to choose a good content marketing agency and keep them honest.

But you should also learn from your content marketing agency. They should be able to do things you can’t do internally and they should also help you understand your audience, your brand and your options when it comes to content marketing tactics. That way you get the best of both worlds: access to high calibre, external expertise – and more knowledgeable, more capable employees.

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Adam Barber
Adam Barber About the author

Adam is one of Castleford's founders and remains actively involved in the day-to-day running of the business. He started out as a writer and still contributes regularly to our blog, covering SEO, CRO, social media and digital strategy.

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