This post originally appeared on Column Five.
“Doing” content marketing well requires a lot of work and attention. You have to be willing to roll with the punches, tinker, and try new things. That means never being satisfied with the current state of affairs and always keeping one eye on the future. It’s a challenge, but it can be done—and done well. Good partners can also provide support, whether you use a content marketing agency, strategist, consultant, or freelancer. But sometimes it’s hard to decide who to work with.
Over the last eight years of running our content marketing agency, I’ve found that the best results—and best work—comes when you find talented people you’re able to forge meaningful relationships with. (We call it doing good work with good people.)
However, with the proliferation of talent marketplaces and other low-cost solutions out there, content marketers often overlook relationships in the pursuit of transactional work.
WHAT IS TRANSACTIONAL WORK?
Transactional work is done with limited context, treated as a task instead of one component of a larger plan. It’s “one and done” work. Both parties wrap up, then move on to other things. There is no investment in a working relationship. It’s simply an exchange of money for goods or service.
WHY IS TRANSACTIONAL WORK SO PERVASIVE?
The rise of transactional work can be attributed to many things, and brands pursue this type of work for specific reasons:
- Marketers are often hyper-focused on project-level ROI.
- Marketers want to keep costs down, often focusing more on what they’re spending than the value they’re getting from their investment.
- The proliferation of on-demand talent makes it easy for brands to get what they think they want.
- Marketers are often more focused on getting projects done than getting projects done that can make a real difference to their brand and bottom line.
For these reasons (and more), it‘s even harder for brands to stand out from the competition.
THE LIMITATIONS OF TRANSACTIONAL WORK
Of course, not all transactional work is bad, but purely transactional relationships limit good work in several ways.
It limits problem-solving abilities. Being proactive is difficult when you only understand one piece of the puzzle. It’s hard to have a clear understanding of a client’s needs. The initial ask may not be the best solution to achieve larger goals, but that insight is lost in a “one and done” context.
Work quality may suffer. As a result of the proliferation of marketplaces, creative work has become commoditized assembly-line work. If you’re commissioning articles that are basically a bunch of words thrown together to meet your publishing quota, you’re doing everyone a disservice. Your content should strategically solve your audience’s problems, build trust, and spotlight your expertise in the industry.
Good work goes unacknowledged. The process usually cares most about the project at hand—less about the people behind the project.
It saps time. Continually onboarding new vendors can take a lot of time away from your core business activities, which can cost more money in the long run.
It creates inconsistencies with branding and marketing. Good content marketing helps you tell a cohesive brand story. Too many cooks in the kitchen and not enough oversight can hurt your brand more than it helps.
To create better work more efficiently, collaborative relationships are key.
BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP WITH A CONTENT MARKETING AGENCY
When agencies and brands forge symbiotic relationships, the quality and efficacy of work produced is significantly better.
A collaborative relationship is a different dynamic. It means working together on a project vs. one party giving orders and one party taking orders. Because the relationship is viewed through the lense of collaboration and not transaction, there is more willingness to allow for trust and creativity on both sides. This benefits content marketers in many ways.
1) Working relationships tend to get better with time.
It’s a general rule for all relationships: the more you know someone, the better you can relate, whether you’re dealing with partners, teammates, or vendors. You get to learn from and challenge each other, which helps you both grow over time. This intimacy means you know each other’s strengths and cover each other’s weaknesses. This type of rapport means there is less posturing, more empathy, and more vulnerability.
Ego becomes less important, and the best ideas win. This is when good work can be created.
It’s worth mentioning that the first project we take on for any new client is always the toughest because there isn’t that intrinsic familiarity. But we’ve never done a second project that wasn’t substantially better than a first project, both in terms of the end product and the experience. It only gets better.
As you develop a working relationship with a content marketing agency, you develop efficiencies in your processes, start to think together, and build on what each party brings to the table. If you’re willing to make the investment, you’ll get better work—that scales.
2) A content marketing agency is often more invested than a one-off shop or freelancer.
When you forge a solid relationship with a good content marketing agency, they will invest more deeply in your business. I’m not trying to diss one-off shops or freelancers. It’s just a fact. The closer you are, the more you care (think cruising Tinder vs. moving in together). I’m not saying one is better than the other; they’re just different.
Over time, an agency becomes an integral part of what your company is doing. They share your struggles, work for your goals. They’re on the journey with you. As a result, they proactively offer help, suggestions, and recommendations for things that can help you be more successful.
Their success is tied to your success, so they will go the extra mile. They will think about your work when you don’t. They’ll help you keep your content efforts on track.
What’s every brand’s biggest hurdle? Creating enough engaging content. A content marketing agency can help you jump over that hurdle—and ensure a soft landing.
3) Brands get to leverage the collective creativity and experience of a team.
A content marketing agency provides a built-in “sanity check” that lets you tap into their collective experience and wisdom. After all, 50 brains are better than one. This is tremendously valuable. Thanks to their collective years of experience with many clients in many industries, your content marketing agency has seen most things that can go wrong. They can help you avoid making those mistakes.
(For the record, we don’t let account directors present content solutions to our partners without vetting them with our internal team first.)
Additionally, because a lot of creative work is collaborative by nature, there’s a good chance that the work you do together will have input from people who specialize in distribution, content, design, and interactive, as opposed to, say, working with a freelance designer on an infographic after working with a freelance copywriter to develop the content.
But, hey, agencies cost more, right?
“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job,
wait until you hire an amateur.”
In other words, you get what you pay for. It might be more expensive, but if you’re looking at marketing as an expense vs. investment, you have the wrong perspective for this line of work.
An agency provides tremendous value in time savings, avoided stress, headaches, etc. When it comes to creative work, I’d rather partner with a team that specializes in what I want to do than take pot shots.
Ultimately, developing a meaningful relationship with a content marketing agency is a smart decision for any brand that wants to take content marketing seriously. A good content marketing agency will use hard-earned knowledge and expertise to help you scale, create enough engaging content, and think strategically about your brand.
And that’s how you get truly great work.
Ready to start looking for a content marketing agency? Here are 12 things to look for.