What to Ask Yourself When Considering a Content Marketing Partner
When it comes to content marketing, sometimes it’s beneficial to leverage the help of an expert: an agency or consultant committed to helping organizations develop and implement content marketing strategies. This might be a good option if your higher ed institution doesn’t have the time, talent, or knowledge necessary internally to launch a robust strategy that requires the creation, distribution, and promotion of all types of content, from video testimonials to podcast series to feature articles.
But not all providers are equal—and not all of them will be a right fit for your school. Some may not have the expertise to help your institution while others may claim to guarantee major results through the use of questionable practices. That’s why there are certain questions worth asking when deciding if it makes sense to use a third-party to implement a content marketing strategy for your institution.
Can you adequately support your vendor?
Having a team of experts ready to assist you with your content marketing efforts can be a huge asset, but it’s a mistake to think that simply outsource this function will cost you little time or effort internally. Even if you have the financial resources, you still need to be able to support the vendor in a number of ways. You will need to educate them on the nuances of your brand and audiences, facilitate relationships with key campus stakeholders, and relay your business goals and marketing expectations. This translates to an upfront time investment to provide your partner with valuable context for your institution.
While a good specialist will be able to take much off of your plate when it comes to the execution and promotion of content, you will still need to collaborate closely and regularly to get the most out of the relationship. This is why, aside from the obvious financial resources involved in signing a vendor, it’s important to ensure you have the internal capacity to support and contribute to this relationship.
Does the prospective partner demonstrate a capacity and willingness to understand your school?
Unfortunately, there are vendors that will try to sell you on their content marketing expertise and strategic thinking, but who have no real interest in understanding the nuanced needs, expectations, and values of your school. Content marketing is only effective if the content itself not only educates, entertains, and inspires your audience, but is reflective of your institutional values. Some companies will boast of being able to develop tons of written content to promote online or pitch to major publications for the purpose of brand recognition. However, a poorly-researched white paper or an article about your school published by a non-relevant and off-brand publisher can not only fail to help your school, but actually damage its reputation.
A good content marketing provider knows it all starts with the mission and vision of the school, and therefore will want to learn everything they can about your school and your audiences. It can be helpful to speak with a vendor’s previous clients to ask them questions to determine if the vendor demonstrated a willingness to truly understand and serve that specific client.
Are they research-intensive and do they rely on metrics to evaluate success?
If a vendor boasts of having strong designers, video producers, and copywriters that’s great, but it’s not enough. A content marketing partner also needs strategic thinkers. Do they have a process for conducting audience research through focus groups or surveys to better understand audience needs and expectations? Do they understand how the role metrics and digital analytics play in evaluating content marketing success and how they aid in iteration?
You can review a company’s work portfolio to glean some of this, but it’s certainly worth asking for evidence of this. Don’t be afraid to ask them directly: How have you used analytics and other metrics to implement changes for past clients? Can you give a specific example of a strategy that didn’t work for a past client and what they did to remedy it?
Are they using valid and effective content marketing strategies?
Here's the thing about content marketing: it’s a long-term strategy that, though effective, does not always garner immediate results. We’ve seen too many templated and poorly researched white papers that provide no value. Instead, a content marketing partner worth their salt should be dedicated to developing content that provides value to your audience and reflects the values and mission of your institution.
Again, this is why it’s important to review content examples from many of their previous clients. What to look for:
Did they write the same ebook (minus swapping out sentences here or there) for more than one client?
Do they pitch the same publishers regardless of their relevance to the client?
Do infographics produced for different schools share many of the same characteristics?
These are clear signs that this provider is not serious about thinking through a comprehensive and nuanced strategy for your—not just anybody’s!—institution. Aside from looking at their work, it’s again worth asking them to supply names of references so you can speak with the clients themselves.
Do they want to partner with you or just earn your business?
When collaborating with a content marketing partner, “collaborating” is the operative term. In other words, make sure the provider you choose works well with the makeup of your team. Like any organization, they will have their own culture, personality, and way of working with clients. The best vendors are the ones who understand the importance of collaborative relationships, where both parties have things to offer and things to learn. If a vendor comes to the table with answers already and shows inflexibility with their thinking (or excessive arrogance), that’s a problem.
Content marketing strategies are complex and never the same for each client, and you want to partner with someone who understands this. You want someone who is willing to try new things when certain tactics don’t work and who is curious and open about learning how they can better meet your marketing goals and, of course, authentically serving your audience. Just like when hiring an employee, it’s important that you feel comfortable working with this new partner and that they really want to work alongside you, not just have yet another client they can bill each month.