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From the Trenches

Outsourcing Your Content Marketing: Homework Required

Mike Sweeney | March 28, 2013

Content marketing is indisputably hot. Budgets are up. Business awareness is up. Demand for information and services is up. Look no further than the Google Trends charts below, comparing search interest for social media marketing and content marketing.

Right now, content marketing is where social media marketing was in 2010—at the beginning of a long, powerful ascent. So, the question is not whether or not you should include content marketing as part of your marketing strategy, but rather, how you should build and execute a successful content marketing plan. If you read our last post that covered the challenges associated with insourcing your content marketing, you know that 44% of companies elected to outsource their content marketing programs in 2012. It might be the right choice for you.

Companies decide to outsource their content marketing programs for a variety of reasons:

  • They lack the in-house expertise to build a content marketing strategy and plan.
  • They recognize that they don’t have enough staff, or the proper staff, to execute a plan using in-house resources.
  • It seems easier to “experiment” with outsourcing because firms are easily hired and fired.
  • They’re used to using outside firms or agencies to execute marketing or advertising programs.
  • A belief that ROI will be better measured with “experts” running the program.

While all of these reasons are valid, that doesn’t mean that outsourcing is an easy path to content marketing greatness. It still requires work, input and management on your part.

If you’re considering outsourcing, make sure you keep these five important tips in mind when making your decision:

There is a difference between content creation and content marketing

Many companies, when choosing to outsource content marketing, turn immediately to freelance writers and editors. Freelance writers and editors do just that—they write and edit.

Content marketing, done right, involves content creation, as well as important stages that occur before and after, including content planning, content optimization, content distribution, content reporting and analysis, and a social media component. You need all of those phases to be covered by your outsourcing company (or in-house staff) to maximize your content marketing investment.

Scope it right: know whether you’re outsourcing everything or just some things

Before diving into any outsourcing relationship, spend the time to figure out who is handling each facet and deliverable of content marketing. This should be covered in your content marketing plan.

No one—agency, freelancer, or client—wants to start having the “out of scope” discussion during the honeymoon phases of the relationship. It messes with momentum, and those first few months of the engagement are critical.

Success rests on the shoulders of your leader

Every content marketing effort needs an internal champion—someone who rallies behind the cause and can spur subject matter experts and other internal resources into action when necessary. Without this internal resource, even the best outside content marketing team will have trouble. But someone also needs to spearhead the effort and take on both strategist and taskmaster roles.

Here’s where it gets dicey: Is that internal champion also the taskmaster and strategist? Sometimes that works, but many times it doesn’t.

You might be able to outsource all the strategy and tactics to the firm you are working with, but that depends on whether they are focused on execution, strategy, or both. It’s critical to understand what they will really offer and what they promise to deliver.

Check out Who Should Lead Your Content Marketing Program for some helpful tips.

Choosing the right firm makes all the difference

I could write for hours on this topic. There are so many different flavors of content marketing firms and so many different ways you can choose the wrong one. Are you sufficiently scared now?

In lieu of the full version, here are a few quick tips that should be part of your homework in vetting your prospective firm:

  • Make sure they practice what they preach; ask for references
  • Review a variety of content pieces
  • Ask about the process involved in creating and marketing some of those specific content pieces
  • Dig into the type of reporting you’re going to receive and what kind of analysis will accompany that reporting
  • Ask what the team will look like—who will be on it, and what roles each will play
  • Find out about their “onboarding” process. How will your new outsourced partner get to know you and everything about your company?
  • Inquire about who will do the writing

Background work is required to craft professional, polished content

Every single one of our prospective clients asks us how we will get to know them well enough to create the high-quality content they are after. Most are extremely skeptical about an outsider’s ability to understand a company, its products, and services well enough to write original, polished material.

I normally answer that question with another question, “How did you, or any of your staff members, learn to understand the company well enough to write original, polished material?”

Make sure your outsourced content marketing company has a solid plan for learning about your company. They should ask for everything imaginable about your business—blog posts, articles, press releases, etc.

Then get assurances that they will hire only the best writers.

The real professionals have been through this before, probably dozens of times, and they have a method for figuring out how to draw the right topic, tone and content out of a client.

Any good content marketing insourcing or outsourcing stories? Feel free to share in the comments section.

Need to convince someone that content marketing is a smart investment? Get easy-to-digest tips and more detailed content marketing approaches from Right Source and other industry experts in our free content marketing eBook: How to Grow Your Business with Content Marketing.


Related Resources

About Mike Sweeney:

As Right Source’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Sweeney creates, plans, and implements our vision, mission, culture, and strategic direction as well as serving as an advisor to our clients. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame and has more than 20 years of experience in B2B marketing strategy, including digital, content, and marketing technology. You can find Mike on LinkedIn.