Each month, I’ll be covering a topic dedicated entirely to agencies called the Agency Series. After countless conversations with people in adland, I wanted to share some knowledge, tips, and resources so that you can get to know content strategy better from an agency standpoint. If you have a topic that you’d like me to cover, or a question you’d like me to answer in an Agency Series article, get in touch and let me know.
I met with an agency lead recently who wanted to add content strategy to his agency’s offering. And quite rightly, he wanted to make content strategy part of the core running process within the agency.
His biggest concern? How to get clients to buy into content strategy.
He mentioned that he has specific clients on the books that he just knows will be on board, but others that just won’t hear about any more hours being put into something they can’t see and therefore can’t justify. What’s more, some of these harder to convince clients are the agency’s key accounts, and he worries about rocking the boat.
He’s not alone.
This is something I hear more and more from my agency clients. They want, nay, need to add content strategy to their own process and their agency offering, but either can’t convince clients or don’t know how to get their buy-in to begin with.
So I thought I’d help shed some light and offer some practical advice on how I think this can be done. I’ve learned a lot of these lessons myself from fighting to get buy-in over the years. Luckily, marketers from every kind of business in every kind of sector are converting. But that doesn’t mean cold hard cash is being put aside. I see one of two things happening:
1. The client says no, the agency does it anyway but hides the hours under different line items
2. The client says no, the agency drops it.
Why do agencies struggle to sell content strategy?
A wave of understanding is sweeping through the industry. The practice of brands having a few agencies on the go is dissipating: one agency for above the line and one for below? Quit living in the past, man. In fact, 75% of client-side marketers and agency leaders believe that being a “digital” agency will be irrelevant within the next 5 years. Being digital isn't a USP anymore; you either add what's missing to your agency offering, or the client goes to someone that has it all.
What’s missing? As far as I can tell, it’s no one thing that’s missing. The biggest factor in any new technology or way of working is education. And for content strategy, agencies need to educate themselves in order to educate clients.
Here’s how to get clients to buy into a content strategy
1. Lead by example
Before you go hell for leather selling content strategy as a service, make sure your own agency’s content strategy is in place and that you are creating quality content consistently. Then, make sure that Content Strategy is embedded and accepted into your process.
Get an expert to help you create your agency content strategy and to add it to your process. Don’t try to convince clients of it until you understand how it works and complements your current business model. If you’re unsure, you can bet they will be. Get a content strategist to help build it into your agency’s core process.
For some initial inspiration, take a look at B2B marketing agency Velocity Partners. Their content strategy is undeniable, and what they produce is gold. It speaks directly to the audience in a consistent way. It’s no wonder they lead the charge when it comes to B2B content marketing.
Here’s a taster:
2. Know how to position content strategy
Client presentations are tough. Even when we know we have the best idea, the best execution, and the best team to do the job, they’re still tough. So make sure you know how to position content strategy before you add it to any client proposal. If the client doesn’t perceive the value of the service, they’ll decide against it. Gather Content published an interesting piece on the psychology of pricing content strategy services to clients. I don’t entirely agree with some of their suggestions, as you’ll see from my pricing advice below, but they nailed the positioning point:
The better you can position your services to potential clients, the more of them will want to hire you. There’s less need to compete on price when everyone feels they’re getting something exceptional in return. The first step to making your client proposals more compelling is to understand your capability to mold and shape perceived value.
3. Take the hit… for a while
If your current client book is locked down, relationships are in place, and you know that trying to up-sell at this stage is a lost cause, take the hit on the costs for the next campaign. Add content strategy to the initial phases of the brief, and don’t charge for the time.
I know. It sounds crazy and you’re screaming at me asking why the hell you’d do that?
So that you can build a case for it. Once the value of adding content strategy to the process and offering is proven, and you've dug into the data to make sure that this is the case, the client opting for it the next time around is a no-brainer. How can they say no to results off the back of free stuff?
4. Show them the process
If you’re big into bringing the client along with you on the idea and creation (which you should be. Let’s face it, we’re not in Mad Men anymore – transparency is key), show them how and where content strategy fits in with the overall process. And show them why.
To illustrate the value of a process visualisation, here is a simple and effective example: A content creation process from Britton Marketing:
Why should you show the client this insider piece of information? Again, to prove it works. Once you’ve done this a few times, you’ll have case studies and proof points to show current and potential client that this stuff works, and is necessary. Life gets infinitely easier when you have results.
You’re also telling the client that you truly understand their core goal, whatever that might be, by showing them how content strategy will help them achieve to achieve it.
When making decisions, we humans think linearly. We think in systems. And the more we understand the system, the easier it is to make a decision based on it. That’s why visualising a content strategy process is so important. And that’s why showing this visual process to the client will go a long way towards having their buy-in.
5. Create case studies
Build a book of them for as many industries and sectors as you can. This is your secret weapon when you go to sell content strategy.
How do you do this without client buy-in, to begin with?
See step 3.
6. Talk about it all the time
That’s right. Brag. Very few traditional agencies have added content strategy to their process, or at least that’s how it looks. Become known for doing it well by shouting about your success from the rooftops. Rooftops in this case meaning Twitter, of course. Blogging, indeed. Speak at events. Become the go-to for agency content strategy success.
7. Let clients ask for it
One of the most powerful resources I’ve created for my business is a self-evaluation tool. When prospective clients come to my website, they can take the test and realise themselves that they need help in the content strategy or SEO or writing department, they reach out and need no more convincing. It’s not trickery; it’s giving clients the power to conclude without being goaded or without the need for a sales talk.
Create an interactive and engaging quiz-style questionnaire to send out to clients in the discovery, pre-briefing stage of your next relationship. Let them ask for content strategy.
8. Be confident
Why are you, the agency, the best person to look after your client’s content strategy and creation?
Because you know their story. It’s already core to your process to dig into the brand and product as much as anyone can possibly dig. Why wouldn’t you sell yourselves as the expert for their content strategy and ongoing content? Sell this fact to the client. They can’t possibly refute it.
9. Price it right
Know how to sell it and be transparent about the costs. No bundling. If they don’t know what content strategy is, hiding behind the numbers won’t help matters. Be honest with the cost and time for this and you’ll have them on your side. Once you start to become known for having the best agency content strategy process in town, your value increases and you can legitimately charge more for the service. But no fibbing from the start. Get there honestly.
Content strategy doesn’t need to sit with a few experts, and while I might be shooting myself in the foot somewhat here, I share these insights because I want agencies and their clients to see and know the value of the discipline. The more understanding there is within the industry, the more effective the content that is produced is. And less eyebrow-raising in general.
Follow these steps, and you’ll have an airtight offering to go to your clients with.
In the next #AgencySeries article, I’ll be breaking down the nuts and bolts of what adding content strategy to your process might look like. With a bonus free process template that you can download and use. Make sure to follow me on Twitter and connect with me on LinkedIn so you don’t miss it!
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