How to Talk Your Ad Agency Into Providing Content Services

5 minute read

Upland Admin

I hear this question a lot: How do you convince a company, agency, or employer that they need content strategy?

So I thought I’d share my story—about how I convinced my ad agency that it not only needed content strategy, but needed me to do it. Of course, first I had to convince them I could take on big content projects, which brings me to my first rule:

Just Do It

OK, overused throwback to Nike. But still. It’s the best advice I can give.

When I got to the ad agency, I was a generalist. I didn’t even have a title. But I wanted to work with content (and had some experience under my belt, certainly). So I took on the project that no one wanted to touch: technical product manuals.

Said product manuals had been written by (gasp!) programmers and (how did this happen?) an accountant. They contained phrases like this gem: “to initial most tasks, right like on Microsoft Window.” If you can figure out what that means, I hereby award you 50 points.

Obviously, something had to give. New internal staff couldn’t understand the manual. Clients certainly couldn’t. And our content management system was baffling people as a result. So I proposed a project for myself: re-strategizing, restructuring, and rewriting the offending manuals.

A month or two later the manuals were readable, clients were happy, and an internal manual had appeared and was (gasp!) used by the staff. And I was offered an actual title: Content Specialist.

Fast forward a few months, when I’m handling all of our content projects (except when I’m just too busy and we freelance them out), and I start to realize that we have a big problem. Our clients are sending over a hodgepodge of content formats with no discernible plan—and we don’t have budget to build them one. This is where content strategy enters the picture. Except I didn’t really know what it was. I just started doing a few things that would help. Whatever I could fit into the budget.

I’m not sure how I eventually found the content strategy community online, but I was relieved and pretty enthralled once I did. There were people who understood the problems I was facing. “Tell me more,” I thought. So I ordered Kristina Halvorson’s book, devoured articles by other prominent CSers, and started devising my plan to introduce this new world of AWESOME into my agency’s repertoire.

Just as when I convinced the agency of my own value to their content process, I decided the proactive approach was best. So, when the opportunity to re-do our own website arose, I interjected that we should put together a content strategy first. The agency agreed—if I could get it done quickly. And by quickly I mean that I worked evenings and weekends for the next few weeks. But we ended up with a starter strategy, including technical guidelines, design guidelines, process charts, and page tables. It was delightful.

The even better news came when the website launched, which brings me to my second rule:

Keep Track of Things

After the new website launched, we tracked our engagement, our traffic, our leads. And the result was a newfound respect for content (as well as everything else we’d done to update the site).

By three weeks in, we had twice as many leads as the previous website had brought in over the past two years—an argument for content strategy, professional writing, and user experience expertise (none of which had been implemented on the previous site) if there ever was one.

The more success you can track, the better your argument (both in your current company and with new clients).

This brings me to the final rule:

Do It Again

Not only will you need up-to-date proof of your value in so many organizations, but content strategy is changing, growing, and shifting every day. It shifts because of your also-shifting organizational goals. It shifts with new hires and layoffs. It shifts with new content channels online. You’ve already proven the value of your services once (or twice or 30 times), so it should be easier to get the CEO, your marketing manager, etc. on board with continuing efforts.

I’ll tell you one last story. After the ad agency, I took a short-term copy writing job with a large home builder. I doubt they even knew what content strategy was, but they were exploring social media, thinking about how they might need to get on the blogging bandwagon. So I offered to do a blog strategy, and (as is the norm) they said if I could do it and still get all my other work done, it sounded good to them.

Which brings me to the point of this whole thing:

Keep Selling

Whether you want to introduce content as an asset, content strategy as a necessity, or social media as a simple marketing tool, it’s all about identifying a need or gap in the organization and going for it—over and over again until the organization gets it, integrates it, and sells it. At least, that’s how I did it.

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