Content Marketing, Blogging and Content Creation

The 6 Lifelong Laws of Content Marketing for Agencies

badge jay says The 6 Lifelong Laws of Content Marketing for AgenciesLast week I wrote about the 4 (and only 4) possible rationales for agencies to get deep into content marketing. Clearly understanding these rationales is important because content marketing isn’t free. The opportunity costs are significant, which is what we’ll explore in this post.

Can agencies truly benefit from a commitment to content (which often carries with it the bonus of getting sharper about their positioning)? Absolutely. Agencies like BlissPR (NYC, and a client), Bailey Gardiner (San Diego, and a former client), MLT Creative (Atlanta), White Horse (Portland), and even big guys like Edelman (everywhere) have transformed their business development process partially through a serious commitment to sharp content and online engagement.

But it didn’t come easy, and it didn’t come cheap.

keyboard gavel 300x199 The 6 Lifelong Laws of Content Marketing for AgenciesThe Six Lifelong Laws of Successful Content Marketing for Agencies

Among the excellent content marketers listed above, there is a difference in strategy, tactics, and execution. Each of those agencies has a slightly different recipe for how they handle themselves in content marketing. BlissPR is all B2B, and heavily blog-focused. Bailey Gardiner is mostly blog-oriented too. White Horse does more chunky content like white papers and Webinars. Same with MLT Creative. Ultimately, you can twist the knobs to suit your desires and market conditions, but these are the core principles of successful agency content marketing:

1. More = More

Five blogs posts per week are better than three. Three is better than two. If you can’t do two, kill the blog.

2. Decentralized Content

Sure, you want people to visit your blog, as it’s a natural gateway to your website and other digital puffery. But there are a lot more people on Slideshare, Facebook, and other blogs than there will EVER be on your own. Smart agencies decentralize their content in addition to publishing regularly on their own content home base.

3. Smart About Search

The best way for people who don’t know you at all to find you the first time is via search. Experienced content marketers don’t “do” search engine optimization. Rather, sound principles of optimization are built in to everything they do, from blog subheads to video titling and beyond.

4. Be a Part of Something

The best way to encourage industry professionals to consume your content is to be a part of other, existing communities where they congregate. Smart agencies put as much priority on blog commenting, conference attendance, Linkedin group participation and other bridge-building as they do their own blog writing.

5. It Starts at the Top

The senior people at agencies are always busy. That’s how they got to be senior people, because clients and other team members disproportionately gravitate toward their personality and/or expertise. Deal with it. The reality is that your agency is neither serious about nor prepared for content marketing unless the senior team is doing just as much content creation and community building as the junior team (if not more). Delegation equals death in social media.

6. A Priority, Even if it’s Costly

This is the most important commandment. If an agency is going to succeed at content marketing, it must find a way to continue executing even if something crops up (and it will).

Hundreds of agencies have started down the path of content marketing with enthusiasm and panache, only to see their efforts become staccato and ineffective. Why? Often, it’s a lack of an internal champion to continue rallying support for the effort (and a champion with enough juice in the agency to get people to pay attention). Or, it’s because the agency had to tackle a big RFP, or client renewal project, an office space move, or some other circumstance that caused senior staff to knowingly and willingly take their eye off the content ball in favor of spending those hours in some other way – and that’s the kiss of death. Once you justify not doing content marketing once, you’ll start to find lots of reasons to de-prioritize it.

Content marketing (for agencies and for corporations) is a process, not a project. You are never “done”. 

What Does it Take to Do Agency Content Marketing?

Speaking from two decades of personal experience, and currently advising 10 agencies, I can state unequivocally that the agency life is not a 9-5 gig. Hours spent working at an agency can ebb and flow like Oprah’s dress size, and work weeks of 50-60 hours or more are not uncommon. But, even within the “whatever it takes” atmosphere that is forever attached to the agency business like a barnacle, you can only push people for so hard, for so long. So for purposes of this exercise, let’s assume that the standard agency work week is 50 hours, and that from each agency employee you have 2,500 hours available per year (50 weeks @ 50 hours).

Blogging

Ideally, you should publish every day. When Bailey Gardiner moved from three posts a week to five, their traffic and leads jumped geometrically. But, since I don’t even publish every day here at Convince & Convert, I can hardly insist upon it. So, let’s conservatively assume three solid blog posts per week from your agency – ideally from senior staff.

  • Average of three hours per post to research, write, edit.
  • Average annual salary of blog contributors = $75,000
  • Hourly pay expense of blog contributors = $30 ($75,000/2.500 hours)
  • Hourly fully loaded pay expense of blog contributors = $45 ($30 x 50% overhead factor for benefits, GA, etc.)

True monthly blog cost (not including design and hosting fees) = $1,620 (36 hours @ $45/hour)

Note that is true cost, NOT opportunity cost. If the average bill rate for your blog contributors is $175, and their average billable utilization is 75%, the opportunity cost for your blog is $4,725 (36 x $175 x .75%). This of course only makes sense if you are billing hourly – which I don’t recommend, but is a post for another day.

Chunky, Decentralized Content

This is where the content that lives beyond the blog comes into play. White papers. Slideshare presentations. Webinars. Podcasts. Conservatively, let’s assume 4 of these projects each year (quarterly).

  • Average of 50 hours per piece to research, write, design, edit, publish, and market.
  • Average annual salary of chunky content contributors = $60,000
  • Hourly pay expense of chunky content contributors = $24 ($60,000/2.500 hours)
  • Hourly fully loaded pay expense of chunky content contributors = $36 ($24 x 50% overhead factor for benefits, GA, etc.)

True monthly chunky content cost (not including software or other production fees) = $600 (50 hours @ $36/hour amortized monthly)

Note that chunky content can often generate more attention and results than regular, ongoing blogging and in fact is actually less expensive than blogging on a fully loaded basis. Yet, when agencies get busy they often abandon chunky content programs so that they can keep the blog active. That may not be the best approach in every case.

Social Media and Community Building

This includes all the indirect content creation and personal branding work that draws attention to the thought leadership of the agency. Blog commenting. Group participation. Twitter. This is also more difficult to assign a formula because the number of social media active employees will vary considerably based on agency size and social appetite. What I’ve found over time, however, is that on average roughly 10% of the agency team can/will put meaningful effort into social media and community to the degree that it actually generates attention for the agency. So, if your agency has 50 employees, assume 5 participants in this effort.

Because they are far less likely to leave the agency, and have more credibility in tying their own knowledge to the agency’s expertise, this work should always include senior staff. If your CEO doesn’t understand Twitter, teach her. The “I’m too old to learn this” routine is code for “I don’t want to look stupid” so be sensitive and smart when training non-natives on the ways of the social Web. 

Your mileage of course may vary, but as a general guide I use 30 minutes per day as a estimate for time necessary to do this well. That includes scanning a few blog posts, adding a couple of comments, paying attention to Twitter, and so forth. 45 minutes would be better, but that’s a tough daily ask in an agency environment. Note also that in this scenario I’m talking about personal accounts, not official agency Twitter and Facebook accounts (see below).

  • Average of 30 minutes per workday, per participating employee, to stay involved in social media and community building
  • Average annual salary of social media participants = $75,000
  • Hourly pay expense of social media participants = $30 ($75,000/2.500 hours)
  • Hourly fully loaded pay expense of social media participants = $45 ($30 x 50% overhead factor for benefits, GA, etc.)

True monthly social media cost  = $450/employee (10 hour/month @ $45/hour) 

This would be $2,250/month for a 50 person agency with 10% participation rate.

Official Agency Social Outposts and Measurement

This includes all agency-branded social media destinations that you have to support, even though very, very few agencies make any hay with them. Twitter is perhaps the best option, as agencies can do some valuable content curation there if they resist the temptation to make all posts inwardly focused. Agencies should have a Facebook page, Linkedin page (for recruiting, if nothing else), and probably a G+ page too. In my experience, it’s rare that any of these social media outposts are major attention drivers for the agency from a new business perspective, but have other benefits (Facebook for current clients, for instance). 

As a general rule, I assume 30 minutes per workday to man/manage the Twitter account, 20 minutes per workday to handle Facebook, and five minutes per day for Linkedin and G+. You may want to reallocate that time based on your channel preference.

I also include here one hour per week for basic metrics and reporting (which includes blogging, chunky content, social media, and official social outposts). This time will increase as the agency gets more serious about content marketing.

  • Average of  6 hours per week to manage all official agency social outposts, and handle metrics and measurement
  • Average annual salary of social outpost overseers and metrics junkies = $50,000
  • Hourly pay expense of social outpost overseers and metrics junkies = $20 ($50,000/2.500 hours)
  • Hourly fully loaded pay expense of social outpost overseers and metrics junkies = $30 ($20 x 50% overhead factor for benefits, GA, etc.)

True monthly agency outposts and metrics cost  = $720 (24 hours/month @ $30/hour)

Is Content Marketing for Agencies Worth It?

Social media and content marketing isn’t inexpensive, it’s just different expensive. Based on my estimates of true costs (not opportunity costs), a 50-person agency should expect to expend this much per month in content marketing:

  • Blog = $1,620
  • Chunky Content = $600
  • Social Media = $2,250
  • Agency Outposts & Metrics = $720

Total Cost (labor only) = $5,190/month or $62,280/year

Essentially then, a 50-person agency will be dedicating the same resources as are invested in a $42,000/year employee (with a 50% overhead factor). It’s not insignificant. However, one even semi-decent client that can be attributed to content marketing, or one good client that renews, or a couple of cross-sold services, and the agency is in the black with regard to content marketing investment.

I’m thinking about putting together a downloadable spreadsheet so agencies (and anyone with a content marketing program) could input salaries, hours, etc. and calculate their true costs. Would you be interested in that?

 

  • bgindra

    Jay –

    Thanks for including Bailey Gardiner in this post. I am really enjoying this series (shared your last post internally and will do the same with this one). Completely agree about the senior level involvement. We went down the delegation road and have gone back to primarily senior writing/thinking on our blog. It’s key to writing quality posts that CMOs will care about (which ties back to your post from last week – who are you writing for?).

    We assign hours for our blog and SM management every month, but it doesn’t cover all the extras (Twitter, FB, etc.) that we all do as weekly social sharing. It is a big investment. We think it’s worth it.

    Thanks – Indra

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @bgindra You are my inspiration. Go BG go!

  • MikkoRindell

    Yes, I would definitely be interested in that. I’m working on getting our agency’s content marketing to the next level and those sheets would be very useful!

    Very useful post. I happened to come to this site the very first time and this was something that made instant follow you further!

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @MikkoRindell I’m going to work on it. Glad to have you on board. Subscribe to blog posts via email top right, and grab our 3-2-1 email newsletter (link just above the comments). Thanks!

  • http://www.element-r.com/ BobReed

    Great run down, Jay. This entire effort can also be allocated under the bucket of “agency marketing”. Indra, you supplied a great example of how you attracted and acquired a new client based on the BG blog. It also goes to the “to prove you know it, you have to show it” reality of social media. If the agency demonstrates a hit and miss approach, it hobbles itself in selling counsel to supply the same capabilities.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @BobReed I’m not sure it always hobbles the agency fully if they aren’t doing a great job in content and social, but in a hyper-competitive scenario, it can tip the scales for sure.

  • JenLovisa

    Awesome blog post Jay! LOVE it!

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @JenLovisa Right on Jen. Thanks for the comment!

  • nrobins1

    This is so useful! I’ve always calculated the cost of doing content marketing for clients, but I have never looked at it from “opportunity cost” point of view. Once again, you open my eyes to new ideas!

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @nrobins1 Happy to help, and I’m glad you liked it.

  • AnnieSisk

    Interesting breakdown. I often try to do similar analyses for new clients who haven’t yet brought the big guns on board with the whole content marketing/social media approach, though mine aren’t near as spot-on or pretty as yours.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @AnnieSisk Thanks Annie!

  • billymitchell1

    Jay,

    Thanks for including MLT Creative among your examples. I wish I could say we have it all figured out but we don’t. It’s what we are learning from our investment in content marketing that makes it worthwhile and the results are both measurable and meaningful.

    I’m no fan of wasting time and wouldn’t keep investing as we do in content marketing if it wasn’t paying off. The best reward is a more connected, informed and engaged staff. Next is our ability to speak from experience and personal conviction when consulting clients on their content development and implementation. New business is not at the top of our list but we’ve seen plenty of positive proof there as well.

    There’s a line of yours I now use (with full credit of course) anytime I’m speaking with a client or group about social media or the topic of inbound – “If you don’t love social media, you will suck at social media”.

    That relates to any agency effort related to Content Marketing. Once you start, you will never be finished so learn to love it. And never stop learning.

    Thanks for your friendship Jay!

    Billy

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @billymitchell1 You are the man Billy. The man! Your team’s focused effort on content marketing (for yourselves and your clients) is a shining example of what’s possible.

  • JustinRich1

    It really does start at the top, the best posts on our blog( http://www.tdagroup.com/contentmatters ) are done by our president Paul Gustafson ( @psgustafson ), as his experience provides him the best insight on content marketing in our agency

  • JustinRich1

    It really does start at the top, the best posts on our blog( http://www.tdagroup.com/contentmatters ) are done by our president Paul Gustafson ( @psgustafson ), as his experience provides him the best insight on content marketing out of anyone in our agency

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @JustinRich1@psgustafson Precisely so, Justin. If clients are going to hire TDA, then at some level they are doing so because of what Paul knows.

  • http://www.whitehorse.com/ unsettler

    Thanks for including White Horse on this list, Jay. I completely agree that it’s about finding the content type that works for you, based on your DNA. For us, it’s the wonkier stuff you mention — white papers and webinars — because we’re a bunch of wonks.

    Another advantage of having a few chunky pieces at the center of your strategy is that you can spin off lots of smaller pieces over time. We did a mobile in-aisle survey last summer that has since spawned a half-dozen articles, many more blog posts, 2-3 webinars, and an infographic. Same tactic the big consultancies like Forrester use. The cost of the primary research is fairly negligible in the context of the whole program.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @unsettler Exactly right. If you have the chunky content, it’s much easier to atomize it into a bunch of other archetypes. Going the other way (taking a bunch of blog posts and rolling them into an ebook, for example) is doable, but harder (I find).

  • http://offmadisonave.com/ RogerHurni

    Great post JB. I especially like the time reference for commitment by agency leadership. More times than not I hear that complaint from CEOs. It might be good for the agency leadership folks to understand that the length of what they write is less important than the quality and quantity of posts they make and comment on combined. And that doesn’t take a great deal of effort.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com JayBaer

      @RogerHurni That’s absolutely correct Roger. It’s not about writing a long post. It’s about writing a good post.

  • MagnetMediaInc

    Fantastic post. Realistic but empowering (and certainly vindicating as a content marketer/blog editor…). Thanks!

  • http://www.shortcutblogging.com/ daveyoung

    Great post. I love the math of this. We created our service to focus on the c-level leaders who “don’t have time” to write. Your calculations about the true cost and especially the opportunity cost will be very helpful in helping people see the value of a white-glove content production approach.

  • jaybaer

    @ReCourses Nice!!

  • TrinityP3

    Jay, great blog post. I am constantly surprised that agencies and even other consultants find creating and building a blog as a daunting prospect. I started our blog in 2006 and after a couple of false starts it is now central to our marketing strategy and amplified and shared through our social network. Yet people outside of the company constantly question how much time and money this costs. I love the calculations because it puts tangible support to my belief that now I cannot afford to stop doing this. Definitely create the spreadsheet because I think it will be invaluable in helping people justify the investment within their organisation. 

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  • http://twitter.com/CCSBakewell Chelsea Bakewell

    Great post Jay! This line really stuck out to me “once you justify not doing content marketing once, you’ll start to find lots of reasons to de-prioritize it.” The total cost break down was helpful, and a downloadable spreadsheet would be great.

  • Arthur Drake

    Great post! Love the numbers and the certainty you provide. You can be assured I`ll be reading more of your posts in the future

    • Laura B

      More people need to write posts like this guy!

  • Alex

    Brilliant! Thank you from England, really helped me work a few things out Alex

  • http://splashsys.com/ Deepak jha

    You are right jay,
    “Twitter is perhaps the best option, as agencies can do some valuable content curation there if they resist the temptation to make all posts inwardly focused.”

  • http://www.mymarketingperson.com tracydiziere

    A funny thing happened, Jay! After reading the Blogging section your post, I opened Excel and started plugging in your numbers and trying out different scenarios. So imagine my surprise when I finished reading to find your question about developing a spreadsheet!?! Great spirits meet, as they say, yet again . . . “sideways marketing” being the first time. Thanks for the killer insights, as always!