Last 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.
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).
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?