The Content Conundrum: Unpacking the role of content in agency new business strategy.

The word content is overused in marketing circles.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines content as “the thing represented or suggested in something written or created as art, or the ideas it communicates”. In more specific business terms it is defined as information made available by a website or other electronic medium. My understanding of the word content sits somewhere between the two. Yes, it’s information, but it needs to be creative and interesting in order to be effective. This is particularly the case for agencies wanting to use content as part of their growth strategy.


Why is content so important?

People are living their lives online and consuming content faster than it can be created. UK adults spend eight hours a day consuming digital media (IPA TouchPoints Daily Life). With ever growing access to laptops, smartphones and tablets content consumption is around the clock and can happen anywhere. The way people make decisions about purchasing goods and services has changed considerably in the last decade. The majority of a buyer’s preliminary research is now conducted online. Opinions are formed and decisions made way before there is any interaction between the two parties.


“It is not about doing ‘digital marketing’, it is about marketing effectively in a digital world”

Ivan Menezes, Chief Executive Officer at Diageo


The buying journey has also evolved for businesses procuring new agencies. Your agency will be ruled out if it can’t be found or if your online presence doesn't lead prospective clients to want to get in touch. Online visibility is a vast topic that encompasses SEO, social media, PPC etc. but content has a vital part to play in the early stages of the buying journey.

The total UK advertising market was worth £22.191bn in 2017 and digital accounted for over half of that (IAB/PwC Digital Adspend 2017). If a decision maker is on the lookout for a new agency, it’s safe to say that their search will almost certainly begin with Google.


What does it mean for agencies?

The most successful agencies have always produced content of some shape or form, but what’s changed is how it’s distributed and the range of formats available.

I’ve always been a firm believer that the best agencies couple a strong positioning with a solid point of view. Expertise, to an extent, is taken for granted. People want to know what it’s like to work with your company, how you think and what you know about their most important issues.

By creating content that takes ownership of the issues your customers face and evolving sector trends, you are positioning your agency at the forefront of the industry. People like to feel understood, which can be achieved by having the right content. You’re not only demonstrating expertise, you’re showing you care about what’s keeping your clients awake at night and how you can help. Golin’s Global Relevance Review is a great example of this.


Choosing the right format

I advise my clients to create content in the format that feels easiest and most natural for them and their team’s skill set. Articles tend to be popular as there is a low barrier to entry. The design and technology company Beyond has a good ‘Ideas’ section on their site, check it out here.

Video is exploding at the moment too – if your business has access to production capabilities, it would be worth considering moving image as part of your content plan to capitalise on people’s appetite for this medium.


“Video is a mega trend, in a decade, video will look like as big a shift in the way we share and communicate as mobile has been.”

Mark Zuckerberg, Co-founder & CEO at Facebook


Zulu Kilo Alpha’s (Ad Age Small International Agency of the Year 2017) YouTube channel is worth a look. They’ve gone down the parody route but it’s clearly working for them; they’re growing steadily and are doing some fantastic work. 

Similarly, podcasts are growing in popularity and are proven to be a good way to reach senior decision makers, who listen to them on their commutes. Like video, starting a series of podcasts will require more of an investment to get up and running but it’s worth considering if you think it would suit your setup. Madison & Culture produced by Y&R is worth a listen. It explores the ways advertising both reflects and shapes our culture.

These are the three most popular formats for content at the moment, but other options for agencies include case studies (video or written), infographics, polls/surveys and research.


Creating content with purpose

Historically ‘content’ formed part of an agency’s outbound strategy. The agency’s thinking was distributed to its audience as an interruptive form of marketing, typically via email or in the post.

The reality today is very different. I’m not saying that email and direct mail are no longer relevant, but they must be part of a wider plan. Content will now typically form part of your agency’s inbound strategy, to attract prospects at the very top of your funnel as a lead generation tool.

Lead generation aside, there are a host of other reason why agencies should develop a content marketing plan.

Building trust is crucial at the beginning of any new relationship and content can play an important part in this. By understanding your audience and creating content that talks directly to them, you are empathising with their issues and building trust.

There is a great deal written about authenticity at the moment. Brands like Dove and Patagonia are capitalising on this movement but it’s equally important for agencies to be authentic. The best content shouldn’t be salesy or explicitly talking about your agency. The hero, hub and hygiene model is an established way of categorising different types of content and their uses:


  • Hero - Designed to attract and entertain potent new clients. This is the content you want to push to a big, broad audience. Typically one or two hero pieces each year is the ideal number. The Edelman Trust Barometer would fall into this category.


  • Hub - More regular pieces that give a fresh perspective on industry trends or expert-led content, which are relevant throughout the year. These will hopefully help you build trust and give people a reason to revisit your site or sign up for emails. This article from IDEO is an excellent example of Hub content: Why Gesture is the Next Big Thing in Design.


  • Hygiene - Useful, helpful content built around topics people are searching for. It gives clear answers to the issues keeping your clients up at night. R/GA produce a steady stream of great content. This piece sits firmly in the Hygiene category: Six Trends that Will Define Mobile Marketing in 2018.


These examples are all from fairly large and established agencies, but smaller agencies with fewer resources can still achieve significant gains by implementing similar content strategies. It’s essential to establish what’s realistic and achievable. Building a strategy that the whole agency can get behind is key.


It’s safe to say that content is here to stay and for agencies, it needs to be central to their new business efforts. For some of my clients, it has simply meant an adaptation of what they have been doing for years. For those starting from scratch, it has required a shift in mindset and some extra discipline to get things going.

The rewards are there if you’re committed. If nothing else, the process of creating content means agencies are learning more about their clients, which can never be a bad thing.


Need help setting up your content-driven lead generation engine? Get in touch.