You want a website? Why?

Content marketing agencies rely on membership bodies and brands giving them work, ideally repeat work. To ensure a mutually beneficial long-lasting relationship, it’s important to ask the right questions of prospective clients right from the start.

By James Evelegh

You want a website? Why?
Mike Sewell.

If you’re a content marketing agency and a prospective client comes to you and says, “I want you to make us a video / magazine / podcast”, the right response is not, “what’s your budget and when do you want it by?” but rather, “why do you want it and what’s your message?”

Mike Sewell is managing director of CPL, a Cambridge-based content marketing agency. Their clients are, in the main, membership organisations like the National Autistic Society, The Camping and Caravanning Club and the Market Research Society.

Mike’s message to prospective clients who come with preconceived ideas of what content they want to produce is: “Let’s stop and work out why you want to create this content.”

In these initial meetings, he tries to nail down the following:

  1. What is the message? Sometimes organisations come to him with a stated aim of “launching a magazine / website / podcast” but he encourages them to put questions of channel aside until they have worked out the message.
  2. What are the content goals? If you have no goals, then what will success look like? If the aim is multi-year content contracts, then agencies need success criteria to be established. Typically, these will be expressed in terms of member retention / acquisition.
  3. Are these aims aligned with the organisational goals of the client? On the surface, this should go without saying, but it needs to be pinned down. Because, if they’re not aligned, any comms strategy will soon fall apart.
  4. Has the whole senior team bought into deploying a content strategy? If there are powerful voices that are not onboard, then that spells trouble further down the line.
  5. What content do they plan to make available to members and what, if any, to non-members and why?
  6. What data is available to help shape the content strategy? Organisations are often sitting on lots of untapped data which could provide valuable insights for content targeting and messaging.
  7. What thought has been given to promoting the content they produce? The best content in the world is worthless unless there is a well-thought through and properly resourced promotional and distribution plan.

If you as an agency get the right response to these questions and have the resource to deliver on what the prospective clients wants, then a long and fruitful relationship beckons.

Using membership data

One area in which Mike would like to see content marketing agencies and their clients work better together is in using data to ensure a better fit between content and the organisation’s goals.

A recent survey CPL conducted of membership organisations – The Content Connection – found that “almost one in five respondents said their membership data is rarely shared across the organisation and fewer than half have access to data whenever they need it”.

Commonly, data captured went barely beyond the transactional details associated with the processing of membership subs and renewals, rather than collecting information about members’ needs and behaviour.

Rigorous interrogation of data to, for instance, recognise members who would respond positively to certain types of content or to highlight members unlikely to renew is the exception not the rule.

The research showed that member organisations could be using customer data to play a much greater role in how they gain and retain members.

Where do organisations, which might be rich in data but poor in data management expertise get started?

According to CPL’s report, a good start point is to ask the following five questions: 1. How much member data do you have? 2. Can the right people access it? 3. What is the data being used for? 4. Where could the data have more impact? 5. How can you use it to future-proof your business?

If the organisation has limited resource and has made little use of customer data to date, then a good approach is to keep it simple, test and learn. Identify some quick wins and build from there. If you choose the right content marketing agency, then they should be able to advise.

“Whatever the precise aim of content creation, lifting the blindfold to get a clearer view of your target is a first step on the journey,” is one of the conclusions of the report.

The nature of the content marketing agency (previously known as contract publishers) has evolved over the years and they now include within their teams, videographers, animators, digital marketers and salespeople, yet at the core, says Mike, remains a focus on storytelling. Old-fashioned words and pictures are still fundamental and print continues to play a central role in the content marketing mix.

Whatever the precise aim of content creation, lifting the blindfold to get a clearer view of your target is a first step on the journey.

You can hear Mike Sewell being interviewed by James Evelegh on a recent episode of The InPublishing Podcast, which was sponsored by AdvantageCS, a leading global provider of subscription and membership management software.

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list, please register here.