How 4 ad agencies collaborate to create awesome content
Content marketing, inbound marketing and native advertising practices have entrenched themselves in every corner of the marketing spectrum. Entire businesses like Buzzfeed, Nativo and ShareThrough have sprouted to serve this growing marketing practice. But it’s not just publishers and ad tech vendors who have hopped aboard this train. It’s ad agencies as well. But how are these agencies folding these new methods of marketing into their service offerings? How are they collaborating internally and with external resources to ensure everything moves along swimmingly?
To find out, I reached out to several agencies to query them on their mindset, approach, and collaborative practices as they relate to the creation and dissemination of content. In general, agencies are approaching the creation of editorial content much in the same way they approach the creation of an ad campaign. But differences arise with the addition of new players in the process.
Content creation is collaborative
Perhaps stating the obvious (which, let’s be honest, can’t be done enough in this fast-moving business), School of Thought creative director Tom Geary says it’s all about a strong partnership and three key steps. As he explains, “Content marketing has to be collaborative. The client, after all, is the expert in their field. Our job is to leverage that expertise. That means, one, get up to speed fast – researching, studying, and most importantly, asking questions. Two, hone in on the key message(s). Three, translate it/them into a suitable content format. It’s a rewarding process. Pretty much any vendor can perform step three. It takes a partner to execute steps one and two.”
So, much like creating an ad campaign that resonates effectively with its intended audience, partnership and knowledge sharing are key. It’s collaborative, too. And the creation of content has changed the way agencies work with clients and how they work internally.
Getting down to details on just how his agency effectively collaborates and approaches the process of content creation, Brunner VP, director of social media George Potts says, “Content creation at Brunner is not the exclusive domain of one agency function. It is a cross-functional team process, involving social media strategists, community managers, public relations specialists, paid media planners, account leaders, consumer/readership researchers, creative writers, visual designers and production professionals.”
MRY CMO David Berkowitz concurs, saying, “All content marketing and native advertising comes out of our media team, which covers earned, owned, and paid media, in collaboration with the creative and production teams depending on the content involved. We have account managers and project managers handling the process, but then various media specialists executing the advertising. The client is involved throughout the process, from aligning on strategy and goals at the outset to reviewing creative and copy.”
Over at Brunner, Potts says his agency has adopted a brand publishing model that “evolved from traditional journalism” that puts the reader, not the brand, first. Shaking up internal functions at the agency, he says “the agency fused social media, public relations, media planning & placement, research and strategy into one communications planning department, whose leaders, along with a few content marketing champions in our creative department, manage content creation. The process fosters, and benefits from, a synergy between owned, paid and earned media perspectives. Also, we’re experimenting with new roles such as brand publisher/content strategist and brand editor to further elevate our approach. These positions currently report to the VP, director of social media and SVP, communications planning.”
Who creates the content?
New models of collaboration will continue to evolve to properly serve content marketing and native advertising. As they should. But, cutting to the chase, who actually creates the content? And what processes surround the creation of the content?
MRY’s Berkowitz says most of the content created for clients is done in-house, but outside production studios or other specialty shops are tapped when needed. At TDA_Boulder, it’s a tight ship, with executive digital director Gene Paek saying, “We concept, write and direct all brand-created — as opposed to user-generated or influencer-created — content in-house for our clients.”
At School of Thought, it’s not so cut and dry; the agency uses both internal and external resources to create content. But key to the process is central management. “We are always the client’s point of contact with the developing content. We project manage,” says Geary.
Pointing out the fact that not all content is original (nor does it need to be) and that, sometimes, it’s reformatted, reused or repurposed, Brunner’s Potts says his agency occasionally partners with content marketing companies such as NewsCred, which can both license existing content as well as call upon its network of content creators on behalf of the agency. And the agency has forged a relationship with content distribution company Nativo to bring scale to content on behalf of its clients.
In an effort to better collaborate with content creators and convey to those content creators the place and purpose of a particular piece of content, Potts delineates content into three categories: hero, hub and hygiene. “Hero content inspires through emotional storytelling, and is typically higher production value, and promoted through paid media,” he explains. “Hub content appears at a regularly updated destination (typically social or brand.com); it must be valuable and engaging, worth returning to or sharing. Hygiene content delivers our most compelling or useful response to a user’s question, most typically through search, social and brand.com.”
Collaborating with publishers and content syndicators
The collaborative process of producing content and the decision of who does the actual producing are both important elements of content marketing, inbound marketing and native advertising. Of equal importance is working with entities that get that content in front of an audience. Sometimes its just an internal, client-side process such as publishing content on a corporate blog. Other times it’s finding more legs for the content through PR efforts, paid native placements or ad network-like content distribution mechanisms. In all cases, collaboration remains key.
In terms of working with a native advertising partner or content syndication vendors, Brunner’s Potts says his agency follows “three critical steps.” First, “be clear on goals and objectives upfront with all parties.” Second, “determine a way to make sure the readers’/consumers’ needs are met.” And third, “establish a clear chain of communications. You can have many varied points of view within the team, beyond just the agency’s. All will need to be heard. And the agreed upon criteria will need to be revisited regularly.”
Though Potts doesn’t usually work directly with publishers — preferring, instead, to work with content syndicators like Nativo, Sharethrough and Outbrain — when he does he says “we doggedly pursue a co-created approach to the content. Doing so exposes us to how they run their pub/property — which, in turn, helps us understand how we’ll get, and certify that we will get, the publicity we seek. Also, co-creation lets the publisher understand our brand publishing mission, which further helps guarantee success.”
Creating content that will be used on a corporate blog, syndicated through a content distributor or spread through social media can be a complex process, but, like anything complex in this world that requires more than one person to complete, effective collaboration will lessen headaches and streamline the process.