In Content Era, What’s the Role of Agencies?

Brands have the content bug. They’re building out media assets, even going so far as to create “brand newsrooms” that loosely mimic what real news operations do.

When brands were all about making ads, the agency role was quite clear. But now that brands are making content, the agency role is up in the air. And let’s be honest, agencies aren’t the best choice for content creation. That’s not what they’re all about. Authenticity also comes into question. After all, having someone create content on your behalf isn’t exactly being authentic and real.

“Broadly speaking, there really isn’t enough of a benefit to partner with agencies for this,” said Alexander Jutkowitz, managing partner of Group SJR, a digital agency that helps run the content sites for GE, Credit Suisse and Target. “There aren’t enough agencies that know how to marry strategy to daily [content].”

Many brands are relying less on agencies and more on publishers for content. Take Citibank’s work with eHow for a nine-part video series helping young couples navigate life-changing experiences (new home, new baby, etc.). Virgin Mobile, for example, worked with Cracked.com on a few sponsored posts and also did work with BuzzFeed last year. And while Virgin’s agencies do play a role here in terms of setting the strategy, it is Cracked and BuzzFeed that actually produced the content for the brand.

If you are a Target, GE or AmEx, you’re running something very close to a newsroom and your own media site. Taking content marketing in-house means complete editorial control and alignment with the rest of your brand’s in-house communications and creative teams.

However, if you’re in-house, you’re dependent on a Swiss Army Knife employee who is responsible for text copy, design, multimedia content, understanding the analytics of the best date and time to post various types of content, and have the strategic acumen to ensure you’re on-brand. It’s hard to find talent that can do all of that, and it’s even harder to get the budget to hire one person to handle each of those things.

What’s even harder is that content marketing is still a fairly new concept within most organizations and a lot of marketers are unable to effectively sell the belief and value up the chain of command, according to Kasey Skala, digital communications manager at Great Clips. That’s forcing brands to address content with a trial-and-error approach, and it’s getting increasingly difficult to justify the spend on “tests.”

Regardless, a lot of brands are opting for widening their talent pool over hiring an agency. It’s proving to be less expensive to create a full-service team internally. Having a brand newsroom makes it easier to create better content more efficiently, so there’s no need for an outside partner.

“A lot of this also has to do with the belief that ‘we already know our customers, so we can handle it in-house,'” Skala said.

According to Jutkowitz, there are only a handful of agencies that are really good at brand content, and the brands know that. Until agencies catch up, we’ll continue to see brands like Red Bull, Patagonia and others handling content in-house.

Image via Shutterstock

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