Do You Need Content Strategy Consulting

Okay quick — how many consultants does it take to change a light bulb? There is no shortage of punch lines here. “It depends — how large is your budget?” Or — “We don’t know — they never seem to get past the requirements stage.” Or, here’s our favorite (maybe because we made it up) — “Four: one to change the bulb and three to blog how Seth Godin would have done it.

Okay, jokes aside — once you’ve developed a content marketing process and you’ve explored the capabilities (or bandwidth constraints), you may determine that you need to outsource some of the work or all of it. After having read Part 1 of this book, maybe you even felt overwhelmed and asked yourself how you can hire a consultant to tackle that phase.

Let’s break it down into two areas you may want to seek help with.

A Consultant to Help Set the Strategy

This is your story, but sometimes you need help telling it.

If you’re struggling with the strategy, consultants can help bring out your unique story — the one you want to tell — and help you set the stage to tell it. If you think that sounds like a good idea, then it may make sense to bring in an outside consultant.

A good consultant will:

  • Bring the experience of previous engagements and help you avoid the pitfalls that are inevitable in setting any new large effort
  • Help uncover your unique conversation
  • Devise the execution plan
  • Reset expectations among the team, especially where there is internal disagreement about the details of how it will all get done.

“But isn’t that why we pay the marketing department?” you may hear — or even ask yourself. In other words, “it costs too much.”

This is a common objection for consultants in general. In fact, calling an engagement “strategic” immediately puts the business user on the defensive. Shouldn’t you be the “strategic” ones?

Frankly, a content marketing consultant should not be hired to set marketing strategy because it’s your story. The consultant is just there to help you tell it and teach the organization how to do something new, or more efficiently — or (by nature of the fact he or she is being paid), force the effort to the top of everyone’s priority list.

For example, Robert has a personal trainer. He doesn’t have Robert do anything he doesn’t already know how to do, but he pushes harder than Robert would push himself. Consequently, he prioritizes exercise in between sessions so that he doesn’t lose ground and “disappoint” the trainer. That makes the trainer worth his fee, which can be a valid reason to employ a consultant.

“But our business is unique. How can this consultant help us?”

When an organization says “our business is unique” what they’re actually saying is “our content is unique.” And, as we’ve discussed previously, this is true across EVERY organization.

Part of the content marketing process is finding that uniqueness. Bringing in someone who doesn’t know ANYTHING about your business can shake the trees for some things that hadn’t been previously considered. Additionally, learning from a consultant about how someone outside of your industry did something can provide invaluable insight about differentiating from the competition.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s helpful when the consultant does have experience in your industry. For instance, previous knowledge of what is and isn’t appropriate in regulated industries like finance and healthcare can expedite the consulting process.

An experienced consultant with the right set of expectations should be able to help sort through the weeds. They’ve done this before many times. They know the pitfalls, the best practices, and ways to navigate the politics of recruiting others in the organization. They can provide sanity checks for getting things done, plan how roll outs should be phased, suggest what kind of content velocity is appropriate, and, ultimately, uncover the realistic opportunity for the content marketing effort to succeed.

As marketers who have been on both sides of the marketing consulting relationship, we know how good and how bad the experience can be. No matter which side of the table you’re on, paying attention to the details will prevent your content marketing engagement from winding up as a punch line.

What to Look for in Freelance Writers

Once you have a working strategy, you may find that you need help developing ongoing content — or that you need additional content producers to keep up with the velocity. In either case, you may need to develop a case for “getting it done.”

How do you go about finding good external content contributors? Should you look for a good writer and teach them your business? Or should you hire someone who knows your industry and teach them to write? Here are a few tips to consider:

  • Expertise is helpful — but not a deal killer. Given the choice between a good writer with a personality that closely matches your organization (but short on industry expertise), and an industry veteran that knows how to write but with whom you can’t stand to be in the same room with — go with the personality. Chemistry and personality are things that are entirely hard to change; research is a skill that can be taught — passion isn’t.

    If you and your freelance content producer don’t have good chemistry together, the relationship will go nowhere fast. And while it might be a strategic advantage to bring in an industry “rock star” to get your content some attention (and there are great reasons to do this occasionally) — unless there’s a great personality fit, be very careful that you don’t wrap your story into theirs and get lost in the middle.

  • Hire right — copywriters, journalists, technical writers, oh my! Because you’ve spent so much time on your strategy and your process, you should be very aware of what kind of writer you’re looking for. Understand that copywriters work very differently and have very different sensibilities than do journalists. If you’re looking for someone to write blog posts for you, a copywriter is probably not your best bet. On the other hand, if you’re looking for someone to beef up your persuasive call to action for all the great white papers you’re putting together, then a great copywriter may be exactly what you need.
  • Develop the right business relationship. Understand what the elements of your business relationship will be and make them clear. For example, will it be one content item per week — and your writer will be paid a monthly fee? If so, how will you handle months that have 4 1/2 weeks? Will there be an extra post that week? Spell out the invoicing and payment terms. Given the size of your organization, you’ll either need to make clear the invoicing and payment terms — or understand what the writer needs.

    Also be clear on expectations. At this point, you should know your velocity and how long and how detailed the content needs to be. There should be no surprises like blog posts suddenly becoming 300 words, when they’re supposed to be 500. Or content themes going wildly off topic.

    Here are some of the things you’ll need to communicate to your freelancer:

  • What content they’ll be producing and where it falls on the editorial calendar
  • The goals for their specific contributions
  • What expertise, or other third-party information they’ll need access to (will they be interviewing internal people, bringing in external information, or reworking your existing material?)
  • Your budget
  • The number of revisions for each piece.

Even though you’ll be able to find some outstanding freelancers, resist the urge to fill your entire strategy with them. It may seem easier to just relegate all of your content production to a team of writers that you can control — but it’s ultimately a counter-productive strategy. A great freelance consultant can help you fill gaps in your content production machine, and even “fish for you,” however, you should strive to learn and be capable of telling your own story.

Ensure the Right Fit

In the end, a good content marketing freelancer or agency — no matter which role you bring them in to fill (e.g., managing editor, content production, etc.) — needs to be an extension of your marketing department (really an extension of your entire company). To do a proper analysis of your needs, you should undertake a process similar to the one you used to select your technology tools (described in Chapter 8). This will help you determine your business and process requirements, but keep in mind that cultural fit may be the most important element of all.

Chemistry isn’t just important to have with vendors — you have to have it with your audience as well. To build chemistry you need to engage in conversations with them and build relationships.

Robert Rose
Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS.

Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.
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Author: Robert Rose
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS. Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.

1 Comment

  • How did we jump from content strategy to hiring freelance writers? They seem to be 2 totally different topics, welded together for some reason I don’t quite understand. What’s been your experience, Robert? Is the consultant who helps craft the organization’s unique content strategy and story different than the one who actually produces the content? In my world, they’re frequently the same.

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