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Who Hires and Manages the Content Marketing Agency—Corporate Marketing or the Business Unit?

Thursday, August 31st, 2017 by Stacy

tug-of-war

Like many creative services companies, the Content Bureau works with tech and financial services companies that have corporate marketing departments wielding lots of centralized control; and we also work with companies that are almost completely decentralized—where the individual business units can produce whatever marketing content they want. Which of these organizational structures leads to the optimal output? Let’s define “optimal output” as the highest-quality marketing content produced most quickly, cost effectively, and with the least amount of drama. Every single one of our clients wants that outcome, and so do we.

After running a B2B marketing agency for the past seventeen years, I feel I’m in a good position to provide insights on which organization structure leads to that optimal output. Strong corporate marketing guidance—when paired with project-level decision-making by the business unit—produces the optimal outcome. Let’s take a look at how this plays out, noting which responsibilities lie with business units and which with corporate marketing.

IMHO, business units should do the following:

  1. Decide what content they’d like to produce.
  2. Choose, negotiate, and agree on terms with their vendors of choice.
  3. Work directly with their vendors to create the marketing content they need, consulting with corporate marketing if any brand-related questions arise.
  4. Pay vendors from their own budgets. Since the business owner is closest to the work, she knows what was actually delivered and what amount is due.

 Corporate marketing should do the following:

  1. Manage the corporate brand and all corporate marketing activities.
  2. Maintain a list of approved vendors that their business units love—at least two that can deliver every kind of marketing service the company needs—and that meet the company’s ethics and diversity standards.
  3. Develop and maintain thorough editorial and creative style guides, as well as a site where all marketing assets are stored and an image library—and provide access and regular training to approved vendors.
  4. Be available to proactively answer questions related to brand and style guides during the content development process (note: this is the “carrot” approach to brand compliance).
  5. Refrain from running an internal agency designed to be the exclusive provider of all content for the company’s business units. Inevitably, in-house agency models lead to frustrated business units who want more choice, faster service, and better quality.
  6. Avoid hiring and managing vendors, or project managing, on behalf of business units. In my experience, agencies do a better job—and are more likely to deliver the “optimal output” defined above—when working directly with business units to produce the content they need. The businesses know what they want, when they want it, and how it should be said. Like other creative services agencies, we really want them to choose us, pay what they think is appropriate—making the price/service choices that work for them—then work directly with us until the content is approved to their satisfaction. If corporate marketing provides the helpful “shoulds” above, they can step aside and watch the business units and their trusted vendors produce beautiful content together—while they get lots of their own corporate marketing work done! Win, win, win.
  7. Celebrate and share the best content produced by successful business unit/vendor partnerships. For example, our longtime client Autodesk encourages vendors to post their most creative assets for all agencies to explore. It’s inspiring to see the innovative work that a competitive system produces—and it keeps vendors like us on our toes.

I’ve seen it all over the past seventeen years, including a head of creative services at a global software behemoth who gave me an earful for poaching—providing quick, high-quality, cost-effective service to—his internal clients (an extreme example of a near-monopolistic in-house agency model).

Or the ultra-creative rogue marketer we—her humble vendor—had to rein in because she was careening dangerously far from the established brand, and spending too much company money on concepts that wouldn’t pass corporate brand review (an extreme example of outsourcing with no oversight—which is no better).

Between these two extremes, there is, of course, a happy balance to be achieved.

Strong corporate guidelines + decision-making at the business unit level allow agencies like the Content Bureau to do its best work—delivering the highest-quality marketing content most quickly, cost effectively, and with the least amount of drama.

How is your marketing department structured—and how do you feel about that? I’d love to hear your opinions.

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Three Summer Activities to Keep You in the Game

Monday, August 7th, 2017 by Laurel

It’s August and officially the dog days of summer. Everyone is either leaving for vacation, on vacation, or just back from vacation, and nothing’s really getting done in the office. But instead of waiting till work shifts back into gear, here are three things you can do right now that will help you personally and professionally. […]

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Avoid the Pitfalls of Online Research for Stats and Surveys

Friday, July 21st, 2017 by Chris

With just a few keystrokes and clicks in Google, a world of research, statistics, and studies are available to bolster white papers, bylined articles, and blog posts. Unfortunately, the explosion of online content has made sourcing this research a needle-in-the-haystack exercise. Unless the stat you want to use is in a news article from a […]

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Earning Trust in a Post-Truth Age

Thursday, June 15th, 2017 by Eric

We used to say the truth was slippery. If we could never quite grasp it, still we believed it was out there somewhere, swimming the currents of events, perspective, and time. And as slippery as it might have been, getting at the truth mattered. These days, by contrast, truth is not only more difficult than […]

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Don’t Fear the Editor: An Expert Support Team in One Professional

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017 by Lisa S.

You’re a marketing expert, not a writer. In any case, whatever your job title, odds are good that you don’t exactly look forward to handing your writing over to an editor. Maybe it’s the memory of a particular red-pen-wielding third-grade teacher, or a particularly embarrassing typo in an important presentation. Or maybe you’re just a […]

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Naming Matters: Eschew the Fancy “E”

Thursday, May 11th, 2017 by Laurel

  I was traveling on a train recently and I found myself staring at the station sign at Bay Pointe, the name of a new housing development. Is it pronounced “bay point” or “bay point-ee” or “bay point-ay?” I wondered. Who decided on that spelling? What’s the deal with that Fancy E? Adding that superfluous […]

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Purple Throwback Thursday: 5 Things Content Marketers Can Learn from Prince

Thursday, April 27th, 2017 by Kate

The beautiful Purple One is, sadly, gone. His most enduring legacy will be his virtuoso guitar playing followed by fabulous showmanship in a killer wardrobe. But there are other ways Prince left his mark, and content marketers could learn a thing or two from him in our own work. Stories and visual prose are more […]

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6 Best Practices for Working With an Outside Content Provider

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017 by Eric

I’ve been creating marketing content for clients small and large for more than 20 years. Most of the projects I’ve worked on have been enjoyable and even fun. Occasionally, though, things have turned south, putting an unpleasant taste in the mouths of everyone involved—client and content provider alike. To optimize the return on your investment […]

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Distance Makes the Writer Grow Fonder of Editors—Or, Bringing It Home with the TZ Advantage

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017 by Lucy A.

For millennia, members of families—blood and work—lived mostly in the same area and were impacted considerably when one of their own struck out for distant pastures. But now that we’ve become wedged in the ethereal arms of technology, distance is a snap to negotiate. Electronic devices make it almost too convenient to move all forms […]

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What Format Should We Use: Adobe InDesign or Microsoft PowerPoint?

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017 by Allison and Todd

  “In the end, we want a PDF—but should we create it in InDesign or PowerPoint?” It’s a question frequently asked around here, and the answer is always the same: “It depends.” When deciding on an asset format, we ask our clients to consider the following: Design sophistication: Do you want a beautiful, slick, professional […]

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