As a rule, we don’t hire marketing agencies because of their rich understanding of our expert markets and buyers, of our technologies and processes. (Those of you who can push back on that—those with a truly tech savvy agency—should thank your lucky stars every day.) We hire them for many other—solid as rock—reasons. We talk with them about brand and style and imagery, but not often about product: about the way it connects data streams to rules engines to tiered, secondary storage. (Unless you’re in one of those moods where you feel like making someone’s head swim. And which of us hasn’t been there?) It’s almost a given that they just really won’t understand. When it comes to expertise, that’s your job.
But that’s OK, isn’t it? Agencies don’t need to go in the weeds to professionally present your product. To get ads placed in the right rotations. Or design signage. Or produce videos. Or write content.
Wait a minute.
What was the last one?
How does that work? How can an agency that doesn’t understand what you make or sell—nor to whom you sell it—write smart, relevant content about it?
The answer is: it can’t. It can’t create smart, relevant words about something it doesn’t understand. It can create well-written words. It can create clever words. It can create all kinds of words. But not smart, relevant ones.
I’m thinking maybe you’ve experienced this. Your agency delivers the copy and you read it and all you can think is: “O well this is going to need some work.” All the bullet points you fed them are there and they’re all so nicely dressed, but the conversation is still not peer to peer—two experts sitting around having a beer. It’s very clear that it’s Marketer to Technologist. Like a Brit and a Yank having a beer: the same language but two culturally distinct lexicons.
So you—often, you personally—have to turn your attention to those words, and you correct it, or you rewrite it, and eventually it’s what you want and the end product satisfies you. But it took a lot of your time—often to the point where you say the dreaded phrase: “it would have been faster just to write it myself.” Which often is what you end up doing moving forward. All bad ways to allocate your time.
Some agencies understand this and ask you to provide the content (I get a fair amount of that work). But there’s money to be made in content, and many agencies want that revenue. If your agency wants to take on content, make sure you set the rules. Insist that it assign a copywriter who knows how to spin a sweet sentence, and who understands what you sell and who you sell to. That means you have to interview those writers—and be ready to do some rejecting. When you do select one, you have to do the briefing directly: you can’t expect the agency to do it. You have to open direct communication, so questions (of which there should be a few—fewer and fewer as time goes on) can be answered simply and quickly. If the agency doesn’t have one of these birds on staff (the most likely case), have them subcontract to someone who meets that standard (and put those subs through your approval process). And of course you can always find one yourself on your own and require the agency to use the copy.
This is why the role the copywriter plays in tactical marketing is unique. We’re not supposed to be just talented. We have to be informed and knowledgeable. After all, we’re the ones making the words your expert markets will read.
I can’t think of another craftsman on the agency roster who carries that extra burden—another that has to really know what they’re talking about.