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The role of traditional marketing agencies is evolving to keep pace with a changing digital world. In such a world, the old demarcation between marketing agencies and content is said to be disappeared for some time now. Today, all agencies offer brands an integrated communications strategy, where content acts as a horizontal between service lines.

In fact, experts suggest that the only agencies that will survive in this market are digital-integrated marketing communications firm, which have content at the heart of their business and understanding.

For a longer period of time, brands have been working along with media, creative or digital agencies. For any content marketing requirement, agencies further hire content creators, which have expertise in content.

However, it is often argued that the role of such agencies is restricted to the ‘courier job’ of taking a proposal on the behalf of brands, further selling it to content creators. Or, acting opposite, wherein content creators have the idea and an agency further sells that to the brands. Moreover, they are limited by their ability to execute, which impacts the brands’ overall content play. Is it because their understanding of content is not accurate?

It is important to understand what agencies exactly add to any content marketing initiative. spoke to content specialists to dig deeper into what exact role an agency should play while working with a brand and a content creator. They discuss what lacks at the agency’s end and how all three can have a best synergised and defined relationship in the ecosystem.

Christina Daniels

Today, content can no longer be at the periphery or exist merely as an additional activity undertaken by an agency. Content is a core offering for any agency. And to succeed, Christina Daniels, Associate Vice-President, Content, Gutenberg, said that an agency must move away from a traditional mindset, and see itself beyond limited definitions such as being a purely digital agency. An agency must look beyond such limiting narrow descriptions and embrace its role as a corporate storyteller. Less successful agencies may view content in purely tactical terms.

Chrisanne Chandy

Chrisanne Chandy, Head of Content Marketing and Engagement at JetPrivilege, said, “Content marketing objectives deal with understanding customer/member pain points largely and making them aware as to how our product/services can help them. This deals with studying their needs and usage and being thorough about product features and benefits while being able to relay them in a user-friendly format. Here's where the agency plays a big role. After the briefing many a time, we have to do the relaying part too—patching the loops and writing content when the agency doesn't do the homework of applying themselves to the brief. Even a few basic steps like studying the products and how they help make lives better and taking care of aspects like proof-reading and ensuring that we speak in a simplistic way in customer language and with a tone of empathy, should help bring better results from agencies’ end.”

Parveen Singhal

Parveen Singhal, Chief Content Officer, Wittyfeed, said agencies need to be more accepting in terms of newer content formats and experimenting with them. Along with this, they should understand audiences better while differentiating what exactly is advertisement and content marketing.

Kumar Deb Sinha

“An agency content team should have a mix of resources, which includes resources with production execution expertise. Having only strategic content planning resources limits potential of the idea to theoretical level, which lacks the reality check of production execution. A content team should be a well-balanced team, which has strategic planners, creative thinkers, production champions and data leads. Once you have a balanced team, you can drive an idea to its full potential for the advertiser,” said Kumar Deb Sinha, Executive Vice-President, The Story Lab.

Along with being storytellers, outstanding agencies also play the role of consultants. A content marketing audit is an essential activity in an agency’s role as a consultant. This also makes it possible to present an industry landscape to potential clients, while highlighting the organisation’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, vis-à-vis the competition, said Daniels.

Darshan Bhatt

Darshan Bhatt, Director, GoQuest Digital Studios, said that while media agencies do not have an expertise of content, creative agencies have always worked on the creatives, communicating brand attributes. While building stories around a brand in form of content, the narrative and approach for an agency differs from what a content creator understands best. And thus, a lot of creative agencies fail.

So, how can the agencies step up their game of rightly executing content initiatives?

Successful agencies use content to integrate marketing strategy. Best agencies have already recognised this and are investing in building their content capabilities as a strategic imperative.

Sinha said that the content vertical in an agency works as a consultant for a brand’s marketing team, helping them navigate the complex eco-system of content creators and content platforms.

“The first step is to have a well-balanced team in the agency to extract the best value of the content piece through efficient distribution and tracking the value through efficient data management. Secondly, they should immerse themselves in knowing the brand as well as the marketing team. Once you know your brand like the back of your hand, you will be able to think inside out. Finally, you should know your content eco-system like experts, to know how to bring an idea alive through the right creator and the platform,” he said.

Echoing the same view, Singhal said the agency should focus on the engagement of the audiences via content, through right platforms and format. They should also create content based on data insights.

Daniels added that agencies will also have to leverage tools such as AI and predictive analytics to create insight-driven stories. “Only this will enable us to create measurable content that is always ahead of our client’s expectations. Other than that, for agencies to meet client’s expectations, it is essential to demonstrate the impact of storytelling through tangible, measurable results. Digital tools are already making that possible.”

Most importantly, agencies need to move from the mindset of content as an innovation for a campaign to a round-the-year content strategy supported by a content calendar. For the first few times, this might be more a knowledge-building exercise without any fruitful business emerging out of it.

However, over a period of time, advertisers will start seeing value of this exercise, and realise how agencies can drive an unfair advantage for them through content marketing. Once the realisation happens, Kumar said content marketing will see more traction from brands or advertisers.

The best agencies tell stories that build great brands. Quite simply, content is nothing more than the brand story that an agency takes to the world.

How brand, agency and content creator can best work together in the same eco-system

Bhatt said each of the three has to work together with a defined expertise, without stepping into each other’s field of expertise.  Content creator has to create content, while the media agencies should help in marketing the content. It is important to work closely with the creative agency as it ensures that the content is in the right spirit.

Singhal suggested that while having the first call with the agency, every content creator or the agency should involve one brand person, to understand the objectives better.

“If agency can help a brand guy to connect directly with the publisher, then the objective will be much clearer and we are able to deliver better results to the brand,” he said.

Kumar spoke about adding one more player in the eco-system, the platform. “I believe each one plays the role of a wheel in driving a successful content play for a brand, which drives a humane and emotional relationship with a brand and consumer. Starting from the marketing team that creates a more detailed brief, to the agency that plays the role of driving the strategy, scanning the eco-system and getting the right creators and platforms on board. A creator works on the brief, marrying the brand tonality with his/her tonality, creating a unique and original content solution. And finally, the platform delivers the brand message to the right audience, which is not an irritant for the receiver of the message. In an ideal scenario, when all the four wheels work together, content can overcome any terrain.”