Evaluating the costs of content marketing: creation, strategy, distribution, and tools
How much will this really cost me? It’s a phrase we hear (and utter) time and time again when it comes to content marketing because, unfortunately, there’s no one answer. The range of content marketing costs are all over the place. You can find a freelancer willing to write an article for $5 or you can spend six figures on an agency who throws ideas on the wall to see what sticks. It all depends on your budget, who you want to hire, and what services they can provide for you.
Of course, no one likes the answer “it depends” to any kind of question, especially one that involves money. So, that’s why we’re evaluating the costs of content marketing—in its various stages—to illuminate how much it really costs, where your money is going, and whether it’s an effective purchase or waste of money.
Different types of infrastructure
In many ways, the costs of content creation depend on how you build your content marketing team. So let’s break down the three major types of content marketing teams and talents your brand will probably employ at one point or another.
It’s estimated that by 2020, freelancers will make up over 50 percent of the American workforce. Freelancers are everywhere and they come in all shapes, sizes, and prices. A journalist-turned-content-marketer will definitely cost differently than a recent grad who churns out generalist listicles. The important thing to note is that freelancers deserve a living wage for the work they do and they can be incredibly effective because of their flexibility and independence.
Hiring a content manager or a small content team to work full-time for your brand makes sense, especially if you already have a marketing department. In-house teams can be small or large, but they usually consist of a content marketing manager, a content strategist/editorial planner, a content creator, and ideally a content distributor. It’s smart to employ an in-house framework so that you can coordinate your content marketing strategy with your other marketing efforts. It’s also useful to have fully dedicated content marketing staff members who can solicit the help of freelancers or a content marketing partner. They can also act as experts and advocates for their brand.
Content marketing partner
Okay, we’re biased, but a team of content marketing experts completely devoted to your brand’s needs and challenges is pretty awesome. Whether they’re full service or they specialize in certain areas, content marketing partners are great because you obtain the brain trust of a strategic partner, save time and resources for your team, and avoid the need to coordinate freelancers or projects. They do all that for you. They can also teach your team best practices and processes (and how to navigate those changes along the way) so that you feel assured as you scale in size internally.
Areas of coverage
There’s no one model brands use to build their team, and as you grow, you’ll need to flex by leaning on partners and freelancers. Similarly, many brands like to use a combination of freelancers, an in-house team, and a content marketing partner throughout the year to achieve different content marketing goals and initiatives. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and roles and efforts can be throttled as you go. So keep t hat in mind when you see the costs of content marketing—in content strategy, content creation, and content distribution.
The costs of content strategy
Without a content strategy, content marketing might as well be a game of pin the tail on the donkey. A good content strategist usually oversees every stage of the content marketing funnel; keyword and competitive research; the planning of a 12-month editorial calendar; and the data, performance, and analytics of a brand’s content marketing initiatives. It’s a pretty important job that requires a long-term commitment (at least six months) so the costs for content strategy are often ongoing in a way creation or distribution may not be.
Freelancers: a freelancer who calls themself a “content strategist” or a “content marketing manager” with a background in data science, journalism, advertising, or content marketing may require a monthly retainer for strategy, usually starting between $1,500–2,000 a month. Buyers beware: many freelancers may call themselves “strategists” these days without having a background in data science so it can be hit or miss. Vet resumes and experience to see if they meet all of your qualifications.
In-house team: if there’s more than one person on the team, then there must be a content strategist. In the US, the national average yearly salary for a content strategist ranges from $37,000–103,000, according to PayScale.
Content marketing partner: content strategy looks different from partner to partner, but a good content marketing partner will use a data-driven philosophy behind their long-term and short-term content strategies. Content strategies can be priced anywhere between $2,500 a month to upwards of $50,000 a month on the F500 end.
The costs of content creation
Who are you hiring to produce this content? Again, it’s all about variables. What kind of content are you creating—written, audio, visual, video? How long is the piece of content? What kind of original research and reporting is required—is it a listicle or a feature?
So many variables, so little time. Sometimes, the costs of content creation may also overlap with content strategy.
Freelancers: freelance writers, videographers, audio technicians, and designers set their own rates depending on their experience level, expertise, and scope of the project(s). It’s typical for a freelancer to charge by word, hour, project, or flat fees. Content creation (per piece of content) can cost anywhere from $50–3,000 by the end of creation. This includes edits, feedback, implementation of feedback, polish, etc. Good freelancers are generally very amiable and easy to work with, but remember that you’ll need a point of contact on your team to manage, assign, edit, and pay for their work.
In-house team: an in-house team pays yearly salaries for one or more content creators to produce various content for their brand year-round. (They may also hire freelancers for certain projects.) Depending on specialty, skill level, and experience, a content creator can make between $32,00–80,000 a year, according to Glassdoor.
Content marketing partner: a content marketing partner is different from the first two for a few reasons. They find the content creators for you (through freelancers or creatives at the agency), work out the scope and details of the contract, create and produce the content—including several layers of editing, fact-checking, proofing, etc.—and deliver the final work. They can also create multiple pieces—and at large scale—and charge for it monthly. Content creation costs from a content marketing firm range between $3,000–10,000 a month for a breadth of services, but it really depends on the nature and frequency of what’s being produced.
The costs of content distribution
Organic-only distribution is great! But it’s increasingly become a pay-to-play world and content distribution is more important than ever. Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads, SEM marketing—you name it, there needs to be a budget for it. You’ll also have to pay the people in charge of distribution.
Freelancers: a content/social media marketing manager or an ad specialist can organize, create, shape, and distribute content through paid and owned channels at a monthly cost. This cost is separate from your budget, by the way, and can range anywhere from $300–1,000 per project or $500 and up per month.
In-house team: usually, a small in-house team would defer to a content marketing manager (the head of the department or team) to lead project management and content distribution. Or they may defer to someone in another marketing department to do this. A larger in-house team may employ a project manager. Either way, the cost of content distribution is determined by a yearly salary for a marketing manager that can range from $42,000–96,000, according to PayScale.
Content marketing partner: a content marketing partner like Quietly employs people dedicated to content distribution. This means coming up with appropriate strategies (depending on objectives and spend), managing and executing campaigns (optimizing campaign creative on an ongoing basis to drive conversions cost-effectively), and reporting on these activities in a timely manner. A good distribution specialist should also be working in concert with the strategist and editorial teams to ensure campaign and distribution insights are being used to inform content ideas, as well as staying on top of a variety of platforms and their features.
It’s worth noting that we’re focusing only on the human resources required to manage content distribution, not the actual budget spent on channels to amplify the content. In a traditional sense, money paid to a channel like Facebook or Outbrain would be considered an ad buy and it typically comes out of a paid media budget.
The other thing you should consider is how much is being spent on the management of distribution vs. the paid budget being allocated.* There are lots of good discussions on this but know that as content becomes more tailored and targeted, the effort required to do this well will increase, which is fundamentally different than large-scale programmatic buys used in mass advertising.
*Total spend (as a percentage of content marketing budget, which is in turn, a percentage of marketing budget, which is a percentage of total revenue)
The costs of content marketing tools and software
If you thought the other cost ranges were all over the place, you won’t believe the costs of content marketing tools and software. So many excellent tools can cost you nothing (Google Analytics) and others can cost you thousands upon thousands—every month.
Generally, you’ll need software for the following:
- Project management: Free (with limited features); costs vary depending on the size of the team via Asana or Trello. Bigger project management software for larger teams can cost anywhere from $500–7,500 a year. (Project management is sometimes included in the price if you work with a content marketing partner.)
- Design software: Free (with limited features) to $10 a month or $70 a month via Canva and Adobe Creative Cloud. For enterprises, it can range from $3,000–20,000 a year.
- Social media management: Free (with limited features) to $10 a month via Buffer or Hootsuite. For enterprises, prices can range between $50–300 monthly.
- Analytics software: Free via Google Analytics and self-serve tools; $400–10,000 a month, depending on the service. Note, however, that Google Analytics for enterprise companies can cost $1 million a year.
Some tools may offer à la carte options, others may offer freemiums. Don’t hate us for saying it, but it really all depends. That’s the keyword: the costs of content marketing depend on A, B, C… you get it.
The costs of content marketing will vary from brand to brand depending on budget and the kind of content marketing team you want to build, but hopefully, you find this framework helpful as you plan out your budget. In our experience, the best content marketing teams employ a little bit of everyone—freelancers, an in-house team, a flexible content marketing partner—who can achieve different content marketing goals and initiatives. It’s a symbiotic relationship that benefits both the brand and those who are hired.