Thinking of building or outsourcing your content capabilities? Let this checklist guide your efforts

  • At our recent Insight and Action event, marketing experts from Barnes & Noble, Breather, Chobani, and PolicyGenius shared what it takes to successfully navigate a brand’s evolution from marketing operations to content operations.
  • In many cases, brands need to build capabilities in-house and outsource projects to agencies.


For some brands, evolving marketing operations to content operations requires objective third parties that can help determine who the audience is, what stories to produce, and where content should be published. For others, it requires internal expertise and years of legacy company knowledge. So which is it? Do brands really need to choose one or the other?

Based on the experiences of top marketing experts, we’ve put together a checklist of best practices that can help you build an in-house content marketing team or choose the right agency to partner with—or both.

If you want to design an environment that pushes creative boundaries

Your team may have the right tools and strategies in place, but do they work in an environment that supports innovation and growth? According to a recent Association of National Advertisers (ANA) survey, 63 percent of respondents said keeping in-house talent motivated was a significant concern for them.

To foster a rewarding environment that makes innovation a priority:

⛾ Create a budget for experimenting.
Give your team decision-making power by allocating budget for trying new things.

⛾ Build out processes and protocols that support your team in sharing new ideas.
Whether it’s scheduling time for brainstorms, researching strategies, or trialing hypotheses, make creativity part of your approach.

⛾ Hire talent that could be brand ambassadors.
Passionate team members are the first to bring ideas, questions, and suggestions to your attention. Their dedication to your mission is the ideal type of brand promotion.

If you want to scale your content production with third parties

With 44 percent of ANA survey respondents expressing concern about attracting top-tier talent, building an exceptional team in 2020 depends on assembling a network of trusted agencies and talented consultants.

To grow your team and your output:

⛾ Experiment with outsourcing content marketing initiatives.
Whether it’s a one-off campaign or a content operation, working with external professionals (agencies, freelancers, consultants) can provide a fresh perspective on all the moving parts.

⛾ Hire and learn from seasoned consultants.
To ensure you’re not working in a silo, build relationships with contributors and partners. These relationships can illustrate what proficiencies you’re missing while exposing a need for an in-house role, and paves the way for other experts to come on board.

⛾ Learn the right cadence for your marketing and content operations.
With more hands on deck, you can tackle your first-priority initiatives. Working with third parties can help relieve unnecessary burdens and free up internal teams to work on specific projects.

If you want to identify gaps and solidify expertise

Identifying gaps in your marketing strategies often requires an outside-in perspective. Yet many brands take on creative and marketing projects internally. Pepsi’s 2017 Kendall Jenner campaign failure highlights the importance of diversity in market research.

Knowing a team’s expertise (and shortcomings) can eliminate blindspots. And with half of B2B marketers outsourcing at least one content marketing activity, external expertise can uncover existing weaknesses while moving the ball down the field.

To determine if there’s room for improvement:

⛾ Don’t be everything to everyone.
Identify the projects and verticals where your brand shines. Clarifying where to focus your efforts can reveal what type of work should be outsourced.

⛾ Do a self assessment.
As your company matures, how you develop, create, and implement your content will shift from working with an in-house team to collaborating with agencies and freelancers. What stage are you at now? How are companies of a similar size organizing their content and balancing their teams?

⛾ Question what role your content plays.
Do you produce different types of content for a range of business objectives? Whatever the answer, break it apart to understand what can be outsourced and what requires in-house expertise.

⛾ Adopt a layer cake model.
A layer cake model empowers teams to be interconnected yet autonomous: simultaneously working with agencies and freelancers on specific campaigns or marketing functions while contributing towards a (delicious) whole. Determine the work best suited for this model and divvy it up.

⛾ Create a system of checks and balances.
To ensure alignment, design a project structure with clear processes and handoffs that promotes working in concert with agencies and freelancers.

⛾ Stay true to a mission.
Help keep your team focused when facing pivots by having clearly articulated goals.

If you want to find an agile, focused partner

A layer cake model illuminates missing talent and expertise. But how do you ensure you will get the most out of an agency relationship?

When faced with the choice to hire an agency or not, 76 percent of marketers believe they could increase ROI by two to five times with an expert team producing content. If you decide to buy, find a partner who matches your processes and workflows as much as they can help increase revenues.

To build a transparent relationship:

⛾ Stay in your comfort zone.
If you know where your expertise lies, then you can communicate clearly with an agency and gut check projects without creating more work for your internal team.

⛾ Find the best partner for that one thing.
Whether it’s podcasting or video marketing, don’t be afraid to go niche: hire a partner who complements your internal team, and can help you with specific initiatives. Outsourcing can help to better track the ROI on format and vertical experts over time.

⛾ Manage expectations in advance.
With more cooks in the kitchen, having clear goals helps prevent scope creep. Find a partner that can connect the dots, scale, and try working with freelance creatives.

⛾ Keep your mission front and center.
When working with external experts, always circle back to your project’s main objective. You have the clearest vantage point for staying on target.

Always try before you buy

Adopting a “test and trial” mindset is the best way to build relationships with potential partners. Start small, and give agencies and freelancers a chance to prove themselves and work alongside your internal teams: the good news is, the truly outstanding ones will bring more to the table than you anticipated. Today, multiple solutions can exist under one roof, it’s just a matter of testing them for fit.

Image: optimarc/Shutterstock

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