Content marketing is now a £1bn industry, so say the CMA. 

But what exactly is it that marks a good content agency out from the growing crowds? Is it any more than being able to create something cool that cuts through the clutter?

The other day I was talking with some of my industry peers about how ‘content marketing’ has become a magnet for all kinds of different marketing outfits: PR, video production, digital, SEO and social media.

And yet, it’s the agencies with print publishing backgrounds that have found themselves at the forefront of content marketing. 

For anyone smart enough to look beyond the ‘old media dinosaurs’ stereotype, the reason is obvious. ‘Always on content’ is nothing new to someone used to working on a daily title.

From the editor’s meeting at 8am to the ‘breaking news’ revisions made throughout the night, a journalist’s job has long been to work to the content calendar and produce a relentless flow of high-quality material – offering the audience something fresh, relevant and yet arresting every day, and driven by the knowledge that your salary depends on them reading it. 

It’s this ‘always on’ capability that is at the core of a good content marketing agency today – creating assets not just in print but also for the super-fast digital news feed. But while this kind of agility is essential, it isn’t enough on its own to guarantee success. 

So, what else marks out a strong content marketing agency in today’s world? Here are five characteristics that will help you recognise one when you see it: 

1. Truly multi-platform 

While it’s great to have all those skills from a heritage in print or a background in video, being able to make that content work across channels is essential.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, UK marketers use on average 13 different channels and formats for disseminating their content (more, incidentally than in the US) so it’s neither practical nor cost effective for brands to use a single-discipline agency.

Having said that, a single agency is unlikely to be able to do everything, which leads us onto the next point… 

2. A team player

‘Always on’ might not be all that new, but it does means there’s a lot to do. So being a content marketing agency today means working in partnership with other agencies and, crucially, the client, who will increasingly be building its own content production capability.

The field of content needn’t be a competitive landgrab. An agency which can work well with others while providing a selfless and coherent strategy for mixing multiple sets of resources will be a winner.

3. Commercial

An agency that can turn the client’s owned content portfolio into a valuable media asset will deliver great ROI through content marketing.

This is precisely the kind of operation that British Airways’ BA Media unit has been pioneering for several years, developing a portfolio of media opportunities for advertisers that monetise content online, in print, on board and in airport lounges.

4. Insightful

The audience is at the heart of good content marketing, so a strong agency will maintain a single-minded focus on understanding it.

But while it’s tempting to rely on digital insight tools, the best agencies will always speak to your audience, face-to-face, and find out what makes them tick. By doing this (probably bumping into some big data along the way), an agency might just hit on the insight that can take a brand’s content to a whole new level.

Redbull, of course, is the classic example. By extending its reach into areas that its audience genuinely cares about, it’s arguably now better known for its extreme sports content than it is for energy drinks. 

5. A byword for quality

Don’t settle for the mediocre, no matter how successful that might be in your analytics. Great writing is still great writing and great film is great film, and your audience will thank you for it with their time, money and heart.