High-quality content marketing will always be in demand, and good content can hit every stage of the sales funnel. Whilst many in-house teams have invested in their content marketing capabilities, most digital marketing agencies are still at the forefront of helping brands reach their audiences.
However, producing effective content is not without its struggles. Creative marketers often learn quickly that coming up with a top idea is only half the battle. The other, and much harder battle, is gaining approval from the client, and to gain their buy-in on how great your idea is and why it will work. This is no surprise to me, being in the PR industry for almost a decade, as I understand this activity is where reputations are easily won and lost.
Unlike the more technical aspects of digital marketing, which can often demonstrate ROI and direct impact on a business’s bottom line, it’s difficult to know how successful a content campaign is until it’s out the door. And this is another reason why convincing a client of your content campaign’s worth from the off is so difficult. Often, clients fail to appreciate the value of content marketing, and instead focus on one area, such as SEO or PPC.
Working in PR and marketing, you need thick skin, but this process can dishearten even the best of us. It can take hours of brainstorming, researching, and refining ideas to come up with a winning idea, for it to be shot down by a client in 5 minutes!
There is also a difference of opinion, clients and content marketers aren’t always aligned. What one party thinks is a great idea might not be seen in the same light by the other.
The main reason clients will often reject the concepts or ideas put forward by SEO and content marketing agencies is because they don’t understand what you are trying to achieve. This can lead to a sense of frustration from both parties, but the good news is that this doesn’t need to keep happening.
Here are some simple, and actionable tips that might swing your next content marketing proposal your way!
Get it in early
When pitching for a search marketing contract (SEO, PPC, Etc), I would advise including a recommendation slide that looks at Content Marketing at the end (if suitable). Please use common sense and ensure suitability for the client, but often clients are looking for agencies that are thinking more outside the box and being proactive on the accounts.
Even if they do not explore this with you at this stage, the client will always be aware of the service, and hopefully have a good base understanding of the importance of it. Then as/when required to upsell, and the time is right, the client will hopefully be more receptive to it.
Do it face to face
They can’t escape!
I’m joking, but face to face is the best way to pitch. You can clearly explain the benefits and have an open and honest discussion around why we put forward the recommendation. Why not be proactive, plan ahead and present a content idea to the client in the next quarterly review?
With the majority of comms done through digital channels, we sometimes assume that other people know what we mean. However, there is sometimes an element of miscommunication or lack of understanding. But with speaking to the client face to face, you clearly address any miscommunication issues. It also helps to build collaborative environments that inspire and energise the participants.
You can gauge interest by non-verbal cues and body language. You may need to use to more exciting language to capture attention, or tweak your tone of voice. There will also be a personal touch with face to face comms, where you can build rapport and aid participation. Which nicely leads me onto the next tip…
Involve them in the ideation process
A big hurdle with pitching content is that the client wants the idea to be closely aligned with their product or services. Unfortunately, these often struggle to gain links as webmasters and editors see these to be more advertorial. I’ve spoken about these lines blurring between editorial and advertising before at Hallam.
Brainstorm around hot topics in the industry, common problems and trends amongst the audience. They may, or may not, be fully relevant to the products or services, but that’s the beauty of content marketing.
Once you start to involve your client at the ideation stage, they will soon see how complex the process of taking a content campaign from idea to delivery is. Here they should trust your judgment, or at least feel that they have contributed towards the end goal.
It is a win-win situation for all. Client involvement usually gives us better industry insight. Better industry insight usually gives us better, or more relevant ideas. Better ideas will provide better results. Better results, as we all know, means a happy client.
Do not offer generic sales proposals and expect a client to approve. This is a fundamental issue with sales, with many agencies working volume and churning out proposals. There is now a shift in the industry for marketing agencies to be experts and specialists in that specific area, and big brands are going to specialist agencies as opposed to full-service agencies.
So you need to do everything you can to stand out. For example, with small, privately owned businesses, you need to connect directly with the owner. After all, it’s their business and their money. Don’t send everybody similar pitches, tailor it to their unique customers, problems, and needs.
Show them growth potential
Pitching a content idea to a client is particularly hard because you not only have to convey your currently intangible idea but also convince them that this is the idea that will help them acquire links, coverage or brand awareness. You need to show results at this stage to get buy-in.
Links = more authority = improved visibility = more organic traffic.
With more traffic, you will naturally have more of a chance of acquiring leads, and sales. You need to explain this to the client, with case studies/success stories.
How do you frame the value you add as critical? If it’s a case of “oh the client has budget, let’s upsell some content marketing” then you won’t really present a great opportunity for the client. This needs to be the right activity and demonstrating the value to their business.
Bold the text, do two or three slides on this, and whatever else to highlight the value you plan to add to their business.
If that fails, which I doubt, then another tip is to do a competitor analysis. There is bound to be a competitor that is producing good content, or gaining some nice links. Clients have a fascination with benchmarking themselves against their competitors, so show them this data. Deal with the facts! It’s hard to argue with the facts, so make this a big part of your pitch.
We want small customers to feel like big customers! We also need to be completely transparent with the level of service or products the customer is able to receive. Speak to the client in their language, and offer solutions that are realistic to them. If they only have small budgets, they are likely to get less time and less results. You can, of course, get great results for smaller clients/budgets, but do not overpromise, any mass links generated needs to be framed as an added extra or byproduct of the right activity.
Good work takes time. If you cut corners, or overpromise, you’ll get found out? The best way to ensure all parties are on the same page is to break down the work with timings and place into a month by month timeline. It doesn’t have to be a mad Gantt chart, just a month by month bullet point is enough. We don’t want to confuse the client.
Ask yourself whether your client truly understands SEO and content marketing. They usually have enough understanding to come to you for your services, but if not, then my advice is to take the time to educate them. Education is a powerful tool and can be the difference between ideas being signed off and being asked to go back to the drawing board.
Get them on your side and seeing things from your perspective; you need to earn links, and content marketing is one of the best ways to do that. If they don’t understand why, or the barriers that PRs and marketers have to navigate then they’ll be against you from the start.
To be honest, I direct them to either Hallam’s blog, anything relevant on State of Digital, or to Moz’s beginner’s guide to link building.
Try and focus on the short term
This is a weird one, and almost contradicts the actual benefits of content marketing. But a client will want results, and in this instant gratification environment, often people and clients struggle to demonstrate patience.
Content marketing often takes a few cracks of the whip to be successful, and the lifespan can take from 2 weeks to 2 months for the results to come to fruition. It may be reworking the pitch, taking onboard journalist feedback, tweaking the content and trying a different hook, or use a different statistic as the highlight. You need to do follow-ups and manage all the responses.
You can accelerate the perceived value timeline by focusing primarily on the short-term, immediate benefits. Focus on link generation, coverage, and engagement metrics such as shares as a measurement of success.
Treat any long-term benefits such as a rise in organic traffic or rankings as a bonus.
How do you frame it?
Everyone takes on and processes information differently. Whether they have an analytical, amiable or driver working style you need to communicate and pitch effectively.
If you are pitching to the MD or the Marketing Manager, you’ll need to approach in a similar way. The MD will want to know the bottom line, and the Marketing Manager might want to know who this will make them look better.
What I would say is most decision-makers are analytical, or drivers, so for these two working styles you need to give all the details, and reduce the waffle.
Through being in the PR and marketing industry for a while now, I’ve encountered a few characters, as I’m sure all the readers of this article will have too! What I have learnt from this, is that you need to box off everything in one.
Approach the pitch looking to address every question they might have. As a rule, 25% will want to know ‘Why?’, 25% will want to know ‘What is it?”, 25% will want to know “How do you do it?”, and then for those that worry, 25% usually want to know ‘What if…?” so maybe cover a few hypothetical situations.
Cater to the client
Small businesses have a bit more flexibility and can generally move on a deal quicker. As we briefly discussed above, large businesses tend to have multiple decision-makers and thorough purchasing processes. Small organisations usually only have one or two decision-makers, and the process moves much faster.
You also need to show that you understand their business, especially for new business pitches.
As we’ve discussed, often successful ideas are aligned away from a client’s product or services. But you need to go through their business proposition and customer personas so you can show you know the deal. Then once a client feels confident that you fully understand their business and audience, you will typically find it easier to get signed off on content ideas; even if they are a little outside of the box.
Keep it concise
While you may have spent hours creating a super-comprehensive and well-researched content marketing proposal, time-poor clients often don’t have the time to read a 20+ page document. Even if you write a longer-form version of your plan for personal reference, present a shorter version to the client, with all the key points easy for them to understand.
Do you give them an option?
This depends, there is a compelling argument for only giving them one or giving them a choice. My personal preference is to give them one option to consider. We are the experts, and they should value our recommendations, and we should be sure they’ll be successful. Use the previous tips to help you get that idea approved.
But if you feel more comfortable offering a few ideas, then I have a few tips. Usually, there’ll be one idea you prefer. So I’d give three options, and put your preference in the middle, as people often choose the middle when presented with three options. Make the third something really out there! They will then be more inclined to choose the perceived ‘safer’ option. Another tip is to present the ideas as questions.
Get it done!
People in the industry can often overthink, or put self-made blockers on content marketing… but you need to navigate past this. The best way to do so is to eat the frog and get it done!
It’s easy to prioritise the bigger-spending clients, but get it done for the smaller ones too! Your small clients will lead to medium and large clients over time. Treat everyone the same and provide everyone with consistent and exceptional content, and get the results. And if the results don’t come, learn from it and improve. The digital landscape is changing so quickly so re-work, re-imagine, change up and expand your net wider!
Why not join the conversation and comment below what your biggest barriers to approval is, and what you did to overcome it?