How Content-First Agencies Win Clients

Liam King • 5 minutes

Clients are increasingly mindful of the content challenge in web projects, as many have been burnt before.

They’re now actively looking for digital agencies that are genuinely “content first” (even if they don’t use that term), agencies that really get content and can steer them through their next content challenge.

If you’re serious about content (which I presume you are if you’re reading this), then how are you proving to your prospective clients that “content-first” isn’t just another hollow, agency buzz phrase?

This blog post focuses on how you can stand out from the agency crowd during the early days of a (prospective) client relationship, by proving you really are a “content-first” agency. If you’re wondering, we’re going to cover…

  • Scare them (a bit) about content
  • Promise to support them through the content production process
  • Give the client permission to take pressure off themselves
  • Promise to design within the client’s content constraints
  • Prove that designing content-first actually works
  • Ensure you’re talking with the client’s content people _first_
  • Show off your content-first Toolkit
  • Generate content insights ASAP

Let’s be clear, when I say “content-first”, I mean…

There is much more to content-first than having some real content (rather than Lorem Ipsum) to design user interfaces around. For my money: being content-first is a fundamental approach and positioning of a web project that places content at the very heart of the project. More like “content central”.

There’s more to content-first than having some real content to design user interfaces around.

Sell in the benefits of content-first from the start

Yes it’s horses for courses, and no two clients are the same, but a combination of these techniques will convince a prospective client you are a genuinely content-first outfit:

1. Scare them (a bit) about content

Good content is not easy. It never is. And the client knows that deep down, but everyone is excited about the shiny new website that’s coming.

It is time to sober up that giddiness with the cold reality of the content effort. The content is going to be as big a challenge as anything else on the project and needs due respect.

Go into that conversation armed: head to my previous blog Stop underestimating the time it takes to produce content in web projects and print off the diagram with estimated hours.

If you can show your prospective client you have been thinking about a problem they’ve barely started to grapple with then you will win their confidence.

2. Promise to support them through the content production process

Scaring the client about the content challenge looming over them is all well and good, but you also need to prove you’re the guys to help them through it.

Content production for web projects needs a plan. It actually needs a plan for after the project too, but that is a blog for another day.

Sell your content planning activities into the project from the start. Be clear that such a plan is the difference between launching on time with good quality content or not.

My previous blog breaks down how to produce a content production plan.

All this talk about content production is starting to prove how you put content-first in a project.

3. Give the client permission to take pressure off themselves

Web projects can be career kryptonite for a client if they delay the launch by unwittingly green-lighting the production of too much content.

Now is the time to reassure them that less truly means more when it comes to content and you will be there to help them be highly-strategic about what content needs to be produced.

You’re telling the client they can still get a great result without flogging themselves. That’s valuable stuff.

If you are already talking to your clients about prioritising user stories, features, and functionality for their new site, simply extend that approach to content. If you have already scared them about the effort to produce content then they will be open and thankful for a conversation about effective prioritisation, i.e. what makes the cut.

4. Promise to design within the client’s content constraints

Make it clear to your prospective client that you won’t set them up for content failure.

An example? Say the client tells you (because you actually take the time to ask) that they expect to have one person dedicated to the new site, half a day per week, post launch. That’s not much time to maintain and produce new content. Then, during the project, a decision is made not to include a blog because it evident the client will be unable to sustain it.

That is a content-first decision.

Unfortunately, agencies are repeat-offenders at failing to design for the client’s ability to produce and importantly, sustain that content over time. It is simply bad practice. Prove you don’t do that.

Explain that you evaluate their ability to produce and maintain content during a web project and beyond. Design decisions are then made accordingly so the client can be confident all your recommendations about content are valid, feasible, and sustainable.

My previous blog 11 content questions to kick-off your client’s website refresh project will help you to define a client’s content constraints.

5. Prove that designing content-first actually works

Ask around your agency’s production team for examples of when they had good content to work with early in the design process:

  • what were the positive results?
  • how did the user experience improve?
  • how did the client’s experience improve?
  • what has the team learnt from that experience?
  • and what are the key messages to share with prospective clients?
Work that example up into your new business presentation pack, proposal pitch docs, website case studies (or whatever you use), and be ready to share your story with the next prospective client.

Actions speak louder than words and all that!

6. Prove you truly care about their content (and audit it!)

Nothing says I love you (and your content) more than committing to performing a content audit of what they currently have.

I know audits can be really dull and repetitive, they aren’t exactly creative, and can drag, but they are NEVER a waste of time. I’m not going to cover all the great reasons for conducting an audit as Paula Land (and others) have beaten me to it: How to perform a content audit (and extract meaningful insights) webinar.

But, by conducting an audit the agency is saying we are prepared to dedicate precious time from the very start to immerse ourselves in the content and begin drawing insights that will steer the entire project.

And if you really, really, really love their content you will run a conduct a wider content ecosystem audit to see what other digital and non-digital content they have hanging around.

You are showing that you operate content-first.

7. Ensure you’re talking with the client’s content people first

Ask who is responsible for content on the existing and new sites, as early as possible in your fledgling client relationship. Hopefully they are at the new business meeting or pitch. If they aren’t, then you know the client’s project team probably aren’t thinking content-first.

Ask them insightful content questions to demonstrate your emphasis on content and to get them thinking content-first.

8. Show off your content-first Toolkit

If your agency is using smart, content production techniques and tools like GatherContent, then make a point of it with your prospective clients.

Have demonstration versions on hand to make it real for them. Let them see your content audit / inventory template, print-off a standard content production process diagram as a visual prompt, or let them sneak a peek at the last project you ran on GatherContent.

If you can build the client’s mental model about the tools and deliverables you’re proposing then they are coming round to your way of viewing the project through a content-first lens.

9. Generate content insights ASAP

If you’re redesigning an existing site you need to pull out the insights from what’s gone before. Obvious point perhaps.

So ask for (full) access to their stats package as early as possible. Do it before you’ve even won the project. And if someone starts to talk about it being confidential just offer to sign something.

Get your best stats guy to dig around and pull out some juicy content insights to work into your proposal and pitch docs and conversations. Demonstrate you already have a handle on their content.

Again, you’re putting their content-first.

How Content-First Agencies Win Clients

And that’s plenty for one blog post…

Hopefully you will agree that content-first is about positioning and emphasis on content processes, activities and thinking. It is about demonstrating to prospective clients that you consider content at all points to ensure the project and longer-term success of the site.

It isn’t rocket science and is simply good content strategy practice. Clients are hungry for it, so you just need to prove you can deliver it.

How do you sell in content strategy and content-first approaches with your prospective clients? What gets them biting?

You may also be interested in our previous blog Getting your clients to go content-first.

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About the Author

Liam King

Founder, Lagom Strategy

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