Login or Join

Close this search box.

ALP 36: Lessons from the Content Marketing Institute 2019 Agency Survey

Many agencies offer content marketing and related services, and a new study from the Content Marketing Institute attempts to uncover just how it fits in to the overall service mix.



  • Gini: “We have a client who always says common sense is not so common. And really, to get in the minds of your buyers, you have to actually talk to them. So creating content that appeals to them is where it should be. And it doesn’t have to be that you’re creating as much content as you can. But you’re creating really quality high value content.”
  • Chip: “When I look at a survey like this, where someone’s asked to self assess extremely, very, somewhat, etc, successful, you know, I sort of view that as asking someone what their weight in that they’re not going to outright lie, but they’re probably going to shave it just a little bit. And so to me, I sort of I tend to skew everybody back a step from where they say they are.”
  • Gini: “Three fourths of the agencies that are offering content marketing services, are advertising, marketing content and digital — only 9%, are PR firms. And that, to me, is a huge red flag because PR is communications. Communications is storytelling. Storytelling is content. And this is what we’ve done for the entirety of our industry is content, it may have been called something else, but this is what we do, and it just infuriates me.”
  • Chip: “The survey said 56% [of agency revenue] was retainer based, 41% was project based, 3% was unsure — and I’m just unsure about those respondents. If you’re an agency leader, and you can’t tell me what most of your work is, I’m a little concerned for the health of your agency.”


The following is a lightly edited computer-generated transcript. Please review audio for accuracy.

CHIP: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

GINI: And I’m Gini Dietrich.

CHIP: And we’re going to talk about content marketing today, content marketing for agencies, of course, because well, that’s who we serve. And a lot of agencies are getting into the content marketing business. And so this little known organization called the Content Marketing Institute, that – that’s a joke, everyone out there, the Content Marketing Institute, well known, well established, thought leadership place to learn about how to do content marketing effectively, they put on Content Marketing World, a great event. And they recently did this survey of agencies, where they surveyed a couple of hundred agencies to find out what they were doing in the content marketing space. And this seems like a good topic for our audience. And Gini, I know that you had some initial thoughts after having dug through it. So why don’t we kick off with with some of your thinking.

GINI: Cool. So there are a couple of things that I want to preface this with. Statistically speaking, it’s not a huge survey, it’s 197 people. So when you – that responded, so when you think about it from a statistic standpoint, it’s not significant enough for it to make a huge difference on trends or anything like that. That said, they did look, they did ask agencies that are full service. So that means that they provide a full service suite of content marketing services, services, which would include everything from blogging, and email marketing, and SEO and social all into one. And then they also looked at specialized agencies, which are those that offer just one of those things. So they just do email marketing, they just do blogging, they just do social, they just do SEO. So it’s very specialized. So those are the two buckets that the agencies fell into. Also, they tend to be, I need to look up real quick. They tend to be full service advertising and/or marketing agencies. So its content marketing services are following following under this advertising or marketing segment, not strangely enough, other types of agencies, including PR firms, which is the bane of my existence, the good amounts of organizations that responded are between one and four employees. And more than half of them service b2b. So went into thinking about it from that perspective. That sort of the methodology and the demographics that we’re looking at.

CHIP: Yeah, and you know, even though is, as you said, it’s, it may not be statistically significant to sort of draw huge trends about the whole industry, it does have, I think, a lot of good nuggets in there, that will be interesting to agency owners. And look, we all know that the content marketing has been for a number of years, one of the buzzwords du jour if you will, and the agency world is always filled with something that this is this is what our focus is at this point, you know, whether it’s digital or content marketing, or all sorts of different things – data driven. And so people tend to latch on to some of the terms. But I think one of the interesting things here is that they took a dive in to look at, you know, what do you what services are you providing that you’re considering content marketing? And so I think that’s, that’s interesting in and of itself to sort of understand how agencies are perceiving content marketing, because it It means all sorts of different things to different people.

GINI: Yes. So as they began to look at content marketing among both groups, so full service and specialized agencies, what they found were four things. Agencies are not new to content marketing, to your point, they saw, they found that most of them have been offering content marketing services for seven or more years, which makes sense. There is some reliance on content marketing as a total of agency business. And what they found is that it’s comprising more than 50% of most agencies’ business. So that’s pretty significant. Organizations of all sizes, see content marketing services from agencies, so of course, the full service agencies are going to see the larger guys were the most specialized are likely more likely to serve smaller organizations. And then the fourth thing they found was that most agencies are relying heavily on word of mouth referrals to generate new content marketing business, so they’re not actually using content marketing, and paid social to drive new business for their agencies, which I find fascinating, because that’s what they offer.

CHIP: Yeah, it is. Look, it’s something that we’ve known for a long time that a lot of agencies don’t drink their own Kool Aid. We’ve talked about that, I think on a previous episode of this podcast, the importance of agencies treating themselves as a client and applying their own services to their own business. But it is a little bit disappointing to see that, you know, perhaps not as many are focusing on that particular in the content marketing space, where it’s a natural fit for an agency,

GINI: Right. It’s one of the most – one of the easiest things that you can do to drive new business. So I find it fascinating that there’s I mean, and we’ve, to your point, we’ve talked about this on previous episodes. And we also find that, you know, we talked to probably, I would say, we talked to five to seven agency owners every day. So we’re talking to a significant number of agency owners, and everybody across the board relies on word of word of mouth and referrals to grow their businesses, no matter what kind of services they offer.

CHIP: I’ve been lucky. That’s, that’s true of not even just the agency space, you know, if you if you think about it, you know, a lot of people, you know, buy from car dealers or find a doctor or those types of things through word of mouth. But, but that said, you know, there are things that encouraged that long, so, even though Someone may say, Hey, I was I was really referred by Chip to you, or something like that. So you chalk it up as word of mouth, you know, they may already have heard of you by some of the content marketing that you’re doing. So you should be thinking about it in, you know, the overall, how many different touches can you get? How many different ways can you show up on the radar of your potential prospects?

GINI: Yes, please do that. If you’re offering these services, you’re good at it, do it for yourself as well.

Figure out the pros and cons and whether or not it’s something that you should offer, because sometimes it’s not, and that’s okay, but figure that out before you are fired by a client, because you figured that out on their dime.

CHIP: And again, as we’ve talked about, previously, as well, it’s a great way to test things. So you know, if there’s, if there’s a platform, or if there’s a new approach, you want to take it, and try it out yourself. See it, you know, see how it works on your own site, your own social channels, find out, you know, work the kinks out before you work them out on a client who’s actually paying you.

Now that you know, one of the areas that drew my attention. And maybe it’s because I’m sort of an operations guy is taking a look at fee structures and how people are getting paid for this work. So, and I think that what we see here is consistent with some of the trends we’re seeing overall in the agency space, which is a substantial portion of the revenue is project based. So in this particular case, the survey had 56% was retainer based, 41% was project based, 3% was unsure, and I’m just unsure about those respondents. If you’re an agency leader, and you can’t tell me what the what most of your work is, I’m a little concerned for the health of your agency. If you’re listening, and you were in that 3%, give me a call, I’d be happy to try to help you sort it out.

GINI: And to that point, when they talked about the typical billing method for client content marketing work, 8% were unsure of that too,

CHIP: yeah, it’s sort of, you know, I wonder if some of the people filling it out, were sort of like minded to, we allow since we live in New Hampshire, we get a lot of surveys during presidential primary season. So yeah, we just ditched our landline two weeks ago. So fortunately, that will pretty much end that from happening. And but we used to let the kids when they were young answer, and they would just randomly give answers to the survey folks. So you know, they had, you know, so I’m sure that they had down this socialist is voting for Trump or something like that, you know, by the time they were done. No idea. Yes. But, you know, I think it is odd that someone wouldn’t understand how that they’re billing. But, you know, to get to the, those who were sure, which fortunately, was 95% of the crew. You know, they most of it was similar in that it was either retainer based, sort of the typical, you know, a bucket of time that we’re going to make available to you, General expectations of the workload, about 40… was equally divided between that for 44%, 43% for projects based on scope of work, and then just 8% on hourly estimates on a per deliverable basis. So, you know, that’s it, at least for this survey, you know these were not content mills that were being surveyed. This was people who were who were providing full services, agencies.

GINI: Yeah, yeah. One of the things that I found interesting is that 73% said that they’re extremely or very successful in achieving their clients’ goals. But later in the survey, they said that some of their biggest challenges and working with clients are measurement, proving a return on investment, lead generation and attributing it to sales, champagne taste on a beer budget, lack of consistency and/or relevancy, no buy in from the C suite, and focus solely on top of the funnel content. So those things to me say, how is it then 73% of you can say that you’re extremely successful or very successful in achieving goals, when…

CHIP: When I look at a survey like this, where someone’s asked to self assess extremely, very, somewhat, etc, successful, you know, I sort of view that as asking someone what their weight is that they’re not gonna outright lie, but they’re probably going to shave it just a little bit. And so to me, I sort of I tend to sort of skew everybody back a step from where they say they are. So it’s sort of that to me, when I looked at it and only 12% said that they were being extremely successful for their clients. I’d be curious how that compares to how agencies push themselves on other services that they’re providing. That would have that would have been an interesting data point to look at. Because, you know, I think there is clearly a challenge in, in, in tying together the content marketing to the results, because partly because people just throw out the term content marketing willy nilly. And almost everything falls into that bucket now, because it’s a way to get clients to open up their pocketbooks. But if you’re not defining, well, why you’re doing it, and what you’re trying to achieve, you clearly then are not measuring it. And so how do you actually know you’ve been successful? So, you know, that this, this, I think, is this is the red flag in the survey to me that, that suggests that, you know, much more needs to be done to be able to demonstrate that ROI to clients, and to be able to prove that you’re actually being successful, and not just that you sort of kind of feel like it.

GINI: Yeah, it’s, um, I definitely thought that as I read through that, I definitely thought it was not totally honest. But the analogy of using your weight is very good. In fact, I was at the doctor’s office last week, and they did it in kilograms. And I’m like, that doesn’t tell me how much I weigh. And she goes, it tells us and I’m like, so then I had to go Google kilograms and pounds.

CHIP: Well, no, we had that I actually, I had a doctor’s appointment just this week as well. They did the same thing in kilograms. This particular doctor’s office always does it in kilograms. For reasons that I I don’t understand. The nurse didn’t understand either, because she doesn’t know kilograms. So she actually had put she, she had to take out a little calculator to convert it up. But what, you know, I’m sure there’s a switch on the bottom of that scale, you could just go switch it from kilograms to pounds. So I’m not I really don’t understand. I’m sure there’s some lofty medical reason why they’re doing it now. But yeah. But you know, and I think it was also interesting that everybody seems to say that this is a growing space, you know, 62% said that the the number of content marketing clients is increased in the last 12 months. Now, now, stop and think for a minute 62% say that content marketing clients have increased for their agency in the last 12 months, that’s a pretty substantial number that are seeing growth in that particular area, is that optimism, is it reality? I’m not really sure. But that would seem to suggest that this is an area that’s growing even faster than we might think.

GINI: Yeah, yeah. Really fast. And I don’t know what it is. I think I mean, I think that probably, especially with the way that some of these questions were written or presented, I think it it allowed for you to be a little more optimistic.

CHIP: Yes. And obviously, you know, people who are taking a Content Marketing Institute survey are probably pretty passionate about content marketing. So with all those caveats there, but you know, I still think we can take away some lessons from it, as we’ve been doing so far. But I think the other thing that was interesting to me that didn’t seem to be really present here was any discussion of the PESO model, which, obviously, if you were to bring it up would be self serving, but I can bring it up and it is not self serving. And so as the inventor of the PESO model or not that you invented the term, I guess, not the whole overall model, but how, how do you think that the research that you’re looking at here, how does that tie into the work that you’ve done? And are there any morsels in here that I missed that talk about that connection between content marketing and the broader spectrum of the PESO model?

GINI: Yeah, I think there are a couple of things. The first is that it talks about content marketing for the customer lifecycle. And most of the content marketing that the agencies who responded to this are working on are at the top and in the middle, not at the bottom, and not once that once a customer becomes a customer, once a prospect becomes a customer, so not on the customer loyalty side of things. So with a PESO model, when you’re using an integrated program like that, it’s very it helps you along, it helps you at every point in the customer lifecycle. So it’s not just, you know, bringing in and generating awareness. And it’s not just building awareness, but it’s also helping at consideration, at purchase, and at retention. And that’s how the PESO model helps you. So really, what we’re looking at is just one media type of the PESO model, which is owned, it sounds like some of the other sounds like shared and paid is probably been integrated into this survey results. But technically, they’re not paid and shared are not content marketing, their helpers of, but they’re not, you know, they’re amplifications of but they’re not a content marketing. So it sounds like that’s been integrated into some of it, and it’s completely…

CHIP: That whole definition piece is really important for agency owners to be thinking about, you know, if if you’re going to go out and say you’re providing content marketing, what does that include? How do you tie it into some of the other services, some of the other functions? And I think that’s a that would go a long way to addressing some of the challenges that were identified in this report as far as convincing prospects of, you know, your expertise of how this matches with the problems that they’re trying to solve in their own businesses.

The other thing that struck me in the in the challenges section, as always, there seemed to be some of that concern about how do I how do I feed the beast? How do I continue to generate content? some of the comments were things like having access to internal support within the client, or the experts needed to produce content, being able to do things on a consistent basis. And I think anytime an agency is working with a client on a content marketing program, it’s really important to set expectations for both sides. What is the agency going to do and what do you need from the client, but part of that comes down to defining what kind of content are we going to create, because at least in my experience, far too often, and frankly, I’ve been guilty of this myself, for my own businesses, you know, you just go out and try to create as much content as you can, that you think will appeal to your target audience. But it doesn’t necessarily make that more distinct connection between your expertise and the services you’re offering and what your client is looking for. So real world example, back when I ran CustomScoop, you know, we did a lot of general PR and communications content in our content marketing campaigns. The problem with that was everybody else was doing that, too. And so so you know, what I found subsequently, in, for example, in my current business with Agency Leadership Advisors is doing very targeted content, in my case, focused on agency owners works much better, because it’s a much narrower target. So thinking about how you’re going to match the content to your audience, and how that helps tell your story. So it’s not just interesting to your buyers, but it’s interesting, and tells them about your own expertise.

GINI: Yes, and I would also say that, you know, I have, we have a client who always says common sense is not so common. And really, to get in the minds of your buyers, you have to actually talk to them. So creating content that appeals to them is where it should be. And it doesn’t have to be that you’re creating as much content as you can. But if you’re creating really quality high value content.

CHIP: Right, and I think if you’re able to define that with your client early on, and then say, Okay, look, in order for us to do this, here’s what we need, you know, we need to be able to talk to two of your experts every month, so that we can get the information we need, or you need to provide copies of your internal stuff, or, you know, whatever it is, and there’s a lot of different approaches that you can take. And it’s very specific, I think, to the individual client, and what they already have for materials and expertise, what and what’s your agency’s knowledge of their particular spaces. But the better that you can set those expectations up front the more you’ll then be able to prove your value to them over time, which is the key to if you’re, you know, part of that 40% that’s generating mostly project revenue out of this getting more projects from those clients. Because if, if you’re doing project work, and you’re just constantly moving on to new clients, you’ll never be able to build a profitable agency, you need to be able to get repeat business.

GINI: You’re always gonna be on that hamster wheel and you’ll never get off it, which is not a fun place to be.

CHIP: No, I don’t fit on the hamster wheel. If I did, I’m sure it would be a miserable experience.

GINI: Hardy har. Well, the one thing I would like to leave us with, and this is very selfish, from my perspective, just because I run a PR agency, but the fact that there are that I, let’s see, I combined them hang on, it was three fourths of the agencies that are offering content marketing services, or advertising, marketing content and digital, only 9%, are PR firms. And that, to me, is a huge red flag because PR is communications. Communications is storytelling. Storytelling is content. And this is what we’ve done for the entirety of our industry is content, it may have been called something else, but this is what we do, and it just infuriates me.

CHIP: Well, yeah, and I think probably there are more PR agencies out there that are offering content marketing, but the problem is that in this particular survey, they’re not apparently interested enough to fill them out. So they’re not passionate enough about the topic to actually participate. And, and so that, you know, that suggests that a lot of PR agencies may simply be checking the box through their content marketing activities, as opposed to really, you know, saying, Okay, look, this is this is important and we need to focus on it. And I absolutely agree with you. It’s something that any people, PR agency, any PR agency, that is not thinking about content marketing, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re doing b2b, b2c, crisis, public affairs, I don’t – all of it needs a content marketing component of some sort. And if your agency is not able to speak to that, even if it’s not your core competency, and your core focus, you need to be able to speak to it well enough, that you figure out how to tie in your activities to it. And it if there’s nothing else that we leave you with, if you’re a PR agency owner, focus on this, pay attention to it, think about how it is that you’re going to integrate content marketing services into your offering in 2019, 2020 and beyond, and how does it fit into your overall storytelling?

GINI: Right. And this is what we do. You know, we used to do advertorials and speeches and op eds and byline articles, it’s the same thing, this is content. It’s just called something else.

CHIP: Right, and it has the added advantage. Because it’s on an owned platform, you control it, you know, it’s not, you know, I remember, you know, 20 years ago, you know, fighting to try to get op eds placed in a particular paper, and it would take forever, and then they tweak it and but by the time it actually ran, it was watered down, boring and out of date. You know, and, and if you’ve got your own platform, you can start, you know, moving this content out yourself. It’s also a great way to help your earned media component because you’re then putting out materials that the news media can look at and sort of preview and say, Oh, yeah, okay, these people are folks I should talk to for this story, because they’ve demonstrated to me by the content they’re putting out whether that’s an article, a blog, post, a podcast, a video, that they are, that they’re there, they’re credible, they know what they’re talking about, and they’ll be able to help me get my story done.

GINI: Yes, please do this.

CHIP: And of course, anyone who is interested in looking at the actual survey data, which I would highly encourage, we will include a link in the show notes for this episode, which of course you can find at Agencyleadership.com. And with that, that brings us to an end of this episode. Thank you for listening to this bit of content marketing from Gini and me. I’m Chip Griffin.

GINI: And I’m Gini Dietrich.

CHIP: And it depends.

New Episodes by Email

Get the latest Agency Leadership Podcast episodes delivered straight to your inbox!

MORE OPTIONS:   Apple Podcasts    |    Google Podcasts    |    Stitcher    |    Spotify    |    RSS

Like this episode? Share it!

The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

Recent Episodes

Never miss an article, episode, or event

Subscribe to the weekly SAGA Newsletter

Subscription Form