Agency or freelancer(s)?

Tony Hallett

Tony Hallett

Managing Director

September 16, 2015 2:57 am

Here’s something we need to make clear straightaway – Collective Content isn’t anti-freelance. The bulk of our writers are freelancers. Using freelances can in certain circumstances absolutely be the right route for organisations creating content. But this post is about the pros and cons of working with an individual or small number of one-man bands directly as opposed to an agency.

In terms of successful content marketing – note, not all marketing – we wrote recently about whether it is best to run things in-house or use an agency. To the surprise of some, all things being equal, we say opt for in-house. Go for it.

Balance

With content, it is especially important to be authentic to your organisation and tell stories as easily as possible. Even the best content marketing agencies can be worse than a well set up and funded internal team.

So when they need extra capacity or specialist skills or knowledge, those in-house teams, like lone marketers running content marketing programmes, can just reach out for a freelancer, right? After all it’s never been easier with services like Contently offering an eBay-like market full of suppliers.
As well as the choice, there’s the cost equation. Rates for even decently paid freelancers are perhaps a third of what a good content marketing agency will charge.

So far, so no-brainer. Only here’s the other side of the coin.

When you work with a lone writer – or designer or video producer – your own content skills need to be solid. You will be that person’s editor. Working with freelancers means you will need the time, ability and appetite to guide them and steer their work. You also need to know your Oxford commas and other details, which might sound a bit low level but detail is critical in media-grade content … and who else will do it? You will be their safety net.
With an agency, you should be looking for at least three levels of quality control. That should include the writer, an editor and a sub-editor (also known as a copy editor, who checks for spelling, grammar, style and so on). These people should be named, so you can check credentials and there’s no wondering who’s doing the work.

A decent agency should also be well versed in areas such as libel law and other legal or ethical considerations. That’s why we prefer people with a background in the media, people who know how that works and can protect clients.

One area of ethics which we come up against weekly is the issue of writers who are still working journalists while also taking on work that is funded by a company. How does that work?

In such a situation, there can’t be an ethical clash or a conflict of interest. They must have the ability to write in a way that stands comparison with the quality they deliver for their commissions elsewhere.

Lastly, we’d say an agency should mean no BS. If someone is sick, the agency can plug in someone else. If lots of jobs come in at the same time, the agency has the ability to scale and not make you wait.

So, yes, you pay more. What we’re saying, though, is that for that you get more.

An agency should be providing a greater mix of skills. In our case that means not just writing and editing but digital sure-footedness going back 17 years, along with capabilities in video production, events, design and illustration (including infographics). Maybe your agency can also help with related areas such as social media, SEO, PPC or advising on the best routes for distribution, including the best media agencies that will place your content as well as your ads (though most clients will have that side of the equation established).

Even having said all that, we understand that an individual freelancer can be the right choice and that freelancers can be lifesavers for those with limited budgets. But a dedicated content marketing agency should always offer more in terms of quality, range of skills and services, and flexibility such as scaling up and down.

*photo credit: F key via photopin (license)


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