When I attended the first Content Marketing World conference in Cleveland in 2011, I had a hunch I’d find many client-side folks but precious few (if any) agency people in attendance.
Unfortunately, my hunch did not disappoint.
Everywhere I looked, I met executives from places such as HP, P&G, Dell and a host of brands from around the world.
But what I didn’t find was fellow agency executives.
Out of approximately 630 attendees from 18 countries, the agency world was pretty much non-existent.
Ogilvy was the only traditional, full-service agency with someone there. But to be fair, she was presenting one of the sessions.
Another global agency brand, Wunderman did show up, but it was the Brazilian, not U.S., office.
That was it for the full-service agency crowd.
Where are the Agencies?
While expecting agency attendance can be underwhelming, the lack of agency participation really blew me away.
On the other hand, 21 Fortune 500 companies had representation, and 11 Fortune 50 (that ‘s 22 percent) were roaming the halls of the Cleveland Convention Center.
That’s a ton of high-level corporate interest right there.
If nothing else, you’d think agency execs would want to spend a few days in such a target rich biz dev environment.
After all, it was September, the kick-off to the traditional fourth quarter new business season.
So why was it that the clients we all say we want to “lead” were at a brand new content marketing conference while the agency world sat idly by on the sidelines?
Over beers after opening night, I ran an informal focus group of friends and presenters.
New York Times bestselling author, Jay Baer, had the best take on what we were witnessing:
Agencies largely whiffed on the first digital revolution and have been forced to play catch up via mergers and buyouts for a decade. They’re frantically trying to catch the social media wave, and now seem to be missing what may be the larger play—content marketing. It’s a huge opportunity moving forward, and the lack of agency attendance here suggests that maybe history is destined to repeat itself.
Corporate Marketers in the House
Now fast forward seven years to present day 2018, and history seems to be repeating itself.
According to registration data shared with me by folks at Content Marketing Institute, corporate marketers still make up the lion’s share of registered attendees.
More importantly, big ad agencies are still largely absent.
And the agencies registering are largely those adopting a content marketing or inbound marketing position.
You also see a smattering of small, freelance or solopreneur “agencies” registered.
But beyond that, not much has changed in the last seven years.
I just don’t get it.
Especially when I look at the world of smaller, independent public relations agencies.
Knowledge is Power
Why are fellow agency owners not seeking out new knowledge in hope of offering in-demand services to clients who show interest?
I understand it’s harder for big agencies to change due to their personnel policies, financial models, and corporate red tape, but small, nimble agencies are perfectly situated to pivot quickly to master and then sell new services such as content marketing.
As Jay so accurately spelled it out, traditional agencies (ad and public relations) missed the last two major marketing evolutions because they failed to invest in people, tools, and knowledge ahead of client demand.
They outsourced until they were confident they’d make money, and only then did they rush into the fray.
And looking at the last five to 10 years, they follow the same playbook for delivering content marketing services to clients.
That has been great for an entire generation of freelancers who are living the gig economy dream.
But, it’s a huge miss for small to mid-size, independent agencies.
Where is Everybody?
Content marketing is all about telling great stories through the assembly of content into persuasive modules.
So it seems to be the perfect service for public relations agencies (especially smaller, nimble ones) to deliver.
PR agencies have great writers, communicators, and staff who have experience in reaching out to content platforms (think traditional media companies) and building relationships with their gatekeepers (reporters, editors, producers, etc.).
These are the same talents we need for today’s content marketing campaigns. So where is everybody?
And it’s not for lack of effort by the conference.
Getting Agencies Involved
In fact, they’re making a serious committment to securing the involvement of more agencies in the content marketing revolution.
By carving out a standard agency track and creating a dedicated agency page, interested firms can find key conference sessions. Sessions which can help them quickly get up to speed on content marketing.
I checked these out, and they’re a pretty solid group of sessions.
There are half-day workshops showing agencies how to leverage content marketing for biz dev. And a session dedicated to recent research on how and why clients make outsourced content marketing decisions.
Overall, there is a ton of great information.
They also have sessions on AI, innovative staffing models, even better ways to use client reporting to strengthen the client/agency relationship.
I’ll be attending again this year.
Leverage Your Strength
If your agency is interested in learning How to Google Proof Your Content Marketing Program, then please stop by my session.
But more importantly, if you aren’t going to the conference this September, rethink that decision.
Those of us with smaller, indy shops must leverage our strengths against larger agency brethren. We must become known for our knowledge.
And that will enable big-budget corporate marketers to find us before defaulting to the full-service shops of the world.