Half-Baked Content Marketing Ideas: The Talent Agency

half-baked content marketing ideas

It's Friday, and so I'm narrowly eking out my personal goal of publishing one Sorry for Marketing blog post per week. This one's got a bit of a different flavor to it too -- a cookie dough-esque flavor, if you will.

A friend and ex-Google colleague of mine, Patrick Campbell, recently shared this awesome fact with me:

In academia, you're expected to work in a given field for 20-25 years in order to be considered an expert. It's an official tag to be given, which might seem odd when you consider how everybody on social is an "expert."

Patrick's point to me was that, in any internet related field (including content marketing), there are no real experts. It's too new. The rate of change resets the score too often. 

There are, however, people who think about this stuff more than the average person. Patrick dubs himself that kind of person when it comes to software product pricing, since his company is Price Intelligently.

I believe him. I'm not an expert, even though you're reading this blog ostensibly because you think I am, at least to some degree. No way -- I just happen to think about this stuff more than most. And others in the industry think about it more than me. But we're all learning as we go, and none of us have been doing content marketing as it stands today for more than 20-25 years. When we reach that point, perhaps we'll know a few official "experts" in the industry, but for now, we just have lots of very smart people spending very long hours thinking about our industry. This produces some very smart thoughts.

This is not one of those thoughts.

Today, I'm starting a series of posts sharing half-baked ideas about where content marketing might go from here. Some of them are grounded in some semblance of logic -- an observation, a conversation with an expert (or rather, a smart person who thinks a lot about content). Others are just pulled out of thin air (or rather, my butt).

So, here is today's unfiltered, uncertain idea.

In the immortal words of Samuel L. Jackson: Hold onto your butts!

Half-Baked Idea: A Content Marketing Talent Agency Will Emerge

Here's some background context to first understand this half-baked idea:

1. Talent is really hard to find right now.

And experienced talent is extremely hard to find right now. Our startups at NextView all want to hire for content marketing, but aside from hiring entry-level folks or trying to poach someone from the (very) short list near the top of the industry, they struggle, along with most other companies.

The type of person they need isn't an "influencer" -- it's a practitioner who can go deep with a given project or strategy with them. This person is also not simply a leader or a frontline content marketer -- they're in the middle, able to do both. They're what I call "unicorn hires" who can both execute and lead strategy and/or people. They're super talented, but even more rare.

2. SOME support for finding talent already exists, but it addresses either of two extremes.

Looking across the industry, you see two hiring approaches sitting on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of commitment: Either hire a full-time content marketer or use a freelancer. Recruiters enable you to find that full timer, if needed. Marketplaces like Contently and Scripted and more help you find that freelancer.

A full-timer is great because they're part of your team at all times, get the full context needed to do a great job, and can grow with the company or team. A freelancer is great because they're cheaper than full-time hires in most cases, and they're short-term engagements for short-term needs. They also might be specialists where your team is lacking.

But, a problem is arising...

3. Companies are increasingly building "unassailable assets" aka pillar content.

To stand out, it's not enough to just publish "stuff" continually. You're seeing more and more companies building out standalone projects or, at times, mini-brands around their content. This might mean a publication, like AirBnB's Pineapple magazine, or a community site, like AmEx OPEN Forum, or a podcast, like NextView's upcoming Traction (launching next week, btw!). Whatever the case, brands are investing in bigger, more complex projects that stand alone and often have their own sub-brand identities, goals, and, more importantly, place in the minds of audiences. You might tell a friend, "Go check out OPEN Forum!" rather than, "Go check out AmEx!" It's different and special, and that's hard to create.

4. The 1099 economy is booming.

This means more people are increasingly okay with (or even proactively seeking) multiple short-term engagements, side projects, and/or part-time work. This is a bigger commitment than a freelance gig, a smaller one than a full-time hire, and I'd argue, a more effective one than outsourcing to agencies or consultants who simply can't get embedded enough in your business to be "part of it."

5. Lastly, we all know how personal brands matter today.

Whether you're influential or you're just plain GREAT at what you do, there's tons of talent out there, but it's locked up inside larger companies who can pay for it or marketplaces where there's too much noise.

Could a talent agency for content marketers work?

I remember seeing a company launch a podcast around the same time I was thinking, "I'd like to pick up a side project to podcast." I thought the show was okay, but I knew I could have helped them make it better -- and would have been both available and excited to try.

But they had no way of knowing I was somewhat available. And I had no way of knowing they were launching a show until it was live.

An agency could address the talent gap by offering a short list of top talent who raise their hands to say they'd be available to help with any number of those large, pillar projects: Write a recurring column for that important new magazine because they're a prolific, creative writer; host a podcast because they're charismatic on the microphone; host a video series because they're comfortable on camera; etc. The business benefits, as does the talent -- you're getting vetted and approved by the "king makers" (the agency) who provide support, access to paying projects, and the ability to KNOW those projects are coming because they could broker relationships with the organizations and/or drum up inbound requests.


The boom in podcasting is what first made me believe this could work. It's REALLY hard to be great at hosting and sounding good on a microphone, as well as scripting, as well as producing and editing, etc.

But as a content marketer, we're asked to be more "full stack" than many in the media field -- we just need to fake it all until we make it. NPR employs a handful of people per podcast. We often don't have that luxury. Sometimes, it helps to bring in someone who's "made it" and can provide creative firepower and/or credibility thanks to their name, the same way a pro athlete does for advertising. 

Unlike marketplaces of freelancers, this is a higher-touch contract gig with someone who's more premium than your typical freelancer -- someone embedded more deeply into your organization and for longer, and someone who's at or near the top of the food chain in a certain skill or industry. Unlike influencer marketing, this is about producing the work and making it great and more effective once marketed, rather than trying to tap someone's big audience or reach a new audience.

An agency would benefit both sides. For the talent, they'd offer better/easier exposure and access to paying gigs that are vetted and quality and longer term than writing single blog posts. (It's hard to know that Sexy Company X is thinking of launching a podcast or side blog or recurring column or video series before they actually do so. The talent would realize, hey, if they'd only called me, I could have helped and made that better. The agency would have relationships to access this information and find a fit before it's live.)

For the company, the agency would be a one-stop-shop to find A-list talent that could help you with massive content marketing undertakings. It's easier than ever for an individual to act like a brand -- they have audience, they have knowledge, they ARE a brand, just like in sports, though on a smaller level. I can see companies wanting to tap into that for more than just "influencer marketing."

(Hell, maybe I'm thinking too small and tactical. Maybe the influencers in our industry would sign with an agency that would find them technologies, companies, events, etc., to sponsor just like an athlete sponsors a soda. We all see quotes from the top dogs and cats in our industry saying, "I love this tech for XYZ reason." They've done that as a favor to a friend at that tech company. Why shouldn't they get paid for that? Athletes do. Actors do. I know content marketers with broader social media reach and definitely more tangible influence over a given niche than many athletes and actors do.)

In short: It's hard to find a unicorn. What if we built a unicorn ranch? 

What are your thoughts on this half-baked idea? Is there a real need or opportunity? Does it rhyme with things that exist and therefore wouldn't work? Conversely, if you like it, what other "features" would you tack on?

Leave a comment to let me know!

Posted on May 22, 2015 .