‘What is your experience of writing for digital media?’
Understanding digital is about more than just writing articles. It's about understanding how users read online, how to craft a persuasive call to action, how to work in seo keywords seamlessly, and much more.
So ask: What is the agency’s understanding of digital best practice? Is the agency’s knowledge of SEO, usability and accessibility up to date? Are they aware of the Google Panda search update?
Do they understand how content works on different platforms? Can they write for mobile and make the most of the opportunities to create once and publish anywhere?
‘What in-depth editorial experience do you have?’
Find out what other clients the agency has written for and the work done. Good agencies will point you to examples of work that illustrate their experience, too.
Find out about the background and experience of the team: Have they written for a variety of publications and media? Do they have an old-school attitude to editorial quality?
‘Who will actually be doing the work?’
With volumes of content work fluctuating, some agencies prefer to use freelancers rather than in-house writers. Good agencies will usually carry out most of the work in-house and control quality centrally. Any out-of-house writers will be screened and trained to check the quality of work meets their rigorous standards. Without a strong in-house team, however, quality is likely to suffer – especially when it comes to higher volumes of content and tight turnarounds.
‘How can we be sure the copywriting will sound like us?’
If an agency offers tone of voice services, it should be able to match yours in their writing – or help you create one if you need it. Are they prepared to provide a sample piece of content to show they can do this?
‘How do you quote for work?’
Some agencies take the approach of quoting by the word. But wordcount on its own is not a very helpful measure. Short copy is a specialism that can require greater expertise and experience than long copy. Crafting a brief but powerful landing page can require as much effort and skill as writing a 1200-word news feature – if not more.
There are other factors at play, too. How much source material is there to work from? Can content be based on existing assets or does it need to be researched or interviewed out of stakeholders? How will the success of the content be measured? Does it need to be written for ease of localisation? All these elements need to be factored into a realistic consideration of how the work should be costed.
Ask too if the quote is a fixed cost, and if amendments based on your feedback would be included. Some agencies will try to charge for ‘rework’ that really just involves fixing their own errors.
‘What are your production processes?’
Find out what editorial and production processes are in place. Will they do a sample so you can check quality and use feedback to improve the work? Ask how deadlines and quality control are handled. What subbing and proofing processes do they have in place? What is the normal turnaround time for work? Does this sound realistic based on the resource they offer?
‘Do they understand compliance and stakeholder management?’
Does your copy have to go through a significant sign-off process, involving regulatory compliance or technical QA? If so, what experience does the agency have of managing this process? And what experience do they have of managing complex stakeholder sign-off processes?
‘Can you help with strategy and long-term goals?’
If an agency offers other services like content strategy, you know they will be looking at the work in a wider way – how it will fit into your long-term plan, whether it is the right content in the right place at the right time. They will see the work in a wider context and can help guide you.
‘Who will I be dealing with?’
Find out who will be handling your work. Ask if there will be continuity on the account, and how the agency intends to keep you in the loop on the status of the project. Are you confident you’ll always be talking to the same person? Is there a back-up contact?
‘What’s your website like?’
Does the agency practise what it preaches? Look at its own website – is it clear and readable? Can you find what you are looking for? Is the information clear, logical and well written? You can also get a good idea of the standing of the agency from the list of clients and any testimonials or case studies.