Can Acquihires Solve Content Marketing’s Talent Problem?

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “Talent hits a target no one else can hit.” In the world of content marketing, companies are eager to take aim.

With content budgets on the rise, businesses everywhere are looking to invest more in publishing, but many are finding they don’t have the resources to produce the work. As agencies scramble to bolster their offerings, they’re increasingly aware that they’ll need to bring more talent to the table if they want to thrive. According to “The Path Forward: Marketing’s Outlook Into the Digital Future,” produced by the Chief Marketing Officer Council, two-thirds of CMOs expect to make changes to their agency relationships.

As part of this effort to adapt, we’re starting to see some marketing firms steal a tactic from Silicon Valley: acquihires. They’re buying up full-fledged content shops—talent and time-tested expertise included. Thus far, these deals seem to be leading to successful marketing partnerships.

Let’s take a look at why.

Seeking scale

“In a world where content is ubiquitous, the demand for quality content that’s relevant to customers is very high,” said Nigel Morris, CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network Americas & EMEA, a global marketing company. In May, Dentsu Aegis Network acquired content marketing shop John Brown Media, one of the largest content marketing agencies in the world. With expertise in print, digital, social, video, and marketing strategy, and a staff more than 225 strong, John Brown Media has worked with British supermarket chain Waitrose, the Royal Bank of Scotland, airline Emirates, and upmarket department store John Lewis.

This wasn’t Dentsu Aegis Network’s first attempt to bring a content firm into the fold. About five years ago, when interest in content marketing was on the rise, the company set out to find an agency that could supplement its existing production efforts. But there was a gap in the market. When Dentsu couldn’t find a firm that fit the bill, it created its own, launching internal content marketing team The Story Lab.

Now, with the need for shortform content that can be used for performance marketing efforts like search at an all-time high, Dentsu began its search anew. As a result of the acquisition, John Brown Media is producing site content and articles for clients of iProspect, one of the agencies under the Dentsu Aegis Network umbrella (others include Carat and McGarryBowen).

“Search algorithms are moving away from meta tags and toward rich and relevant content,” Morris said. “We wanted the ability to produce large amounts of content to help drive brand performance, and John Brown has expertise in generating high volumes of quality content in response to the high-volume opportunity of the current digital media market.”

Investing in processes

Back in 2013, the Content Marketing Institute published a story titled “The Content Marketing Race Is Onthat addressed Oracle’s acquisition of content marketing provider Compendium. The story theorized that it wasn’t just Compendium’s content marketing expertise but its existing content development system that made the company so valuable in Oracle’s eyes.

Indeed, companies acquiring content shops don’t just want bodies; they’re also looking for infrastructure and processes that have generated results. Such was the situation when digital marketing and strategic consulting firm Trellist Marketing and Technology acquired Philadelphia-based Scribewise last October. Although Scribewise was less than three years old at the time, its team of marketers had created content for companies like Global Citizens Association and national insurance broker Corporate Synergies using an approach that coupled a research-focused content strategy with an outsourced newsroom.

Trellist has described the acquisition as an “effort to create rapid company growth with a strategic mix of smart people, innovative practices, and operating efficiencies.”

Similarly, recent reports that NBCUniversal is about to invest $250 million in BuzzFeed suggest more traditional media businesses see the value in aligning with younger companies that have already adapted to today’s publishing ecosystem. As Re/code put it, “The idea is that NBCU can get a crash course on digital content and distribution from its new investments.”

Synchronizing company cultures

As appealing as an acquisition strategy may be, companies do take a risk when bringing on a polished content development team. At the very least, there’s bound to be a learning curve as parties try to unite their styles and vision for future projects.

In the case of Trellist and Scribewise, Scribewise founder John Miller said the deal felt like “a perfect fit in terms of culture, the services we both offer, and where we all want to go.” The companies spent weeks talking business philosophy prior to sealing the deal. According to Trellist founding partner and CEO David Atadan, collaborating with Scribewise was a smart move because: “They’re analytical thinkers who solve problems creatively—just like we do.”

Companies can also mitigate risk by peeking under the hood of a shop before negotiations begin. Digital media startup Taylor Media, which acquired content marketing firm Socialexis in July, did so only after having worked with the agency. Taylor Media is the publisher of personal finance blog The Penny Hoarder, which receives 5.5 million unique visitors per month, and Socialexis had been producing content for the site for over a year. When Taylor Media decided it needed to double its weekly blog posts and launch additional publications, it permanently secured Socialexis’s blog strategy, search optimization, and content development services.

The benefits of a pre-sale collaboration go both ways. “We were pretty familiar with their culture and confident it would be a fit,” said Alexis Grant, Socialexis founder and editor, of her time working with Taylor Media. “That was really important for me personally. I wouldn’t have made the decision to join (the company) if I’d felt otherwise.” As a result of the acquihire, Grant has taken on the role of executive editor for The Penny Hoarder.

Not all companies have the capital to make such investments, but among those that are financially equipped we’re starting to see more agencies joining forces with creative shops at a time when publishers can’t seem to get enough content.

“The ability to generate high-quality content in real time with journalistic focus and skills is very important, and I think other agencies are definitely looking in this area,” Morris said. “There’s a lot of industry buzz about it.”

And for those on the hunt for more talented contributors, that buzz is only getting louder.

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