Reader Question: Why Are Most Agency Blogs Unreadable?

The other day, I wrote a post on the fact that most marketing and PR agency blogs are unreadable.  In it I shared my observations that this bothered me – but didn’t provide any real reasons why (pretty much just a rant on the situation).

The reason I didn’t is – to be perfectly honest – modern marketing and PR professionals should already be able to devise their own ways to create a compelling, well-read blog.  It’s not really a new skill set.  In fact, it doesn’t even have to be on marketing, they should just be able to create a popular web publication they own about something.  Otherwise their competence will always be questionable.

However, a commenter – Jeremy Meyers from Waggener Edstrom challenged me to list out my reasons:

I’m wondering if you wouldn’t mind defining your terms a little. Calling blogs ‘unreadable’ without giving any context for what you mean doesn’t really give anyone any room for improvement.

I agree that a lot of blogs run by companies in general can lack a strong editorial focus, and come off as sales tools rather than honest opinion pieces and writing meant to clarify a POV or put something out there for the community, but I’m really wondering what your criteria is.

I left a short reply in the post, but I promised Jeremy a better response via email.  So I jotted down the following list of some specific problems I see:

1.  They don’t have opinions or take sides

No one cares to read those who blindly agree with others or rehash what’s already been said.  If you are doing this, you’re easily skip-able.  I don’t care if other people are telling you to ignore analysis/commentary/controversy because they are “risky.”  That’s nonsense.  It’s riskier to be invisible – in fact, the largest risk for any agency in the social web isn’t upsetting stakeholders or prospects, it’s obscurity.  Further, prospects actually want you to take a stand on things.  No one wants a consultant who sits on the fence, the whole point of hiring one is because they’re confident and embedded enough in the industry to be at the edge of discussions.  If I were client side I’d rather hire a consultant with a mind of their own vs. a drone who wouldn’t tell me the truth.

2.  Missing passion

Hint:  passion is a secret of the social web.  You can’t outsource this,  you can’t assign it away.  Either your team members have passion for what they do or they don’t.  It’s cut and dry, and that’s one of the best aspects of blogging.  This extends far beyond marketing and PR – anyone with a product or service who has raw passion behind it can put that on display for the world to see.  If done right, this can be a huge reason to be chosen ahead of purely profit-driven competitors.

3.  Lack of personality

Who are the people/voices behind a blog?  If you’re an A-list marketing or PR firm, your team members should likely be involved enough in the industry personally to have a known voice.  If not, that’s okay (do try and get some if you can) but your own brand of media still shouldn’t hinder the personality behind writers.  For some of the best multi-author blogs, I can immediately know who drafted a certain piece even without reading the author title – and that’s powerful.  It’s powerful because I’m already going to trust what they’re saying (they’ve built that with me over the years) and  I’ll be far more likely to share it since it’s by someone I’m a fan of.  For agencies, it’s about people as much as the brand.

4.  Content fails the “so what” test?

Agency blog content especially needs to pass this – think about it, clients are likely hiring you for your ideas.  Your blog puts them on display for the world to see.  As Chris Garett succinctly describes:

A much overlooked aspect though is “So What?”. What should the reader take away? Where is the benefit? Why should we listen to you?

5.  They aren’t consistent enough

This one speaks for itself, if you’re not updating what’s the reason people have to come back?  This one is obvious (if un-followed) so I’ll just leave this link here if you’re not sure.

6.  They’re trying too hard

Yes, it’s possible to try too hard.  As I noted in the post linked above, natural dialog flows easily and effortlessly, like art.  It’s less the product of a process and more the product of a flow experience — improvisational, not mechanical.

7.  Lack of differentiation point

Marketing agency blogs are a dime a dozen.  Only a few razor sharp groups like the team at Outspoken Media have launched agency blogs that became ultra-successful, fast.  Note that team was personally experienced well before they launched their blog, which sort of proves my original point.

8.  Fear of making enemies

The truth is most agencies wouldn’t dare make enemies with another blogger or web personality.  They’re afraid of ruining relationships with others they think they’ll forge organically in the future.  Oh, if only they understood basic psychology or how the social web actually works (enemies link to you, hate turns to love much easier than indifference turns to love, etc.).  If you’re not making any enemies, you’re doing it wrong.

9.  Digital marketing strategy problems at the agency level

When there is no internal digital marketing strategy the whole team is following (or there are internal conflicts over who owns digital, no unified effort, etc.) it quickly becomes apparent in an agency blog.  A firm needs their own marketing down pat before engaging in a dialog with the web.  Far too many (even large) agencies lack this.

10.  No effort at forging connections

As I noted in a post on content marketing mistakes:

Without actively connecting to others, you will never form a network of your own.  Your content should be forming connections organically as part of your process.  Doing something like making every post a link post is a simple enough way to do this, but you should be doing multiple things which forge connections on a consistent basis.  Get creative, there are really no limits on how to do this.

Quite a bit for being off the top of my head, right?  I could have added more.  But that’s my point, you can only learn the nuances of successful digital publishing by doing it yourself.

What else do you see agencies doing with their blogging that could be improved?

image credit: Stephen Aaron Rees via Shutterstock