By Pamela Muldoon published July 2, 2012

How to Let Go of ‘Shiny Object Syndrome’ in Content Marketing: Conversation with Melissa Harrison

Melissa Harrison on Content Marketing 360, CMIWith so many options to create and share content, the process of integrating content marketing into your organization can feel pretty overwhelming. Getting past the overwhelm and into smart strategy and time management are key if your business is going to implement a strong content marketing plan. Enter Melissa Harrison of  Allée Creative to the rescue!  Melissa was the perfect content marketing professional to take on the conversation of managing the creation, implementation and sharing of content for small business.

While the interview is packed with tips, here are things I found especially notable in the first part of my conversation with Melissa:

  • Get focused:  Too many organizations want to share all of their products or services up front, but this can cause information overload for your prospects. Instead, tighten up what your niche area really is and create compelling, engaging, informative content for that audience.  Less is truly more.
  • Choose platforms wisely:  Too often the “shiny object syndrome” hits our clients and they find themselves on all the major social platforms but without a real strategy or method of consistency.  Melissa gives us permission to focus our resources on the 1, 2 or 3 platforms that make the most sense for our audience.  Get really good and efficient at these before adding more!
  • Set up calendars:  Getting the entire organization onto the same page is critical.  Setting up content or editorial calendars are key to organizing your content, visually seeing how it all lays out and intersects and allows your team to be proactive with ideas.

There are several ways you can get the interview with Melissa:

You can also hear Melissa speak about how to organize your content marketing plan at Content Marketing World in Columbus Ohio on September 6.

Pamela:  Welcome to my special guest today. I have none other than Melissa Harrison and she is CEO and content expert over there at Allée Creative and I’m so excited to have Melissa, because she is just a font of information and also an upcoming speaker at the Content Marketing World Conference here in 2012 going on in Ohio, so welcome to the show Melissa, to Content Marketing 360 Radio.

Melissa:  Thank you, Pamela. Thanks for having me.

Pamela:  Absolutely. The one thing we have in common, other than just that we love content and we love helping our clients, is we both live in the beautiful state of Minnesota. I love that.

So we were talking before we went on the air that we’re doing this here in the middle of spring, going into summer here in Minnesota and we’re finally getting some beautiful weather again and that always makes us a little more cheery and, of course, we get to do all the good work we get to do with our clients and one of the areas, of course, with content marketing, there’s so many different pieces.

We’re going to dive in today with that whole organizational process and content calendars and kind of break some of those myths with the time and self-management that it takes to really do a good job at content for your business, so I’m really excited to get into that conversation with you, Melissa. Before we do that, I want to just tee up yourself a little bit for our audience. Tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming a business owner, a very interesting one, and just a little bit about what Allée Creative actually does for your clients?

Melissa:  Sure. I am not originally from Minnesota, but I am a Midwest girl, I grew up right outside Madison, Wisconsin, and I decided to move to the Twin Cities for college and went to U of M and did a self-designed degree, which is a big indication and I probably will talk as we get into more content management, but super type A personality where I just need to be in control of certain things, so I designed my own degree at the U and really focused on marketing, strategic communication, a lot of advertising PR, and things of that nature.

So I ended up here in the Twin Cities and I started, actually, in the world of nonprofits. I worked for some higher ed nonprofits in Publication Management, Marketing, always doing a lot of writing, a lot of content processes which obviously content marketing really wasn’t the buzzword around or we didn’t know that’s what it was and we were doing it, and I always knew at some point I would start my own firm and so in 2006 I made that leap. I was pregnant with my second baby and as I always say there’s absolutely nothing stressful about starting a business when you’re in your second trimester right? So I decided, hey, let’s just do that.

So, what is it, six years later and two more kids later, I actually have four children now, I’m loving it and Allée, we started out as a very small firm and really just offering some design services and content management or publication management services and at that time it was really centered or focused on print publications, newsletters, magazines, some direct mail pieces and things like that.

We shifted some of our focus in the past couple of years to really help our clients. We work with a lot of small- to mid-size businesses. We also help a lot of nonprofit and work with a lot of nonprofit clients since that’s where I started out, but now we’ve expanded our services and so we do some public relations and we do branding and we really focus on marketing strategy, which comes into that content piece, the social media piece, the online piece, all of those pieces because really when we work with clients we need to make sure that they have, under the umbrella of marketing, all of those pieces together so that they’re working in tandem and all the members of their team understand which pieces work together because really they all do.

We just kind of help them hone in and focus those pieces.

Pamela:  And it’s such an important part of the content marketing conversation and you had mentioned you were kind of working in “content marketing” and I’ve kind of put that in quotes if you’re a visual person, it’s on audio here. Really, content, in and of itself, has been around even before the internet, before television, before radio even, right? Content in some way, shape or form, even as we stand up and share in a sales pitch or whatever the case is, there’s still content there.

It is interesting isn’t it that the evolution has brought these two words together in this kind of 21st century model. One of the areas that I know we’re going to talk about this and why I call my show Content Marketing 360 Melissa is because you mentioned you did traditional content, you also do digital content and there really is a parallel and a marrying of these strategies that have to happen.

I love that you work with your clients to bring that together and really educate them, I’m guessing is a big part of your value proposition, really educating them on the importance of an all-around marketing plan.

Melissa  Right. For sure, and to have them work together because whoever may be in charge, if they’re still doing a print newsletter, or whatever printed pieces they’re having go out, really needs to be aware of the person who’s managing their social media content or who’s putting their blog posts out or any of those pieces, because their customer base and their target audience are the same.

They’re working for the same organization, but to make sure that their messaging is consistent across all channels is really what we try and focus our clients on, and really putting those pieces together in calendars to have a visual of how many touch points you have at your different customer levels is really important.

Pamela:  Yes it is and consistency is so key. One of my two favorite words in marketing, leverage being the other, but consistency; I call it the un-sexy part of marketing. Right? It’s so, so important. But let’s touch on one of those areas as we walk through this because I know we’re going to top that and dive deeper into calendars and some management pieces, but one of the areas I know when you walk into a business, my guess is, because I know I get this, they’re overwhelmed.

There’s just this sense of overwhelm. Where do I start? What’s the right strategy? They always want the silver bullet, right? Tell me where I should start. So let’s talk a little bit about that organization process and choosing the right strategies. How do you help your clients and your business owners hone in on the options that are in front of them and what are some of the questions that they should be asking or answering before they make any choices?

Melissa:  Yeah, it really comes down to organizing. What do you want to do? What do you want to accomplish? When we first sit down with clients we really talk about getting to know their customers. Where do their customers hang out? Where do they get their information? What do they look like? Who are they? What are their demographics? We also talk to businesses and organizations about their own key services.

They have to have a handle on what they want to be known for and I think the hardest part is to have businesses hone in on specific key services, or specific key target audiences. They want to kind of blanket out and say, well we serve everybody and that is hard, to come up with a content strategy that serves everybody.

Of course, if someone comes in that’s not a primary service that you provide and you can do that for them, that’s fine, and we don’t tell clients to forget about those pieces, but we really do want them to hone in on who are your target customers? What key services do you want to be known for? What are your business goals? Do you want increased sales? Do you want increased brand awareness?

Do you want to become a household name for X, Y or Z purpose? So to know those things so that you can center your content around those. The other piece, Pamela, you talked about being overwhelmed, companies are very overwhelmed about how are we going to get it all done and how much time does it take and all of that, so that’s definitely a discussion we have with them is, are you prepared with adequate staff or other resources?

So who will manage this process or do you have the funds to outsource a piece of it, do you want to keep it all in-house, so talking about those key points, too, because they may be super excited about the idea of doing all of these pieces and then when we come back and say, you know what, here’s how much it’s actually going to take, then that’s when that overwhelmed feeling comes into place. It’s where they can’t figure out how they’re going to handle all of that content, because it’s a lot of work. 

The other thing we try to focus on, or have clients have a handle on, is it’s okay not to be everywhere and that’s why we go through some of those key questions. Choose to be great at a few places or in a few areas rather than having average or subpar information in all of them. So, for example, if we’re talking about social media specifically, for my company we really let Google+ and Pinterest go for now.

We’re there, but those are not our main places to be because our clients are not necessarily there either right now. So we’ve chosen certain channels that have worked for us to really engage the audience in conversation and it happens to not be those places. However, those places can be perfectly great for another organization who’s looking more at visual content or things of that nature.

So it really just depends on, again, what the business goals are, what kind of audience you’re trying to reach and how much you have in resources to manage those pieces.

Pamela:  So Melissa, if I’m hearing you correctly, you’re giving us permission to actually let go of some things. Let go of the shiny objects right?

Melissa:  Exactly. And that’s hard because we all want the shiny object. You have to think about, “can I be the best, can I put my best foot forward in all of these places?” A lot of times the answer is no, because the clients that we work with are smaller size and smaller as far as staff resources go and so we really just want to pick the best avenues where you could be the most successful and really hone in on those.

Who’s to say, you may be very successful at those pieces that you choose to be a part of and, once that happens, then you can think about adding on, but there’s no point in doing it all at once if you’re just going to be spread too thin that you aren’t doing it any justice.

Pamela:  And it’s like so many things, we try to do too much, the overwhelmed kicks in and then paralysis of sorts takes hold. Right? Where we just stop and we fall off the patterns or the consistency as we’ve talked about and then we find ourselves in this state of mind where we’ve convinced ourselves this social media stuff just doesn’t work or this content stuff just doesn’t work.

In reality what we’ve done is taken on too much, and I think that’s such an important part of this because there are so many options, so many shiny objects. I swear something pops up every other week at this point, right? A new platform or a new way to tackle Twitter or a new way to make the most of your Facebook Timeline, right? There’s always something that’s going on. You cannot keep up with it 100 percent, and you and I are in this for the long haul and I’m usually stepping back going, “Whoa, wait, just let me get this down first.”

Melissa:  I know, it’s a lot of pressure, right? So then we have to figure out what those channels are too or those recommendations.

Pamela:  Yes. So I guess one of the key elements here if you’re a business owner listening today, first of all way to go with your business, we appreciate you, but secondly know that Melissa and I are also in your shoes. We’re also implementing and working through organization and, Melissa, one of those ways that I know you are pretty passionate about this and I have no doubt your clients love you for this, is the concept of content calendars and organization in terms of getting that content laid out so that implementation can take place. So tell us a little bit about this, this concept of what exactly is a content calendar, or sometimes referred to as an editorial calendar, and why should a business consider this as part of their content marketing plan?

Melissa:  Yes, and all of my clients probably tease me because I talk about it so much, but it is so important and it comes back to me and my type A personality, but, oh, my gosh, content calendars are phenomenal and they will help you relieve some of that stress and anxiety about how are we going to get it all done.

Yes, like you said, Pamela, content calendars, editorial calendars, sometimes we even make social media conversation calendars, whatever you want to call it, it’s some type of document where you’re going to put all of your information and, basically, the content and organize it in such a way that it makes sense for you to see visually when you’re posting, where you’re posting and what you’re posting.

So back when I was working in print publications in the magazine world, editorial calendars were used to really pin down if you have recurring sections or pages where your content was going to appear. Maybe you had a possible theme for that magazine, word count, all of those pieces. When we work with clients, because we do some work on print publications as well, we use those same types of pieces in the editorial calendars.

For an example, we have a monthly e-news that goes out and we have recurring sections in our e-news, which are things like company news, we have an industry piece entitled Your Brand. We have a section on events. We have a section called On the Blog and then we do a client spotlight.

So we literally take all of those sections and throw them into an Excel spreadsheet and we divide them out by month, since our e-news is monthly, and we put in there what are the key topic areas that we’re going to focus on for that month in those sections. That’s just one simple way to do it, but when you’re talking about things where you have a Twitter presence and you have a Facebook page and maybe you have a LinkedIn profile or company page and you have a company blog.

Oh, and then you have your website content and you maybe have a print magazine that goes out, all of those pieces, you really need to focus on putting them together in some type of calendar so you can stay organized on not only who’s managing the content, but when and where that content is going out.

It’s helpful, because when you come down to talking about time management, let’s say you have a couple of minutes in the morning, mid afternoon and in the evening to post those pieces of content, you literally just have to go to your content calendar, grab the pieces that you have scheduled for that day, and post them when you need to post them.

From a time management and project management standpoint that’s very helpful to do. You can also add in there, we do a lot with keywords or, again, when we’re talking to clients about what it is that you want to be known for, make sure that you’re dropping those in there and you can see visually.

Gosh, you know, we say that we’re the experts on professional training workshops, but we never, ever put content about that out there, so it’s another way to kind of self-check yourself to say, “Gosh, wait a minute, maybe we’re not delivering the right content that our audience wants to hear about or that we can provide good services on.”

Pamela:  Right. And you mentioned a couple of things and what I love about this is, again, my second word that I love so much is leverage, right, and so I’m kind of getting a visual sense. As you’re talking, I’m visualizing a content calendar or this idea of what you’re putting together and so what a great way to be able to say you can leverage content from your newsletter, that could be leveraged on your Facebook page, to be leveraged if it’s a visual piece of content, on your Pinterest account or even in your print magazine, if you have something that you send out.

So there’s really a connection there and kind of a web that starts to happen with your content and I’m guessing a content calendar can actually allow you to see those connections better, as well.

Melissa:  Exactly. That’s the perfect example, when you’re leveraging your content for different avenues and different channels. That’s another piece where people get stressed out about, “Well, gosh, we have to put content everywhere and we just don’t have that much different content to talk about.” You kind of do, because whether you have… let’s say you put on a workshop and you have your slide deck from a workshop, well that could turn easily into a blog post.

Just kind of tweak it a little bit and shorten it up for the blog. Maybe you want to do a 2-minute video on that same topic, having those same key slides with something to talk about. Maybe you do a large piece in the company newsletter that really gets in depth about what that workshop was all about.

There’s different ways to, again, visually see on your content calendar what that theme is or what that content is going to be about and then how you’re going to break it down into all the different channels to make it appropriate for the audience who chooses to get their information online, in print, on their phones, on your blog, all of those different spaces.

Pamela:  It’s so important and I love that we’re breaking this down, because I think again we’re all about taking away some of those myths and the overwhelm, right? I’m listening to you break this down and it’s starting to feel a little easier, a little more around that idea of just how do eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Right?

So really, I think we’ve just kind of put ourselves in the position, whether it’s ourselves as business owners or as a business owner or someone in a marketing program inside their organization, we look at it as this big, big elephant and I love that you’re breaking this down to something more edible, something a little more easy to do.

Author: Pamela Muldoon

Pamela Muldoon is the Podcast Network Director for the CMI Podcast Network and consultant at Audio Content Solutions. She helps brands and agencies integrate audio content into their overall marketing plan. Pamela is a veteran podcaster who can be heard on the CMI Podcast Network with her latest show "Content Marketing NEXT". She is also a professional VoiceOver talent specializing in commercial, narration, eLearning, and promo projects. Learn more at www.audiocontentsolutions.com or www.pamelamuldoon.com. Follow her on Twitter @pamelamuldoon or @Audio_Content.

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  • rogercparker

    Great sentence: “Getting past the overwhelm and into smart strategy and time management
    are key if your business is going to implement a strong content
    marketing plan.”

    I also liked the numerous practical questions to ask prospective clients.
    Roger

  • http://www.mynotetakingnerd.com/blog Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2

    I love the idea of content calendar.

    This syncs directly with my idea of having a marketing calendar where you see at a glance all of the events, affiliate promos, product launches you want to market for over the year which would include all your holiday sales. 

    I think it’d be wise to lay the content calendar on top of the marketing calendar and allow your content to ramp up to sales events and serve as both useful and persuasive in helping someone to see why they need to address a certain opportunity or problem you’re going to be solving in the very near future.