Marketing agencies are notorious for being their own worst clients. Billable clients always come first (and for good reason), so agencies often default to allowing client work to speak for their capabilities because they often don’t have the time or capacity to speak for themselves.
But content marketing challenges the notion that client work should always come first. Content marketing, more than any other ”marketing discipline,” requires a convergence of processes and an integration of skills to achieve efficiency and effectiveness. Any given agency may possess the needed parts — content creation, SEO, social media, data analytics, and technical capabilities — but it’s the sum or integration of these parts that really matters. In order for an agency to help others effectively market through sustained editorial, it must ”walk-the-talk” by operationalizing and mastering this same process for itself.
Our business is dependent on hiring highly experienced and skilled marketing professionals across the converging media landscape who are capable of helping clients grow their businesses. By all measures, our capabilities come to life in our everyday interactions with clients and the way we run our company. The work we do for clients speaks loudly. So, why make the commitment to publish content on our own behalf?
Recently, my company felt it was critical that we answer the content question for ourselves before we continue to try to answer it for our clients. What we found affirmed our belief that modern content marketing has become a critical component to developing a brand. Whether you make great soap, great cars, great soft drinks, or offer great financial services, the modern customer is holding you to a much higher standard. Your brand narrative simply isn’t enough — customers want information. They want justification. They want value. They want proof. And brands must sustain the ability to deliver on these needs every day.
We addressed this issue by identifying a set of objectives that a sustained content initiative should serve:
- Build our brand: Creating content should promote our thought leadership & expertise in paid, earned, and owned media.
- Inform and educate: Publishing should be focused on creating better marketing professionals internally, and better clients externally.
- Develop talent: Writing is a critical skill set in the marketing industry, and encouraging and helping our people articulate their thoughts in words will make them more effective in communicating strategic selling points.
- Create efficiency: The marketing profession requires a heavy volume of content creation, consumption, and curation. By creating a central repository for content and a more efficient outlet for curated perspective, we will effectively channel what we’re already doing in a more productive manner.
- Refine our capabilities: Creating a platform to drive innovation in content marketing will help us bring these same innovations to our clients.
- Grow revenue: And last, but certainly not least, content creation will support or lead our new business efforts, and over time generate a modest level of direct revenue for reinvestment back into content creation.
Establishing a mission
Effective execution stems first from a solid cultural foundation. If you strive to achieve something, you have to live it every day. Visit the campuses of Google, Apple, or Amazon and you are constantly reminded that these organizations are focused on technical innovation. Publishers approach their businesses with the same mission critical focus, and publishing for marketing purposes is no different. You can’t fake it.
Our organization is made up of 200 marketing professionals ranging in strategic, tactical, and technical expertise across a broad spectrum of paid, earned, and owned media. Our mission as an organization is “to guide C-level marketers and their teams through the tectonic shift taking place across the media landscape.” And, it is this mission that has guided our editorial strategy — to publish content that represents our thought leadership in converging media, and to share that thought leadership with current and prospective clients as well as the broader media and marketing industry we’re eager to collaborate with.
A well-crafted mission and focused objectives are critical to any business endeavor. Admittedly, these steps took time to cultivate within our own organization. However, these important first steps are not unique to content marketing. Companies of all types and sizes vet these same business fundamentals. What are unique to content marketing are the decisions to channel the company’s mission, business objectives, and resources into a publishing initiative, and to align the business objectives with publishing objectives.
These decisions require context, conviction and, subsequently, a commitment. A marketing organization must evolve to a point where they understand the holistic benefits that content can deliver. But invariably, this understanding must come from the top, down — a CEO/CMO/CCO-figure must drive these decisions before a content marketing initiative can launch. While our decisions took more than 60 days, they didn’t take much longer because our CEO & CCO understood acutely that content had to become mission critical, and the sooner we got started, the better.
From zero to content in 60 days
Once the commitment is made, the path to publishing can be astonishingly quick and relatively inexpensive. Committed organizations need to solve for two challenges with a mindset of ”boot-strapping” their way to launch:
- An affordable platform
- A dedicated editorial team
Our organization tackled these challenges and implemented the appropriate solutions that enabled us to launch a robust publishing initiative in 60 days. Here’s how we did it.
The 80/20 rule
An important principle in operationalizing content marketing is to invest the majority of resources and funding into content creation and promotion — NOT technology.
A good rule to follow is the 80/20 rule: At a minimum, 80 percent of your available resources and funding should go to content, and 20 percent to technology and infrastructure. That’s not to suggest that technology isn’t important, but too often marketing organizations will over-invest in the technology required to efficiently and effectively publish online, leaving insufficient resources and funding available for what is really important.
Another guiding principle here is governance. How locked-down does the security of your platform need to be? Some organizations will err on the pragmatic side, and while we can certainly understand the cautious approach, often this level of security for a content platform is overkill, and can introduce a level of recurring cost that can undermine any reasonable ROI projections.
Publishing made easy
Our organization opted to host its content on WordPress, just as many other publishers — brand or media — have opted to do, as it is an affordable and versatile solution. A WordPress custom theme is inexpensive and easy to work with. It offers a relatively decent level of security and, most importantly, it offers a ton of flexibility, particularly for marketers that are going to be producing a lot of original content.
But there are other options out there as well, and depending on your organization’s needs, other solutions should be evaluated — particularly if the focus is on curating content over creating original content.
WordPress enabled our organization to stay well within the 80/20 threshold. Our organization purchased the domain, developed brand standards for MediaIsPower.com, created a staging environment within WordPress, and began populating existing blog content and author bios — all in a two-week time frame, with no more than a day’s effort collectively between a designer and a developer.
The critical thing for marketers to embrace is that content marketing is a long-term commitment, and there are diminishing returns in over-refining a platform for launch, as it will certainly evolve alongside its content and audience. Remember, it’s about the content, not the aesthetic, so bootstrap it, get a beta platform up and running, and get on with it.
A dedicated editorial team
Developing the platform is relatively easy compared to the process of identifying, assigning, or hiring people to manage an always-on process. Content marketing is labor intensive, but what type of quality marketing isn’t?
Again as a rule, quality content creation should receive the lion’s share of resources. The nature of our business means that we have close to 150 subject matter experts on hand, all of whom are relevant contributors to our editorial focus. But regardless of your organization’s editorial endowment, the steps involved are the same.
The first priority is to determine what topics you will cover. We developed a broad taxonomy, giving us the flexibility to cover a range of media topics. This coverage area should be formalized in an editorial brief, a document focused on guiding editorial development on more of the specifics around the intended audience’s needs, as well as the tone, voice, cadence, and detail that should go into delivering on these needs. This brief should dovetail with your editorial mission and answer these four key questions:
- Who within (or outside of) your organization should write about the topics you’re focused on?
- Who will edit or filter your content for quality, consistency, and accuracy?
- Who will manage the process from assignment through publishing?
- What internal gaps must you fill with procured or curated resources outside of the organization?
Roughly one-third of our company is focused on creating quality content, while about 5 percent of the organization is focused on editing. We’ve also designated about 10 percent of the company to focus on administering the process. The remainder of the organization serves as a resource well from which to draw for other critical roles — while these resources are certainly creating articles and webinars now and then, and lending a hand in the content curation process, their more important role is helping to promote and share our organization’s content across their respective social graphs.
While we have the majority of the necessary resources internally, there are specific topics that we are focused on covering in which we do not have the requisite subject matter expertise. In these cases, we seek to collaborate or partner with other content creators. Or, in some cases, we may choose to procure the content from a source that has a perspective and voice that can make a valuable contribution. But try tapping and nurturing internal capabilities first, as this can dramatically impact your overall content costs.
Delivering tangible benefits
The steps we’ve taken are already delivering positive results. They have enabled us to spread the demand for content creation across a greater pool of writers, enabling us to maintain a steady and consistent stream of content — which is critical for organic search authority. They have enabled more of our personnel to get involved in content in at least some capacity, without having to cannibalize too much time from billable client work. And most importantly, it has enabled us to minimize content cost while keeping quality high.
So, whatever your company’s mission might be, content can play a significant role. Take a start-up approach to planning and developing your content marketing initiative and set it up for long-term sustainability.
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