By Brad Shorr published August 13, 2013

How to Build a B2B Content Marketing Department: Beat Staffing Shock

content marketing staffWe’re all familiar with sticker shock; but with content marketing, staffing shock is the problem that has many of our heads spinning.

Indeed, when a company embarks on its first B2B content marketing program, a common discovery is that there’s more to the job of creating and managing content than meets the eye. Producing effective, high-quality content efforts requires a wide range of skills, capabilities, and expertise; so the team you assemble to do the job must be prepared to meet the challenges involved in conceptualizing, creating, crafting, executing, promoting, and measuring content.

This high-level review of content marketing roles and skills should help you put that team together.

Leadership 

Content marketing is a fairly new discipline and, as such, it is not yet fully understood within most organizations. For any program to get off the ground and stay aloft, it must have an internal champion. In many firms, the champion (or champions) are the CEO and/or a top marketing executive; some firms have even taken the step of creating the position of CCO, or Chief Content Officer.

Among the responsibilities that fall under program leadership are:

  • Determining objectives
  • Guiding and articulating strategy
  • Evaluating messaging themes
  • Determining priorities, goals, milestones, and measurements of performance

Leaders must be effective communicators within the organization and must also have a solid, hands-on understanding of the sales process and customer needs. They need to keep their fingers on the pulse of content marketing best practices, because they are changing and growing more sophisticated at a very rapid rate.

Content creation

Internal staffing requirements and outsource options for content creation vary widely, depending mainly on the amount and type of content you wish to produce. Many programs start with text-based content, such as blog posts and press releases. However, entry-level copywriters tend not to fit the bill, particularly in the B2B sector, because writers need B2B experience to achieve the proper voice, industry experience to convey expertise, and technical writing skills to provide accuracy.

Whether writing duties are contracted out, done internally, or handled as a shared effort will depend largely on production volume and what is being created: One or two blog posts a week is far from a full-time job; 10 case studies a month will take a small army.

A compelling reason to nurture in-house writers is the Google Authorship program, about which much has been written here on the CMI blog. Suffice it to say that participating in Google Authorship builds credibility and thought leadership, as well as enhancing SEO and conversions on organic search.

Staffing requirements get more complicated when visual content is part of the mix. Infographics, slide presentations, images (e.g., those published on Instagram or Pinterest), and video all require creative specialists with skills that are not easy to find or develop internally. In the Chicago market, we see a lot of collaboration for non-textual content creation: Boutique agencies that specialize in video production, photography, and infographics are sprouting up all around the area. Collaboration has the advantage of speed, efficiency and out-of-the-gate quality, but the drawback of a collaborative strategy is that messaging can sometimes miss the mark, due to team members’ lack of familiarity with your business, and lack of centralized control.

The guiding light for staffing should be quality. Don’t cut corners by asking an accounting clerk with time on his hands to put together a slide presentation. If your content isn’t professionally crafted, relevant, useful, and engaging, there’s no value in creating and sharing it. Content marketing on the cheap is not about saving 30 percent of your budget — it’s about the possibility that you are wasting 100 percent of your efforts.

Editorial

Editors play an enormous role in content production, and yet this role is frequently overlooked, understaffed, and miscast. The editorial function in a content marketing program is likely responsible for topic generation and work flow management, as well as substantive editing, line editing and proofreading.

Obviously, different skills are needed for each of these jobs. A good substantive editor needs to understand the big picture, whereas a proofreader must be extremely detail-oriented. A production work flow manager must be highly organized, whereas a topic generator needs creativity above all.

Work flow management and substantive editing are best accomplished in-house. The former requires continual, hands-on involvement, and the latter an intimate knowledge of your business. Topic generation, a difficult and time-consuming task, can be delegated to a contracted agency or freelancer, or even outsourced entirely, as can line editing (i.e., light copy editing) and proofreading.

Search engine optimization (SEO)

One of the most important objectives of a content marketing program is to improve search engine visibility. Therefore, the content marketing process should include keyword research, on-page optimization, and analytics setup and review. If an in-house or outsourced SEO function already exists in your organization, all that’s needed is to adjust staffing to fit the new content marketing requirements. But if your business lacks an internal SEO specialist, it’s recommended that you find an outsourced partner or hire someone on a full-time or part-time basis as quickly as possible.

Conversion rate optimization (CRO)

A shortcoming of many B2B content marketing programs is a poor conversion optimization strategy — evidenced by a lack of offers, poorly structured offers, poorly designed submission forms, and a lack of lead-tracking capabilities. If your firm is fortunate enough to have a CRO specialist on staff, it will have a big leg up on the competition. If not, you would be well-advised to run content pieces through a freelance CRO specialist or agency — or at least hire a CRO specialist for a consulting engagement early on in the development of your content marketing program.

Outreach

Once content has been created, edited, and optimized, attention must turn to getting it published and promoted. Outreach specialists are responsible for identifying desirable publishing sites, pitching content, and cultivating long-term relationships with publishers. Effective outreach requires a high level of organization, excellent sales and communication skills, and a solid understanding of the industry. Since all of these skills are hard to find in one individual, firms often split up duties into internal tasks, such as identifying publishing sites, and external duties, such as pitching articles. Your firm will have a lot of leeway here: Outreach can be effectively handled internally, or outsourced to a PR or content marketing agency.

Social syndication

B2Bs are often conflicted and confused about social media marketing. One thing that tends to be rather pointless is setting up social media communities solely for the purpose of syndicating a firm’s content. If all you’re doing is tweeting links to your blog posts, the chances of developing a vibrant social community are slim. On the other hand, creating a real content marketing presence on social media is a gargantuan task, involving the creation of original, platform-exclusive content; relentless community-building; and an ongoing, possibly around-the-clock, interaction strategy.

Few B2Bs have the stomach (or checkbook) for that kind of commitment. In my view, a firm should establish a social media strategy that is separate from its content marketing initiative, and then determine how content marketing fits in.

Keep in mind that content marketing consists largely of offsite content — a firm can piggyback on the publishers’ social communities (which can be quite large) rather than rely on its own resources.

Metrics

Measuring the success of a content marketing program can be difficult, since many of the associated metrics are “soft” — i.e., are not directly tied to a specific user-generated action, such as clicking on an ad, filling in a form, or phoning for help. That’s why it’s very important for leadership to clearly lay out what will be measured, what the numbers mean, and what they don’t mean. Among the most commonly used and reliable ways to evaluate a program are:

  • Number of onsite content pieces published
  • Number of offsite content pieces published
  • Number of active offsite publishers
  • Quality of active offsite publishers, as determined by factors defined by the firm
  • Content pitch success rate
  • Social shares on the firm’s social networks
  • Social shares on publishing site social networks
  • Social brand mentions
  • Blog comments (offsite and company blog)
  • Traffic to company site and blog
  • Page views of onsite content
  • Bounce rate
  • Length of page views on strategic onsite content
  • Form fills
  • Phone inquiries

From a staffing perspective, the keys are:

  1. Assigning someone the specific responsibility for collecting, reporting, and interpreting the analytics data
  2. Establishing a process for reviewing and acting on those data

If a firm does everything else right but fails on metrics, it will be hard pressed to improve its content marketing or even identify obvious flaws.

Over to you

What have I missed? What other roles and skills are necessary to put together a solid B2B content marketing program?

Looking for more advice on how to organize your content marketing team for optimal collaboration and productivity? Read CMI’s eBook:Building the Perfect Content Marketing Mix: Internal Processes and Content Marketing Strategy Tactics.

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Brad Shorr

Brad Shorr is Director of B2B Marketing for Straight North, an internet marketing agency headquartered in Chicago. He is an experienced content strategist, respected blogger, and SEO copywriter. Connect with him on Twitter @bradshorr.

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  • http://inthekisser.me/ Erica Ayotte

    Hi Brad–

    Great piece. I like how you weave together what traditionally may be thought of as different departments (creative, editorial, social, PR) as one unit. Also, glad to see conversion optimization called out specifically–though I would argue that whoever is in charge of that should be in charge of the operational (or “soft”) metrics as well.

    The one point I don’t quite agree with is the assertion that social strategy should exist outside of the content marketing organization.

    Social and content marketing are like the reach and referral “hub and spoke.” And content on social channels is still content, and would benefit from the same creative/multimedia and editorial resources as, say, a blog.

    Sure there are unique community building tactics that social practitioners need to employ. But one of the goals of most social strategies is to reach an audience on these disparate channels, but at the right time, pull them into “owned” properties e,g,, blog, website, contact list, etc.Having social separated from content marketing doesn’t do either any favors.

    • http://www.straightnorth.com Brad Shorr

      Erica, I’ve gone back and forth on this issue, and everything you say about social is valid. What I was trying to say in this post is that every company should have a content marketing program: content is central to branding, SEO, lead generation, etc. Every company has content (it’s hard to do marketing without it) — but not every company has a content program, though they should. On the other hand, I’m not convinced that every company needs a social media program. I think that determination hinges on the nature of the firm’s business, the nature of its online audience, available human and budgetary resources. I’m not sure if this brings us any closer together, but it’s very healthy to discuss and debate the interplay of social and content marketing — we discover a lot of good ideas that way. Thanks for your comments.

  • Jason Morris

    Excellent post, it will be interesting to see how this internal role develops, companies I am dealing with simply do not have the internal skills or the will to make a content strategy work. Give it another year though and I think we will see a change. Hires with a journalistic slant willing to learn SEO/Social Is the way I will be going.

    • http://www.straightnorth.com Brad Shorr

      Yes, internal content resources crop up as a challenge again and again when you discuss this topic. I have no appreciation for what it takes to manufacture a toaster. All I know is, I want a toaster that magically pops out toast on command. Sometimes I think that’s how companies think content pops out of a marketing project. But I think you’re right that companies are figuring out what it takes — I hope you’re right about being only a year or so away from a more hospitable content climate.

  • NenadSenic

    In some cases I do all this alone, by myself. No wonder I get exhausted by the end of the week. :) One question though, companies seem to tend to outsource all these to one person, a freelancer, like me. If you showed them your post, for instance, you’d be out of their door though. So, how are we to persuade them, this is really complex? It’s really taken so lightly the whole thing.

    • http://www.straightnorth.com Brad Shorr

      It’s a real issue: how seriously do companies take content marketing? We see just about everything, from firms that haven’t even heard about content marketing to ones that have pretty well developed programs. We do our best to educate them; the best case scenario is when we can point to a competitor who is clearly doing a better job.

  • kagorges

    The complexity of content marketing combined with the need created by Google to do this has created a situation that’s untenable for most businesses. Your article reveals the problem well: the resources to engage in content marketing are considerable and include having good writers as well as subject matter experts.

    Most businesses are using their subject matter experts to produce the foundational value of the business: creating and delivering products and/or services. To take the time of those people to produce content just so that they can engage in marketing the way Google has defined it is not sustainable.

    Large businesses can maybe afford to have a quality content generation machine — and then to actually create a revenue stream from that content (eg. Red Bull, and there are others). But those businesses must have a significant profit margin to take resources off the main revenue producing process and put them on quality content generation — or like Red Bull they can create something that relates emotionally to the brand and doesn’t have anything to do with the actual production of value in delivering product.

    I see the whole content marketing process as needing to change — it just doesn’t work financially for almost all businesses. I imagine we’ll be moving towards far more socially and crowd generated content by engaging in conversations with the market. But the idealist picture that businesses can continue to create deep, insightful, and useful content over and over so that customers can consume it to learn, engage, and get to know the business is wishful thinking — it just isn’t going to work as a long term part of the plan.

    • http://www.straightnorth.com Brad Shorr

      Very well stated! I think a certain level of content creation is sustainable for most companies — but every company can’t be trying for 50 pieces of content a month.

    • Alexis Madrigal

      Of course “socially and crowd generated content” created through “engaging in conversations with the market” also takes a huge staff and carries with it its own set of risks. I think it tends to look better on paper than it does in practice.

  • Viki Mann

    Nice article, Brad. You are on target about starting with a content strategy and getting a high ranking business leader to own the strategy and metrics. There are always trends in marketing that help us couse-correct our strategies. Branding was the big ‘trend’ 10-15 years ago and many of us helped senior leadership better understand the importance of strategic branding. Now we need to educate our senior leadership about content management as many don’t understand it’s importance (and give a blank stare when someone mentions it). We are going through the same learning curve with our seniors on this topic as we did with branding. This will take time and metrics.
    The area that I feel is left out of all the content marketing discussions is the intersection of branding and content marketing. You still need both and the org structure you mention needs to support both roles. I’ve seen great content creation but without brand directors (or art directors) you end up with lots of words without the brand appeal or attention grabbing visuals. Blogs, websites, social, etc. needs both great content and great visuals. Consider adding the integration of the two into your articles going forward. Always remember a ‘picture is worth a thousand words’ and content managers and brand/visual managers need to unite and collaborate to hit the metrics together.

    • http://www.straightnorth.com Brad Shorr

      Thanks for sharing your insight, Viki. It’s funny to think that branding once elicited blank stares. You’re absolutely right about the branding-content connection and it should be emphasized. Coincidentally, I had a deep discussion about this yesterday with our content director — but in the context of website development projects. We notice that companies don’t always integrate branding into their content and even design when they build new sites. When branding is considered, the writing becomes more challenging, but the results are far stronger.

  • Lauren Henley

    Interesting article, content creation seems to be the biggest problem in content marketing at the moment.

    Generating good, interesting content takes a lot of time so I’m glad that you touched on outsourcing options for this. Outsourcing your guest blogging efforts to a quality guest posting service saves time so is an ideal option for many companies.