By Andrea Fryrear published December 3, 2015

Agile Principles + Content Marketing = Long-Term Success


By now I hope we’ve all heard that content marketing is a long play. You simply can’t decide to try it out for a couple of months and expect to see huge payoffs.

Instead, to get the most out of your content you have to get management, executives, or whoever holds the purse strings to commit to at least a year of consistent content marketing.

But just imagine how terrible it would be if you managed to get this buy-in, crafted a beautiful content strategy, and then burned out all of your content producers before you could see it come to fruition?

As content marketing moves into the trough of disillusionment, skepticism about its ability to deliver results will increase. It’s more important than ever for marketing teams to make sure they have the infrastructure in place to ensure they can deliver on a hard-won executive commitment to long-term content production.

If that sounds daunting for your marketing team to pull off, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there’s a solution. Agile marketing is one of the only approaches out there that offers long-term support for teams of any size in their efforts to produce high-quality, audience-centered content at a consistent cadence.

Get out of ‘triage mode’

Robert Rose recently tried to help a pharmaceutical content team sort out its difficulties. In relaying the experience, he made several observations that seemed to cry out for Agile marketing:

In my experience, marketing is frequently in triage mode, trying to reactively keep up with what the business should be saying next. We create campaigns where we’re not sure what we’re going to say next week much less next month … In short, we operate in a publishing cadence that says, our only requisite to publishing the content is that it’s finished.

Robert suggested that under-duress content marketers work backward from a strategy girded by tent-pole content pieces (I call them pillar content) that can be developed without a deadline. Smaller satellite pieces created from that pillar content can be released in a more real-time cadence because they would be free from additional compliance review and other publication constraints.

This can be a great place to start creating a content strategy.

Unfortunately, while the desire for strategy exists, triage mode creeps back in simply because there is nothing to keep it out. Before you know it, the marketing team is back to scrambling to get content out just in time with little thought for its larger purpose.

Know the problem with ‘normal’ marketing methods

Whether marketers are reacting to a competitor, an executive, or a new social channel, they are notoriously susceptible to chasing opportunities like a dog chasing squirrels.

Well-intentioned efforts to draft these crucial pieces of pillar content get pushed back when our CMO decides he hates the home page or the new vice president of marketing decides the company needs a Periscope strategy ASAP.

In short, traditional marketing offers no buffer, no protection of the content-creation process from outside forces. Deadlines get shifted, content dies in committee, and frequent intervention stymies all efforts at creating truly excellent, customer-focused content. Getting results with mediocre content is just about as hard as getting results with no content at all.


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Rescue your program with Agile marketing

The deluge of content has made average content easy to ignore. Competent copywriters are no longer sufficient for content marketing dominance. Jay Baer hit the nail on the head when he said at this year’s Content Marketing World that “competition commoditizes competency.”

Brands need strong writers and artists who are committed to both the brand and the audience, and who are committed to the long haul. Jay Acunzo is another voice calling for a creative cocoon around content marketing:

Those organizations that over-invest in distribution and under-invest in production wind up trying to make dud missiles fly, and when that doesn’t work, they slather more paint on the hull. The great content marketers, however, will revisit the actual circuitry – they start by creating something that can really take off in the first place. They’re better equipped to examine the circuitry of what makes content great.

So how do you put the right circuitry in place to make sure your great content marketers have the space they need? You put them on an Agile team.

On an Agile team, sprints are sacred. Once the sprint starts, it can’t be altered without a very, very serious reason. (“I don’t like the home page” is not a very, very serious reason.)

That means that if you commit 60% of the team’s bandwidth for the next three weeks to researching and outlining a thought leadership e-book, that’s what is going to happen. Period. If an executive wants to shoehorn Periscope into your work right this minute, that leader must be prepared to either pull something off the list of sprint objectives or wait until the next sprint starts.

This arrangement not only dramatically decreases the stress on content producers, it also helps the team stay on track to hit production and publication targets. Consistency breeds trust with both executives and audiences, so we must create environments that foster consistency.

Create long-term content on an Agile team

Some writers crank out thousands of words a week and never seem to miss a beat. But even the most prolific and high-quality content producers burn out if they don’t have a regular cadence supporting them.

Simply saying, “Write as much as you can, and then do it again,” is a recipe for a high turnover rate. And this type of churn will have a negative impact on your content’s quality and, consequently, your brand’s voice.

Instead, by adopting Agile methodologies, your content team will have certain assurances. They:

  • Have precise short-term objectives and deadlines thanks to clear sprint goals and firm sprint lengths
  • Will not be pulled off current projects to support out-of-the-blue demands because each sprint’s objectives are set in stone at the beginning
  • Know their content will get the distribution attention it needs to have the best chance of succeeding thanks to the Agile focus on transparent task tracking
  • Be part of a team committed to completing sprint objectives, meaning they are not solely responsible for completing a content project

These kinds of implicit promises make it much easier for writers to commit to word counts and deadlines while simultaneously reducing the number of late nights and early mornings that writers have to put in.

You get happier, more productive content marketers who are more likely to stick around longer. That results in better content, more engaged audiences, and better ROI.

Listen to my Agile content story

Let’s be clear: These are not just theoretical ideas that I’m floating around. I work on an Agile team as the only full-time content marketer, and without the Agile methodologies outlined here I’m confident that I would have burned out long ago.

With an Agile team behind me, I can produce five to seven high-quality pieces of content every week, in addition to having the opportunity to do guest blogging and occasionally leave the office for lunch.

And our team isn’t succeeding just in volume; we’re building a loyal audience largely because of our commitment to producing consistent, helpful content that we ourselves would want to read.

Our steady content marketing efforts also have doubled year-over-year traffic to our sister software’s website.

For our team (and myself in particular), the combination of Agile marketing and content marketing has been like peanut butter and chocolate – a delicious, profitable combination.

Want to learn more about how content strategy can help your content marketing programs? Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter dedicated to content strategy with exclusive insight from Chief Strategy Officer Robert Rose.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Andrea Fryrear

Andrea Fryrear is the chief content officer for Fox Content, where she uses agile content marketing principles to drive content strategy and implementation for her clients. She also writes for and edits The Agile Marketer a community of marketers on the front lines of the agile marketing transformation. She geeks out on all things agile and content on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Other posts by Andrea Fryrear

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  • Ray Beharry

    Agile principles applied to marketing are a great way to stay on top of projects, remove obstacles and get stuff done – also a good way to keep business priorities and “executive emergencies” in check.

    Love it!

    • Afryrear

      Thanks Ray – so glad you liked the article. We find agile to be just as you said – a great way to balance our team’s needs with business priorities and the unavoidable needs of executives.

  • Greg Strandberg

    I really liked seeing the word ‘agile’ in the title as that’s exactly what you need – agility.

    You have to react to what is happening. Maybe writers that are used to following the news or working in journalism are better at this. Stories break, at any time, and you need to be on top of it.

    Sometimes that means writing a post fast, pushing it into the front of the posting schedule queue. I think sites that can do that – get posts up quickly based on industry or market events – will do better than most.

    • Afryrear

      Great point, Greg.

      There could definitely be resistance from writers who are used to getting a month to research and write content once you get into shorter agile cycles or sprints.

      We have done one week sprints on our team that really challenged us as content creators, but it was an excellent exercise. Even if you don’t publish at that speed all the time, being able to do it as needed is a big advantage.