By Scott Severson published February 5, 2016

Content Marketing’s Secret Sauce? Good Workflow


Have you found the secret sauce to managing your content? Or do you operate with a cobbled-together system that gets the job done?

If you’re just getting the job done, you’re not alone. In a recent survey with our clients, we learned that almost 86% manage their content marketing with a combination of Microsoft Word, Excel, and email.

But how well is that process working for you? Most people find it unwieldy, inefficient, and frustrating to get a single piece of content created, edited, reviewed, and approved. It’s time to take a step back, evaluate why you’re doing what you’re doing, and find a way to improve your process.

What are you doing

Document your workflow. Follow a piece of content from the idea stage to the distribution and/or promotion stage. Make sure this analysis identifies who is involved and responsible for each step in the process. Don’t use individuals’ names but list their title or role. Identify what communication is involved in the process and what tools are used to accomplish that.

It could look something like this for a well-conceived, straightforward blog post:

  • Editor assigns post topic to writer (email)
  • Writer creates draft (Word on team’s server)
  • Writer notifies editor it’s ready (email)
  • Editor tracks edits in document (Word on team’s server)
  • Editor asks question of writer (email)
  • Writer answers question in document (Word on team’s server)
  • Writer lets editor know answer was included (email)
  • Editor reviews post, accepts changes (Word)
  • Editor sends to legal for review (email with Word attachment)
  • Legal makes changes to one paragraph (new Word version)
  • Legal sends approved file to editor (email with new version attachment)
  • Editor reads through changes, saves to team server (Word on team’s server)
  • Editor notifies proofreader the post is ready for review (email)
  • Proofreader updates file (Word on team’s server)
  • Proofreader notifies blog production manager post is ready (email)
  • Blog manager realizes meta description wasn’t included from writer (Word)
  • Blog manager contacts editor and writer about missing meta description (email)
  • Writer replies to all with description (email)
  • Blog manager updates post and schedules publication (WordPress)

Even a simple post with only a few people involved takes 19 steps, and that doesn’t even include subsequent promotion and distribution. Add the back-and-forth with clients or department heads and the process could double or triple.

When we surveyed our clients about how many people collaborate on their content development, 20% said 10 or more people were involved in every piece of content. I’d be really interested in seeing what that workflow looks like.

It may seem daunting to go step by step, but it’s imperative to understand the what, how, and who. If possible, also estimate the time each step takes.

Tip: Don’t limit the review to a single tactic. The workflow process for a blog post is different than one for a video, for example.

What we were doing

When we audited our own system, we found it typically took 15 to 20 emails between a client and writer to move a piece of content from concept to final approval. (And that doesn’t include the emails on the client’s side for internal routing and approval.)

We found that one of the biggest issues with this process was managing the “source of truth.” When you’re emailing Word documents back and forth to multiple people, it becomes almost impossible to identify the current version. This inefficiency gets very expensive, very fast. It’s one of the reasons we opted to use a content marketing platform and even develop a customized CMP for our clients. We saved an average of 74 minutes of staff time on every blog post we produced after we moved our process to a content marketing platform.

What you can do

After identifying your own workflow process, identify your trouble spots. Do you use Word attachments to emails so frequently that you can’t easily locate the latest version? You may want to use a cloud service like Dropbox or Google Drive where your documents live permanently and you can see who has made changes. A content management platform is a more robust way to address this challenge.

A workflow tracking system also needs to be accessible to all stakeholders. That single, shared view eliminates the need for emails to check on content status, creating transparency and improving accountability.

Don’t stop at process

In our survey, clients cited shared editorial content as a most-desired feature in a content marketing platform. By operating an editorial calendar in a single system, you give multiple stakeholders a day-to-day operational view of the strategy, progress, and results of a campaign.

At our company, we give sales directors access to the editorial calendar. Even though our sales team members are not writing a lot of content, their input is incredibly valuable. That participation allows them to remain plugged into our customers’ goals and provide input regarding strategy, topics, and the timing of content on our calendar. They also are able to select content for use in our marketing automation campaigns and see what content resonates best with our customers.

Don’t forget to give access to other key stakeholders who may not be involved in the process. Executive buy-in is critical for any content marketing program. If these key stakeholders can see and measure the value of your content marketing on their own, they are more likely to support your content marketing initiatives.

Realize added benefits

A single, accessible system also can help solve some of the challenges presented by regulatory, legal, or internal governance. (Over 70% of our clients told us they regularly must adhere to some level of legal and/or internal governance rules.)

When implementing a more efficient process visible to all, make sure it incorporates:

  • Improved compliance protocols that better address the increasing volume of content in this digital era
  • Better universal tracking of approvals that are stored in a single place, which could be particularly valuable for your legal team

Local hard drives aren’t accessible to all. Servers crash and backups aren’t in real time. Employees leave. A cloud-based content management solution is essential to ensure that files are available at any time and that you can easily change access rights when an employee departs.


While we turned our content management frustration into our own software, you don’t have to go that far. However, I encourage you to break free of the tendency to keep doing what you have been doing. Take a closer look at what you’re doing and explore all the available tools to pick the best one(s) that is feasible to implement and elevate your content marketing to a new level of success.

Want to use some of the time you save to expand your content marketing skills? Subscribe to the free daily or weekly CMI blog.

Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via

Author: Scott Severson

Scott Severson is the president of Brandpoint, a leading content marketing agency that helps clients build their brand, educate consumers and drive sales. Scott is a passionate advocate for content marketing tactics, measurement and optimization, and has employed his digital expertise to a wide range of businesses.

Other posts by Scott Severson

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  • Adam Stevens

    Google drive >

  • Emma James

    So serious approach to content marketing, will follow some of your advices.

    • Scott Severson

      Hi Emma- thanks for your comment. Workflow certainly isn’t a sexy marketing topic. I think that’s why it can go ignored. We get lulled into the status quo. It is for most marketers that critical foundation layer that they need to pay attention to if they want to efficiently scale their marketing. For us the answer was to build our own software. For anyone that wants to try it out, you can get a free trial of our software at

  • Tobi Adono

    I like the advice shared in the above article. i strongly believe it will come in handy for a content person like me and others too.

  • Greg Strandberg

    Of you could just assign more trust to individual members of your team to do the job. That way you cut out people and steps, and probably save money too.

    I’m glad I’m a solo blogger and not in a huge corporate mish-mash organization like you describe. Maybe there’s less pay and fewer benefits, but I have a ton of freedom that you can only dream at.

    • Scott Severson

      Thanks for your comment Greg. If you’re a solo blogger, you’re right its not really necessary. Our average client has multiple people involved in the process and most today are using word, excel and email to manage it all. We found that creating our own dedicated software to manage the workflow could make everyone’s job much easier and allow companies to create more content in less time.


    Scott does well at articulating the process challenge. And yet, having worn both hats — big, global team, thousands of deliverables as well as individual blogger — I’m starting to lean towards there’s got to be a better way. I’m leaning towards clearly defined rules and frameworks to guide highly distributed and empowered teams to drive their own outcomes. The reality is that we are in an era of reduced management and timeframes. So if we look at Scott’s list and think how we could automate this … can’t we set the remaining humans free to create? For agencies like Scott’s this is going to require an evolution of client/agency relationship, but the waste of time and the lack of value add cries out for change. I agree that an editorial calendar is a great start … if folks are properly skilled, trained and talented, can we not automate QA and do away with layers and skinny down (Lean) the process?

    • Scott Severson

      Insightful comment JSCRM. There’s a few items that I would like to respond to:

      “The reality is that we are in an era of reduced management and timeframes. So if we look at Scott’s list and think how we could automate this … can’t we set the remaining humans free to create?”

      SS- We would agree. For our clients workflow can be as simple as one person writes and another edits, to the complex example where we have a pharma agency with with multiple layers of review and regulatory compliance.

      After creating millions of pieces of content, our view is that workflow software provides a system to let people focus more on the content than the process.

      We’re functionally trying to get people out of the business of emailing word docs with track changes around. Once a piece of content is complete, the ability to auto publish based on your workflow rules is also a huge time saver.

      “if folks are properly skilled, trained and talented, can we not automate QA and do away with layers and skinny down (Lean) the process?”

      SS- Automating QA is tricky. I know that I certainly benefit from having someone edit my work. For our clients, we have copy editors review everything prior to sending content to the client for review. So far for content QA I haven’t found anything that beats humans.

      • JSCRM

        Agreed that QA for text “quality” requires humans for certain types of assets. And that workflow management software can really help manage complexity. Yet for much of social and other less structured implementations, too much checking of both a) style and b) concept is simply a waste. We are in an era of fast response (think customer service), disposable ideas (think snapchat), so the speed needs to go up, the degrees of freedom and so on. All I’m really saying is: how can we maximize responsiveness and creativity and minimize unnecessary double and triple checking?

        • Scott Severson

          We find that the workflow process varies wildly within content types and clients. As an example, we have some clients that have us publish directly to their web site and social channels without review, and we have other clients with more stringent governance rules that have their lawyer look at everything.

          For us the norm is social content gets the least client scrutiny and to your point, items with a longer shelf life like in depth blog posts, infographics, whitepapers or e-books generally go through several review rounds.

  • John Hornbeck

    Excellent article. I work with a lot of organizations that are small to medium nonprofits. The greatest workflow challenge that I see for many of them is that content creation tends to be reactive. With selected exceptions such as a drive for an annual funding campaign or promotion of an event, the marketing workflow tends to have very little framework. As a result, content marketing and story telling for the nonprofit becomes disjointed and inconsistent. Which is especially unfortunate because they have such good stories to tell.

    • Scott Severson

      Thanks for your comment John

  • Hashim Warren

    So agree with the premise of this article

    • Scott Severson

      Thanks Hashim

  • Jen McGahan

    Yep, the email thing is the killer for me, too (I was reading some of the comments), but a lot of clients like to communicate that way. I’m impressed that you developed your own software to manage your projects and workflow, Scott. I’m currently looking for a SaaS project management system to help me and my team in house (we’re small), but I suspect we may still experience snags with workflow when work is passed between the client and us, the agency. In any case, I love this topic because it brings into focus the need for great client relationships and setting mutual expectations right from the start. Thanks for your examples.

    • Scott Severson

      Thanks Jen

  • Web Force 5

    Including a podcast in your content strategy could even make your life easier, not cause the burden of more content to create.