By Britta Alexander published August 27, 2010 Est Read Time: 3 min

How to Outsource Audience-Focused Story Ideas

No one knows your audience better than you. You also know how time-consuming it is to build an editorial calendar, brainstorm a story idea list, attach the right sources to that list and write assignment letters. If you haven’t outsourced that job yet, it’s probably because you think it can only be done internally. I’m here to tell you that with the right tools in place, an experienced content provider can bring a list of qualified story ideas and sources to you. Here’s how.

Invite your content partner to company events

While this is an initial expense for you, it’s the fastest way to get your content partner up to speed and answer these questions:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What do they sound like?
  • What are they talking about?
  • What are they worried about?
  • What do they want?

Don’t try to structure your content person’s time too much—just put them in the mix of your audience and let them do their journalistic magic.

Tip: When we start a project, we send our content team out with one simple assignment: talk to as many people as you can. Before we hit the ground running, we work with the client to develop a list of five or so “icebreaker” questions that can get the conversation started with their audience while also providing the kind of insights we’re looking for. The outcome? A long list of audience-vetted story ideas and sources who are likely to take our calls when we follow up.

Be specific

Whether you’re looking to fill holes in an editorial calendar or land a key source for a magazine feature, look beyond the marketing team for ideas. But before you send out that company-wide email blast, ask your content partner for a written description of the story or source they’re seeking. You can then email that description to internal teams. For example, which email do you think would get the best result?

URGENT: We need story ideas!! This means you!! Get them to me by COB!!

or

Team, In our next issue of Awesome Corporate Magazine, we’re hoping to feature two small businesses who had a difficult implementation of our software, but saw better-than-expected ROI. What examples come to mind? Please respond by Friday with a brief description, and our content partner will follow up with you directly.

Make friends and influence people

Better yet, give your content partner direct access to your marketing managers, product managers, CRMs and anyone whose job it is to understand or interact with your audience. Once you make the initial introduction, step aside. This takes the bottleneck burden off you and makes teams outside your department feel heard.

Keep the floodgates open

Idea gathering works best when it’s a slow, steady effort. (The worst time to look for a story source is two weeks before the copy deadline.) Set up a Basecamp project or unique email address where internal teams can forward ideas such as success stories, articles about your customers in the news or a quick line or two about a customer with a unique point of view. Promote it regularly. Even better, set up a reward system for the person or department that submits the most qualified story ideas.

Involve your audience

To make story scouting even more authentic, get as much customer participation as possible. Take a cue from the SXSW Panel Picker and ask your blog readers to weigh in on upcoming content. Invite Facebook fans to submit their own stories or photos from the field. Let Twitter followers pick the cover of your next magazine issue. Reaching out through existing channels is an inexpensive, quick way to gather audience-centered story ideas while building buzz around your upcoming content.

What other ideas do you have to outsource your content story ideas?

Author: Britta Alexander

Britta Alexander is a principal and co-founder of Eat Media, a content-focused creative agency located in the New York City metro area. Before launching Eat Media, Britta worked in Manhattan as an advertising creative and later as a literary agent. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Writing, a degree she actually uses on a daily basis. You can follow her at @brittaalexander or read more of her posts on the Eat Media blog.

Other posts by Britta Alexander

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