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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.

A sound editorial process is one of the five core elements for running successful, scalable content marketing operations. Read our 2016 Content Marketing Framework: 5 Building Blocks for Profitable, Scalable Operations for an overview of the full strategic blueprint. 

Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via