Skip to content

Content Leader Takes Team From Silo to Powerful Presence (B2B CMY Finalist)

Editor’s note: Since we shared insights from Content Marketer of the Year finalists earlier this year, we’ve named a winner in both B2B and B2C categories. Laura (Hamlyn) Barned took the B2B title based on her leadership in building a strategic content marketing team at Red Hat.

For a company that prides itself on its community-powered approach to providing enterprise technology, Red Hat found its content team isolated and siloed.

Laura (Hamlyn) Barnes, director of the company’s global content team within corporate marketing, set out to change that and to establish a coherent voice for the brand. She had to make that tiny team matter to the business. Barely seven years later, Laura won the title of 2019 B2B Content Marketer of the Year.

Why she caught our eye: A dynamic creative leader with a natural talent for inspiring those around her, Laura built Red Hat’s content team from a handful of people taking content orders from product marketing and the C-suite to a 50-person (and growing) strategic team that creates meaningful interactions with the enterprise Linux community. Behind the scenes, she’s also dedicated to less “glamorous” details like UX, backend content strategy, and content governance.

How she built and structured her team (and the creative content they produce) stands as a model for other enterprise marketers.

Hard-coding the mission

That seemingly simple direction – make the content team matter to the business – involves layers of challenges. Laura knew she needed a focused vision and objectives for her new team. She found them in the company’s mission.

Red Hat aims to be the defining technology company of the 21st century by creating systems and processes that spur innovation by democratizing access to content. The company emphasizes collaborative innovation, which means it shares ideas and inventions with the world. In return, it gets insight and access to new ideas from developers, customers, and leaders outside of its corporate structure.

To support this lofty mission, Laura saw an opportunity to build a content team dedicated to creating meaningful and engaging interactions with technology users and buyers on the company’s website. She encouraged the team to capitalize on Red Hat’s strong collaborative culture, working across departments to develop and execute ideas.

Four years ago, Laura charged her team with creating a dynamic editorial program for the website. Pulling it off required ideas and work across the product and portfolio marketing, web experience, marketing operations, and customer reference teams. Working together, they identified relevant topics and set measurable key performance indicators (KPIs).

Based on current trends, big ideas, and data-driven research, the team selects key topics related to the “Red Hat conversations” (their way of aligning content themes or taxonomies across marketing and sales). The result is a website packed with content that visitors can filter and navigate according to their business challenges or questions rather than by product only.

You can read a detailed account of how Red Hat changed its taxonomy to support this customer-first approach in this recent article. This example illustrates the results for a visitor who seeks content on IT optimization:

To keep up with new requests and ensure that the website content is up to date, Laura’s team works alongside designers and UXers in scrum and Kanban teams with consultation from analysts and an SEO program owner. This approach works well at a tech company accustomed to Agile methodologies.

The team shares a quarterly progress report and plans for the upcoming quarter that include a recap of the content produced (and what was planned but not produced) and details on the performance of the content on all the major topics covered during the quarter. A map outlines the expected funnel flow, and data from Red Hat’s marketing analysts show the results at each stage/element of the map as quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year changes.

The site’s content is enriched and supported by an integrated marketing approach that includes social mediaorganic optimization, and paid promotion. The quarterly report explains the impact of each element.

As a result of this openness and collaboration, the content team is now an integral part of the core business.

Choosing the right operators

Laura’s growing team handles a variety of content functions, including creation, curation, content strategy, brand affinity, and story development. She structured her team into these four groups.

Corporate messaging and guidance

A specialized, centralized team focuses on creating cohesive messaging to support sales conversations. This team creates sales enablement decks, templates for all collateral, and a messaging index that clarifies products, ideas and concepts, and a shared vocabulary. 

The team includes content writers, editors, and a partner marketing manager.

Content marketing and story development

This team creates original, valuable, and memorable content that tells the brand’s story. They focus their efforts on video writing, a podcast, social media, and advertising.

The team consists of a manager and eight copywriters.

Digital content strategy

These content strategists focus on creating a digital strategy that promotes message and brand consistency across the Red Hat website, differentiation, and accountability for content marketing performance.

The team’s manager leads more than 10 content strategists.

Global content strategy

This team leads Red Hat’s metadata and taxonomy efforts, automates processes, handles the structure and management of all international content, and is key to the global narrative. They go beyond merely translating content to localizing it and making it relevant.

The team includes a senior manager of global content strategy, an associate manager of content governance and curation, a content curator who writes Python scripts to automate process handoffs and email notifications, a global SEO program owner who oversees non-English optimization, a localization program manager, two project managers who oversee localization, and an associate manager who manages localization specialists for Brazilian Portuguese, international Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and simplified Chinese.

Executing the program

Though Laura’s primary role is to define and build the content team, she’s a writer and content creator at heart. She studied journalism, worked at advertising and design agencies, and was on in-house brand teams before joining Red Hat.

How could she not get excited about the projects her team produces? Here are a couple of her favorite (and award-winning) examples.

Command Line Heroes

When asked to support the launch of the new Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), the content team felt inspired. RHEL is the world’s leading enterprise Linux platform, an open-source operating system that forms a foundation for scaling apps and rolling out new technologies in cloud environments.

Backed by insights that came from Red Hat’s investment in investigating key audiences, understanding their demographics, and identifying their preferred platforms, the team settled on a podcast.

Command Line Heroes features stories about IT professionals – developers, system administrators, and IT architects – who have shaped the technology landscape. The series’ goals are to explore topics important to IT professionals from a historical perspective, further Red Hat’s role as a promoter of the open-source development model, and to reach new audiences across podcast and audio platforms to drive traffic back to

Laura credits podcast host Saron Yitbarek as a big contributor to the project’s success. Audiences found her relatable because she’s one of them. Saron is a developer, a storyteller, and the founder of CodeNewbie, a supportive community of programmers and people learning how to code.

When creating the podcast, the team initially thought it would target IT managers, system admins, and engineers, but they found that the stories – deep dives into how the tech industry became what it is today – appealed to a wider audience. One anecdote about the podcast’s success involves someone’s mother listening to it to understand the work her son does.

Despite its broad appeal, the audience has shifted over time. The first two episodes focused on familiar operating system technologies and attracted a big audience. Once episodes became more technical, the audience became more niche. The new, more targeted audience lets Laura’s team focus on content that satisfies the needs of their ideal niche. In 2018, Command Line Heroes won a Content Marketing Award for Best Content Marketing Program – Technology, and was a finalist for Best Podcast/Audio Series.

Red Hat Shares

Though Red Hat sent emails about product-related news, the company didn’t have an official corporate newsletter until Laura and team created one. Red Hat Shares grew out of the idea to create a platform that would inspire Red Hat’s audience members and offer a digital space where they could share ideas.

The quarterly newsletter focuses on sharing, collaboration, and the open exchange of ideas. Each issue includes a collection of high-level IT advice with an emphasis on open-source technologies without overtly promoting Red Hat offerings. It includes summaries and links to original content written by third parties and Red Hatters. Red Hat Shares’ target audience is IT leaders, but subscribers include a diverse set of titles (from CTOs to developers to architects to students).

When measuring success, Laura looks at traditional metrics like subscriptions, opens, bounce rates, online engagement, and click-through rates. The average open rate for Red Hat Shares is 52.3%, and the unsubscribe rate barely registers at .09%.

She doesn’t, however, worry about the total number of subscribers. Far more important is the growth trend (right now a very healthy 32% year over year).

The real proof of the newsletter’s usefulness? This no-dedicated-budget project has generated more than $1 million in new business. Sales are directly affected by the emails, with $80,000 coming from customers who interacted with the newsletter right before purchasing a related product.

Quality assurance pays off

By focusing on quality over quantity, Laura’s team created an engaged community that spends time with Red Hat content. Their next steps include:

  • Securing funding to support regional teams to promote content globally
  • Increasing engagement with educational content (not just campaign content)
  • Conducting a global SEO pilot to optimize education content quarterly

Each element of Laura and the team’s success reflects the time and care they’ve devoted to researching, connecting, empathizing, and inspiring ­– both inside the company and out.

Bring your team to Content Marketing World this October for inspiration, ideas, and actionable advice on developing and executing a strategy that drives profit for your business. Group rates are available. Register today

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute