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Writing Is Writing, Right? Not If You Want To Keep Your Content Creation Team [Rose-Colored Glasses]

“It’s time to make the donuts.”

This phrase from a 1981 Dunkin’ Donuts ad campaign has become part of our workplace culture. People use it to talk about preparing to do something repetitive, grueling, or meaningless.

But that’s a misreading of the original message.

The ad featured Fred the Baker, who woke up very early every morning, struggled out of bed, and repeated his mantra, “Time to make the donuts.” By the end of the ads, Fred greeted his customers with a big smile, proud of his work.

“It’s time to make the donuts” wasn’t a lament about doing the same menial task day after day.

It conveyed Fred’s commitment to creating something special day after day.

The tension between creating content that feels special and constructing useful (but menial) content resonates with so many content practitioners. Without an adequate balance between the two, content creators may lose interest in their roles.

Many #content practitioners experience the tension of wanting to create something special but needing to construct menial content, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Writing is writing, isn’t it?

I talked with an extraordinary young writer at a B2B technology company the other day who told me about her career path. She’d landed a job at an agency where she wrote brilliant articles and blog posts for B2B clients. A couple of years later, she took a job in content marketing at this large tech company.

Initially, she loved her role, which involved writing short-form news articles about the company’s industry trends. She got to dig into the industry and the products, interview people, and go deep into the topic.

After a couple of reorganizations, though, she found herself serving as the website editor. Her daily job involved editing – not creating – content describing technical specifications and product how-to help.

Three months into her new role, she asked her manager about the possibility of expanding her assignments for more variety. The manager replied, “Writers are writers. And writing is writing.”

The first statement is true. The second is not.

Some say writers are writers, and writing is #writing. The first statement is true. The second is not, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Heading down a wrong path

I often meet people who’ve found great joy in their careers as content practitioners. They feel free to create valuable content that delights and informs an audience. They enjoy creating innovative, fun experiences that stretch imaginations.

This is the marketing task people mean when they say, “Everybody has two jobs – theirs and marketing.” The flame of creating cool, thoughtful content burns so brightly it attracts everyone – from the front desk to the C-suite.

On the other hand, I also run into talented content creators – like my acquaintance at the tech company – who spend their days constructing the most mundane but necessary content for the business.

These content creators often struggle with the pressure of constructing pieces that meet business needs while still trying for creativity. They often feel frustrated that their hoped-for creative role turned out to be more akin to laboring away in a content factory.

To be clear, the tech writer-turned-website editor recognized the importance of the technical documentation and the expertise or skill needed to transform those pieces into engaging materials. She just didn’t feel she offered much value in that role.

She didn’t feel she could really dig into the material because she lacked technical expertise. Her role was simply to ensure that the data and information were well constructed.

She recently left the company. That’s a real loss for the business.

I worked with another company to advise on their plan for assembling new content teams. The leaders seemed convinced that each group – product, brand, marketing, comms – should work only on their content. Product content creators should focus on the ingredients, specifications, and instructional how-tos of using the product. Brand content creators should work on taglines and thought leadership. Marketing content creators would work on sales enablement materials.

I disagreed and argued that product content could also be thought leadership. Brand content can be high-level promises and a simple list of ingredients. Marketing content can be ad copy for search engines and the cool videos that make us all laugh.

The difference is whether the content is created or constructed.

Creating vs. constructing content

One of my favorite quotes comes from G.K. Chesterton’s analysis of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens:

The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.

Talent acquisition and retention might be a content marketer leader’s most critical job today. And fostering and retaining content talent comes down to balancing how much someone constructs vs. how much they create.

It’s easy to assume “constructed content” is the boring stuff like navigation, tech-spec sheets, documentation, contracts, and compliance documents and that “created content” is the fun stuff like storytelling or viral videos.

That thinking isn’t correct. Almost anything can be constructed content, and almost anything can be created content.

The difference lies not in the thing created but in the why and how it’s made, to echo Chesterton’s quote. As he said, the essence of a piece “exists before the book or before even the details or main features of the book; the [creator] enjoys it and lives in it with a kind of prophetic rapture.”

Of course, not all content deserves or requires that level of enthusiasm.

Constructed content is important, but it’s usually something that needs to be created as efficiently as possible. Its value only exists after it’s completed.

While some people might love creating the 50th SEO-focused article for a product or the 10th compliance document for a service, the intrinsic value of the creation process would be quite small. Very few people love the essence of that compliance article before it’s constructed. That document’s value lies solely in its usefulness after it’s created.

Created content gives the creator (and even those around them) joy before it’s finished. It’s that bright flame attracting people from around the business. It has intrinsic value before it even exists.

Creating #content is the bright flame that attracts people from around the business to participate in its creation, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

My argument to the company planning to segregate their teams’ content creation was that the method wouldn’t ensure they attracted and fostered the best content talent. That requires ensuring a balance between constructed content vs. created content.

All writers write. But not all writing is writing. I’ve never met any content creator happy with constructing content as their sole activity.

Created content drives most of us to get out of bed and make the donuts day after day. Understand the difference between creating and constructing. Then, balance those tasks across the team. That way, every content creator gets to wake up feeling excited to keep making the donuts.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute