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Managing Large Teams of Writers Under Short Deadlines

(Or Lessons from My Big Fat Content Marketing Project)

Last year I led a content marketing project involving more than 700 pieces of original content developed by 15 writers across three continents in 60 days — a careers and industry guide for the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) online jobs board. In two short months, I learned the do-it-or-die essentials for a large-scale content marketing kick-off.

Writer guidelines are essential

Well-written writer guidelines keep a diverse group of writers moving in the same direction and should be tackled first.

Distributed workforces rock

We used writers in several time zones, an unplanned but happy accident. With 15 writers spanning 15 time zones, someone was always working on the project, day and night. Importantly, I was able to write copy briefs and edit submissions while most of the team was in bed, avoiding the normal editing bottleneck that occurs with a large team of writers.

“Horses for courses” applies to writers

We used a majority of freelance writers, a couple students, and one full-time employee to develop the content. It became apparent very quickly different writers had different strengths — and most of my assumptions about individual writers were wrong. Head off surprises by giving a mini assignment before full-blown production begins.

Money can’t buy you love

I learned quickly hourly rates do not equate to talent. The most expensive writer on the team was my biggest headache and required the costliest rewrites. Conversely, a couple of young turks turned out to be lifesavers. One even became my “fix-it” writer for the team when I needed rewrites.

Rush jobs cost

Most good content producers — writers and designers — are booked six to eight weeks in advance. While I had some of my best people on standby, they still expected top money to drop everything and work on our project, along with a 50 percent deposit before starting. If you want things done well and done quickly, expect to pay a premium to your service providers.

No one does it like you would

With 15 writers developing copy and a couple designers working alongside, I had no choice but to relinquish my inner control freak. Not a single one of the 700 articles was the way I would have written it. But you know what? So many of them are better. The ones that weren’t could be brought up to speed. It’s entirely liberating to let your team do it their way.

Workforce composition

Getting the right mix of skills and talent on your team is integral to success. I never want to do another project without these skills on my team: 

  • Web journalist – You can’t beat a journalist when it comes to telling a story and working to a deadline. They can crank out quality copy like no one else.
  • Researcher – We didn’t hire any researchers, but we did have a couple writers who love the research end of writing. They were assigned articles requiring a lot of in-depth industry information.
  • SEO copywriter – If you’re developing online content, having as least one heavy-duty SEO writer on your team is a big help. Get them to do the keyword research for the whole project.
  • Generalist – If you’re up against a hard deadline, you need as many writers as possible who willingly write to spec on any topic.
  • Editor – Even if your writers are providing professional editing as part of the service they provide, you still need an overall editor, if only to ensure consistency and adherence to guidelines.

Nothing is ever done

I had visions of a big launch followed by a good break to catch up on sleep. That never happened. No matter how clear your vision, a large piece of content like the Careers and Industry Guide needs constant attention. Our audience is driving a lot of the change but we also see things we want to do differently every day. We’re also seeing early indicators that the investment AMMA made in content marketing is paying off. That’s one thing that hasn’t surprised me.

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free print subscription

Deadline image from Bigstock