Jeff Davis is the Editorial Director at Original9 Media, a leading content marketing agency. Jeff is a long-time publishing industry veteran, having worked at Time Inc., Hearst, CNET, and finally at CBS, where he was Executive Editor of BNET.
Below Jeff shares how he’s translated his experience in running traditional publishing operations into managing content marketing production.
As a guy who practiced “content creation” before it was called such silly terms – I was an editor for 15-plus years at Time Inc., Hearst, CNET, CBS, and other media companies – and who’s now adapting some of what I learned for a content marketing firm, I’ve been part of all kinds of editorial staffs and systems, many of which produced insanely great results – in print and online. Recreating the same sort of creative magic in content marketing operation presents big challenges that smart editors need to overcome (fast) to be successful. A lot of it starts with instilling (and installing) an editorial production system that suits the new rules of the game. Here are a few of those rules we’ve developed at Original9:
Build a great team of writers and other contributors. Editors might have a crack in-house content team writing and producing great stuff, but quality outside contributors are often just as important to add to the mix for a few reasons. First, they know the topics better than you do. Second, they can be the best social cheerleaders for the content they produce for you – which can pay off immeasurably over time.
Recruit for specific skills.A few attributes of great contributors we look for:
- They produce great stuff. Read back through blog archives. Is the level of expertise right? Is the writing snappy and engaging? Do they write frequently enough to cover lots of topics?
- They are social butterflies. Bloggers that are hyperactive on Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social channels bring a lot to the table in addition to just great content – a built-in audience that most likely aligns to yours.
- They expect to be paid, but they don’t do it for the money. Important distinction: The best bloggers I’ve worked with over the years are driven primarily by their own passions, interests, and knowledge – not the specific rate on their invoices. Make friends with these folks and strike a reasonable deal for payment; they will reward you infinitely more than a general-assignment freelancer.
Set up a pitch pipeline. Regardless of what content type you produce the most – blog posts, Q&As, infographics, videos, white papers, podcasts – a great finished piece of work starts with a great idea. Organize a pipeline of good ideas by creating an extended group of “friends” – editorial team members, outside contributors, subject-matter gurus, relevant folks in sales or marketing – to suggest story ideas. Award prizes or create other incentives to keep the flow of good stories coming after the excitement of a launch wears off.
Hire journalists for things journalists do best. Expert bloggers are great for the expertise and knowledge, and their social media connections, but what if you need some original reporting or research to develop a more in-depth story? What if you need a great interviewer to tackle a Q&A with a big-name CEO? Hire out a talented freelance journalist (there are many out there) who knows how to pull those assignments off.
Get your clients involved in the process… More traditional editorial managers often tend (even unintentionally) to put up subtle walls between the “content” people and the “business” people. (This can take many forms, from not including certain folks on an email thread to how you set up a review process.) In the brave new world of content marketing, editors who do that are handicapping their own chances at success – and probably limiting the number of supporters they can have. Product, sales, marketing, and engineering folks that have a stake in the success of your blog are potential contributors, idea generators, and social cheerleaders who can help deliver the buzz and traffic you need later on. Let them know upfront what your editorial rules are — dealing with promotional content, conflicts of interest and other issues – and they can become invaluable supporters of your work.
… including feedback & approvals. If clients want to review drafts and suggest edits, don’t crinkle your nose – just make it easy for them to do so, and include it early in the process, not later when it’s more difficult to reverse course on a story or blog post. Of course, you won’t agree with everything you see, but you’ll earn their support on judgment calls by including them in the process. And if you’ve laid out your ground rules ahead of time, you should be able to avoid big conflicts.
Organize an assembly line for each content type. Once drafts are filed, what’s your process to get the piece to the finish line – quickly and efficiently? A typical process might go like this:
- Pitch – one of your contributors sends in an idea
- Assign – an editor approves or rejects
- Draft – contributor files the draft copy
- Edit – initial editing and feedback from an editor
- Approval – client provides feedback, good or bad
- Format/layout – source photos, add links, do an SEO check, etc
- Final read – a top editor waves the checkered flag
- Post/publish – You’re live!
Make sure that assembly line doesn’t stop at “post.” Just as critical as clear workflows for creating great content is a clear workflow for promoting that content when as soon as it’s live. What’s your process to make sure you’re sharing the content across all your relevant social channels, starting with Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook? Who does what? Again, set up a simple workflow that doesn’t tax everyone’s time, but ensures that every piece of content will get a baseline minimum level of promotion, and it’s baked into your production process as painlessly as possible.
Interested in hearing more about how to run a successful content marketing operation like Jeff? Listen to this 5 minute clip on Production & Distribution from our How To Build And Operate A Content Machine webinar, co-published with Marketo.