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No Content Strategy is an Island

(Well, no good one, anyway.)

It’s not hard to convince businesses of the merits of a robust content strategy. After all, there’s a lot to be gained from regularly publishing high-quality, indexable content that clearly demonstrates a firm’s expertise, attracts more (and better-targeted) traffic to the website, and provides prominent calls-to-action that foster a greater number of conversions and qualified leads. Sounds pretty great, huh?

The problem is that many agencies rush to the altar of content marketing without realistically assessing their ability to devote the time and resources necessary to do it right. There’s nothing “set it and forget it” about content marketing, and many agencies make the mistake of thinking that it’s something one person can handle all by themselves. Not true. Too often, the practice of putting content in a silo plays out according to the following unfortunate trajectory, as demonstrated by the very true-to-life woes of fictitious Agency A.


The Cautionary Tale of Agency A

Principal Joe of Agency A attends a conference or reads a book about content marketing and comes back a born-again content marketer. He decides it’s time for Agency A to take the bull by the horns and begin publishing a blog, newsletter, and case studies–like right now. He brings this enthusiasm to the management committee, which immediately designates Mid-Level Jane as the staffer in charge of content, despite the fact that she’s already got another title and the full workload to go along with it. Go forth, they tell her, and make it so.

Although she’s been given very little direction in terms of strategy and expectations, Mid-Level Jane understands the mechanics, at least, so she sets up a blog and newsletter and begins by drawing up an editorial calendar according to what seems like a realistic schedule for production. But despite repeated appeals, few staffers agree to write pieces for the blog and newsletter–and even fewer follow through on deadlines. Everyone’s busy enough as it is, and leadership hasn’t made it clear that content creation is a company-wide priority.

Besides, Principal Joe and the other members of the management committee are leading by poor example. At the outset, they promised to contribute regularly to the blog and newsletter–in fact, Principal Joe started with an energetic “letter from the editor” packaged as the first in a series. But other activities always seem to get in the way. They are often traveling on business or otherwise unavailable, and Mid-Level Jane doesn’t feel she’s in a position to nag them about content deadlines.

Compounding matters, Principal Joe wants final approval on all publications, but he really doesn’t have the time to review all those materials, and a perpetual bottleneck ensues. Not only does this throw off Mid-Level Jane’s very reasonable editorial calendar, but it also impinges on her ability to achieve big-picture marketing goals or respond flexibly to shifting conditions and priorities on the ground.

To make things even worse, poor internal communication from the sales team means that Mid-Level Jane is constantly behind the curve regarding sales initiatives and events, making the creation of timely and relevant CTA’s nearly impossible.

Six months later, Agency A is the proud owner of: a barely-there blog that’s written irregularly and almost entirely by Mid-Level Jane and a newsletter slapped together at the last minute each month. Case studies? Not a one. Data analysis, list management, and fine-tuning of strategy? Not even.

In the end, Mid-Level Jane is frustrated and unhappy, while Principal Joe wonders why content marketing seems to be doing so little for business (perhaps it’s Mid-Level Jane’s fault?). And everyone is left doubting whether content marketing is all it’s cracked up to be.


How Not to Be Like Agency A

Agency A might sound like a worst-case scenario–and it is, in a way–but it’s also a lot more common than you might think. Just take a look around at the many languishing blogs and newsletters littering agency websites and you’ll see what I mean. Behind each abandoned blog and deserted newsletter lies multiple failures, including failures of strategy, resource management, and communication. And that’s despite the fact that each one was probably begun with the best of intentions.

So, how can you avoid the fate of Agency A (not to mention Agencies B, C, and D)? The single most important thing you can do is to avoid isolating your content strategy from the larger marketing goals and day-to-day concerns of your business. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t appoint one person to be in charge of your blog, newsletter, or other publishing channels; in fact, doing so probably makes good sense. But you must necessarily make a business-wide commitment to support that person in fulfilling her role. Think of it this way: if a magazine’s editor-in-chief can’t do it alone, neither can any one of your staffers. The following three steps should help get your content strategy on the right footing.

Plan Realistically & Start Slow
Begin with a realistic assessment of how much time and energy your agency can commit to content creation, especially at the outset. Principal Joe virtually guaranteed failure by asking his staff to produce a blog, newsletter, and case studies all at once. A better choice would have been to start with just a blog or newsletter and add on as Agency A grew more comfortable and confident in creating quality content at regular intervals.

Make Content a Priority from the Top Down
Set the expectation from the top down that content creation and editorial deadlines are an enterprise-level marketing priority. On any given day, you and your staffers are likely to encounter immediate concerns–probably having to do with the needs of your clients–that seem to take obvious precedence over writing that blog post you promised. On a case-by-case basis, that may be true, but if so, it only makes it all the more imperative that you approach your content strategy with intention and dedication at the company level. A well-planned editorial calendar that spreads the love among contributing staffers can be tremendously helpful in that regard. Ideally, each person would be given periodic writing deadlines with topics assigned well in advance, allowing them plenty of flexibility to carve out writing time in the quieter moments between more pressing tasks.

Coordinate Internally to Create Content that Supports Current Business Goals
Don’t forget about engagement and conversion–two cornerstone elements of your content strategy. Remember, this whole content marketing thing isn’t just about generating content for content’s sake. It’s about inspiring visitors on your site to take any number of predefined actions that help guide them organically through your sales funnel. But too often the people actually doing the writing are a step or more removed from the folks crafting a business’s overarching marketing strategy–another example of putting content in a silo. Unless you find a way to bridge that gap, your content will be incapable of serving your firm’s larger goals. As a really simple illustration–but one I’ve seen play out in the real world–remember that Mid-Level Jane was unable to produce CTA’s that reflected the current sales goals and promotions of Agency A without the help of the sales team and marketing leadership.

The bottom line: your content strategy is only as strong as your entire business’s commitment to it. Where does your business stand?

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