The Biggest Mistake Content Marketers Make Occurs Before They Even Start Publishing

If you’re a marketer or a CMO looking to add content to your portfolio, you’ve got some jumbo questions to answer. The chances are high that your company, like the vast majority of organizations that don’t sell content as a product, currently has zero content-creating infrastructure, structured roles for ongoing content management, or documented strategy. But you want all the juicy benefits that content can deliver for your brand, so you’re throwing serious time and money behind it.

If you’re like the majority of marketers at this stage, you quite logically begin by looking for someone who can help. Your first step is typically to create a new position and post a job description. It may be for an editor-in-chief, or content manager, or VP of content—no matter the title, the purpose of this hire is the same: to create, establish, and then run your content program.

The second you post that job description and wait passively for resumes to come in, the changes are high that you’ve just made a crucial error. By leaping into hiring without first making a plan and laying a foundation for your new hire to build on, you’re creating a house of cards that has a high chance of collapsing, costing you time and money with little to no ROI. Here are the reasons why.

1. Establishing a content strategy is critical before you start hiring.

Before you kick off a new content site, newsletter, Tumblr, blog, or anything else for your brand, there are key actions you need to take and questions you need to answer. These include:

1. Determining your business objectives: Why do you want/need content? Brand lift? Lead gen? To increase engagement?

2. Matching those business objectives with editorial objectives: What’s the best way tell a specific story? Enter a specific space (travel, personal investing, parenting)?

3. Defining your desired audience.

4. Honing and articulating your brand tone and voice—how does your brand speak on the Internet?

5. Creating a staffing plan and org chart that determines how you’re going to create this content over the long haul.

2. All of the above are critical to establish an editorial strategy. None of them are part of the skill set of a typical editor.

Editors are engaged in the craft of creating good writing or good video or whatever format your content takes. They know how to spot talent, how to manage that talent. (For more on what makes a good branded content editor, click here.) Their focus is elsewhere, and their experience lies elsewhere.

Creating a position is always a challenge—there’s the push and pull between filling the role with someone who knows how to get something new up and running, versus someone who knows how to run something. In this case, the skill set required to create and launch a content operation is not the skill set required to run and grow a content operation.

Think of it this way: You wouldn’t hire a brand manager and then tell them, “Oh, hey, we need to create an entirely new brand. Can you take care of that?” Same deal with a content editor.

3. If you bring in a content pro before creating an infrastructure to support him/her, you’re setting that person up to fail.

There’s also that small matter of infrastructure, or lack thereof. You bring in an editor, and task him or her with setting up an editorial operation—soup to nuts—and then implementing it. But the road to success in this endeavor involves tasks like creating a staffing plan, allocating budgets, setting up an org chart, and all sorts of operational things that editors are not trained—or inclined—to do.

Then there’s the matter of managing up, and the approval process. Even if your editor is skilled in all the operational and strategic work that comes with launching a new content property on the Internet, he or she will still have to sell it to whomever is making the final decisions. Many marketing teams need a pro to come in and propose ideas for ongoing content creation, but it’s easy for people to disagree once you get into the weeds. Putting an editor in the position of having to speak truth to power is risky, both for the editor (whose livelihood now relies on keeping management happy) and the content-creation objective, which can get easily muddled by too many cooks in the kitchen.

Bottom line: Many marketers are conflating multiple roles when it comes to content creation. Mushing three different jobs into a single “content director” or “content VP” ends badly more often than not—we’ve seen it in action, usually once a frustrated editor has quit and an equally frustrated CMO or marketing director is now tasked with picking up the pieces and starting over. Hiring an editor is often critical to the ongoing success of your content marketing. But making it stop #1 on the route is more often than not a costly mistake.

Melissa Lafsky Wall is the founder of Brick Wall Media.

Image by sergign

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