I’m about to confess something that’ll probably come back to bite me in the butt during my next job interview:
I’m a disorganized person.
I’ve heard this since kindergarten. “You’re going to have to learn to organize your stuff better if you’re going to make it in the first grade,” my teacher, Miss Jessica, told me. Her eyes lingered on my half-open backpack, stuffed with color-by-number worksheets, cracked crayons, and dry elbow pasta, which was garnished with a bursting bottle of Elmer’s glue.
But I was a bright kid, so I beat the odds and made it through first grade. It took me longer than anyone else to find my stuff, sure, but I always compensated by getting my work done quickly. Each year, the warnings from my teachers continued—you’ll never make it in second grade, third grade, middle school, high school—but I survived.
I then chose a small liberal arts college, Sarah Lawrence, which was the kind of place where you were never the only one with sticky elbow pasta on your notebook. Using a jack-o’-lantern bucket as a backpack was all part of the creative process on campus. I thrived. I wrote constantly and developed a couple of columns for my college newspaper. I broke some big stories too. At the end of my freshman year, I was named the editor-in-chief.
And that’s when it turned out all of my teachers were right.
Running a publication is a marathon of organization—hiring, budgeting, scheduling. Getting drafts to and from writers and editors. Making sure they fit into layout. I started my tenure as editor-in-chief pumped up, recruiting writers with speeches I stole from Friday Night Lights coach Eric Taylor. “Clear eyes, full hearts, break stories!” didn’t exactly have the same ring to it, but it worked well enough in the beginning.
But a few weeks later, I was drowning in the vast, confounding ocean of my own email account. Signing in gave me the pangs of a mild panic attack. My messy life no longer seemed so glamorous. Each week, I’d stumble into the newspaper office at 7 a.m. on a Friday and stumble out at midnight on Sunday when the issue had finally shipped. Rather than figure out a killer organizational system, I’d chosen to just simplify the process by doing everything myself. I didn’t sleep much, but I survived, just barely.
I passed the torch when I left to study abroad, but after graduation, I was back at it again as editor-in-chief of an online newspaper that I’d helped start out of a Park Slope, Brooklyn coffee shop. While I’d been in denial throughout childhood that my disorganization was an issue, I was fully aware of it by then. I had the sick feeling of lacking some fundamental skill, which put a hard ceiling on my potential as an editor. Instead of focusing on what I was good at—writing, editing, coming up with content strategies and creative ideas—I spent half my time wondering, “Where the hell is that thing?” while combing through email threads.
I wish I could say I met some guru who taught me to eat, pray, and organize. But really, I overcame my biggest flaw by falling in love with a piece of software.
I first found out about Contently while covering Techstars, an NYC incubator. The founders were building a platform to give brands access to publishing tools and thousands of freelancers. My business partner and I got in touch with Shane Snow, one of the co-founders, and came on board as two of Contently’s first freelance managing editors.
Most startups don’t work out, and at first, I thought my affair with Contently would be a fling. But then the platform’s calendar, text editor, and workflow sucked me in. All of my stories and assignments were in one place. I was organized. I felt like Laney Boggs in She’s All That, suddenly transformed.
I could track when deadlines were approaching, who had worked on a particular story, and what changes they made. I had a beautiful analytics dashboard that told me what content performed best. Most importantly, I could focus on the work instead of digging through my email.
In 2013, Contently hired me as editor-in-chief. For the first time, I wasn’t terrified of my own shortcomings. The only person scared was my therapist, who began to suspect that I’d developed romantic feelings for a content marketing software product. But working with a clear head helped us grow from 14,000 readers to over 400,000.
A few years ago, I could barely see the connection between software and content. Now I’m convinced they’re intrinsically linked.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the challenges marketers face. As a discipline, content marketing is new. It’s hard to explain and harder to measure. Most programs are woefully understaffed.
The logical solution is content teams need more resources, but there’s a chicken-and-egg dynamic. Brand newsrooms struggle to justify full-time hires until they show results, which leaves a lot of content marketers stuck in a no-win situation.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Content marketing is more of a quality game than a quantity game. The top 5 percent of branded content garners 90 percent of the engagement. That means giant media operations cranking out hundreds of stories a day won’t necessarily succeed. More importantly, you do need talented people freed up to focus on great creative work that breaks through.
As a result, I think we’re going to see a trend of content marketing creatives taking a new approach in 2017: Instead of trying to scale their teams, they’ll push for tools that maximize the output of their existing talent.
The beauty of modern content technology is it can reduce the amount of time editors deal with busywork. We use Contently’s software to receive pitches from our writers, quickly create assignments, and organize our calendar with a drag-and-drop function. From there, the platform does the rest, such as automatically paying writers when they submit a first draft, tracking revisions, and identifying passive voice and broken links. Using Contently Live, our custom CMS offering, stories transfer to WordPress so we don’t have to waste time copying and pasting. And our proprietary analytics serves up cards that deliver actionable insights on metrics like traffic, engagement, and conversions. Instead of spending hours pulling this data, I digest it in seconds.
With the right software, these operational tasks can go from occupying 50+ percent of your time as an editor to just 10 percent. In other words, you can increase your production five-fold for the price of hiring a junior editor. The folks that figure out how to do this will have a leg up in 2017 and be free to tackle the ambitious creative projects that get noticed.
As a kid, I never understood why my teachers were so obsessed with organization, but now I get it. They wanted me to spend more time being creative. Whether you’re a disorganized mess like me or not, the right combination of content technology can serve as your magic binder. Now’s the time to embrace your inner Lisa Frank.