Go find a six-year-old—preferably a nephew or niece, not some random kid at Whole Foods—and ask them to make up a story. Watch as their eyes light up, how their words jumble together with excitement and wonder. Observe how their arms wave and their fingers spread, as if they’re conjuring a tornado of imagination. Listen as they come up with characters and ideas that you never would’ve thought of yourself.
Then give them an assignment. Tell them what it has to be about. Are they as excited about the story? Is it as imaginative and filled with wonder?
If your nieces and nephews are anything like mine, the answer is probably no.
I use this analogy sometimes to explain one of my deeply held beliefs about content marketing: Your greatest weapons are passion and creativity. To bring that out, you need a system that lets people on your team pitch stories that interest them the most.
The power of pitching
Most of the time, content marketers don’t plan enough, as illustrated by the fact that less than 40 percent have a documented content strategy. But lately, I’ve seen an equally dangerous approach: overplanning. In some cases, marketers use a spreadsheet that lists every single story for the entire year.
On paper (or Excel), this seems like a great idea. In theory, if you plan every story to the tiniest details, you’ll minimize risk and maximize your chances of actually publishing a consistent amount of content. Plus, your agency says this level of planning is crucial, and they’ll happily charge you six figures for it.
The stories writers actively pitched were almost always better than the ones they were passively assigned.
But there’s a reason that The New York Times or Wired or any other great publisher doesn’t list every story they’re going to write for a whole year in a spreadsheet: It kills creativity. While those publishers know in intimate detail how much they plan to publish, the formats they like to use, and the topics they want to cover, they also know that evergreen stories planned months in advance have a relatively low ceiling.
So that’s why they turn to one of the oldest and most effective tools in publishing: pitches.
The virtual newsroom
In the early days of The Content Strategist, when I was a bit more of a control freak, I would send a long list of story ideas to our core team of writers and invite them to claim any stories they found interesting. Over time, I noticed that the stories writers actively pitched were almost always better than the ones they were passively assigned. The writing was stronger, the reporting more detailed. The writer’s passion for the subject seeped through the screen.
So after a while, I made a rule: contributors had to pitch stories.
I still gave writers guidance on preferred themes and topics, but with those boundaries in place, I let their creativity go to work. Almost immediately, their drafts improved.
I was lucky to have the freedom to run an editorial operation this way, and I think that’s because Contently has understood the power of pitches from the start. Freelancers and internal contributors can pitch stories directly through the platform, which was one of the earliest tools our product team built. Our founders saw the power in harnessing creativity and organizing story ideas in one place.
Over the years, the pitch feature has grown more advanced. Editors can create specific pitch requests if they need stories on a crucial topic. These requests can also be organized across core pillars of your content strategy, which is crucial since we now receive pitches and content requests from our offices across the globe. Best of all, it’s kept the creative spirit of our company alive—that six-year-old inside all of us, ready to wave his magic wand and bring an incredible story to life.