The internet never sleeps, and it often feels like your content team doesn’t, either.
The company always wants your team to produce more content to support more organizational goals. Unfortunately, your team’s capacity isn’t limitless. The shortfall isn’t for a lack of trying, but it might be due to a lack of a plan for multipurpose content assets.
Brands and content agencies commonly view these increased demands through the lens of “more”: More writers and tools, more work produced, and more channels and platforms added to their marketing mix.
In his latest book, Content Marketing Strategy, CMI Chief Strategy Advisor Robert Rose uses Robert’s Content Law to explain why this approach is doomed: “The need for more content assets increases in direct proportion to the increase in resources allocated to creating more assets.”
It’s like using a teacup to bail out a boat sinking in a vast ocean. “Businesses can’t ever scale to a total of ‘more’ because ‘more’ will always be needed,” Robert says.
Content can’t scale without a strategy that supports scaling
If increasing production won’t help your team stay on top of demand, what will?
Robert believes the answer lies in a strategic framework to make content production more efficient, distinctive, and manageable. It addresses two critical operational flaws: failure to plan for content reuse and lack of a structured process for content production.
Failing to plan for multi-use content creation
According to Content Marketing Institute’s latest B2B Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends research, 48% of B2B marketers say content repurposing is their biggest challenge in scaling content production.
Robert explains that marketers create this challenge in part because they conceive of content creation in terms of their target formats, channels, and platforms. For example, text-based content is written as a blog post or a white paper; video content is filmed and edited for Facebook; graphics are developed for an e-book.
The reuse potential is typically an afterthought. Viable assets sit forgotten in the archives that could be reformatted and optimized for a new purpose. “When content isn’t planned to be ‘portable’ right from the start, doing anything repeatable becomes extraordinarily difficult,” Robert says.
In a recent course created for CMI University, he shares a scenario to illustrate challenges that can arise:
A content manager wants to reuse an infographic from a research report. But they can’t access the original, so they take a screenshot of the graphic in the PDF and post it to their social media feed. They didn’t produce it through a standardized process, meaning the image won’t get tracked and updated should branding standards change or the insights grow stale.
Lack of a structured, scalable process
The B2B research also finds that 30% of marketers cite the lack of a structured process as a barrier to scale. In Robert’s experience, it’s not that they don’t have processes – it’s that processes aren’t built to support content creation and production needs. “Marketers spend too much time worrying about content performance, distribution, and outcomes, and not nearly enough time on how they arrived at the publish button,” he says.
That approach leaves teams with limited creative resources starting from square one on every new request, quickly overwhelming their capacity. It also leaves teams with less bandwidth to communicate and collaborate on content with other organizational functions.
Solve for scale with story packaging
Assuming the solution to scalable production lies in a structured creative process and a proactive plan for multi-use content, one question remains: How can team leaders put those pieces in place?
Robert outlines an operating model in his book that addresses both challenges, making “more” a realistically achievable goal.
He likens it to how Hollywood develops an episodic TV show season. The showrunner and writing team conceive a main storyline and plot how to break it into a series of smaller stories or episodes.
They mix and match side stories, subplots, and character arcs as they create individual episodes. Then, they package together the story components in the right order and edit (or update) to maintain continuity. It allows the main story arc to unfold throughout the show’s season.
Robert recommends applying a similar story-packaging process to your content team’s efforts. It will give a high-level view of the story elements your team needs to create and the resources to produce them.
In addition, by setting clear priorities, guidelines, and governance practices for your stories in advance, you create less guesswork down the line. It helps streamline production and speed up approvals while minimizing the collaborative friction that can get content projects off track.
Here’s how the story-packaging framework works:
Step 1: Start with the big idea
Develop an idea for a big story or overarching theme that can be broken down into smaller story elements.
The chosen idea should align with your brand’s content strategy and mission, so focus on issues and topics related to key internal and external events, critical initiatives, or areas of expertise.
Step 2: Plot out content needs throughout your “season”
Next, account for all the content to be produced under that theme for the publishing cycle (e.g., quarterly, annually, sales cycle).
This big picture helps you see how much content to budget for, how best to allocate and schedule your team resources, and which formats and platforms the content needs to fuel.
Factor proactive marketing team needs, like campaigns, product launches, and planned editorial, and reactive content requests from other departments. Don’t forget to allot resources for unexpected content needs, like new business partnerships or relevant emerging trends.
Timeliness is another factor to consider, according to Patty Radford Henderson, Annum founder and CEO. In her Content Marketing World session, Smash Your Content Silos, Patty recommends setting monthly themes around your customers’ needs and layering that with the ebb and flow of your business needs.
“Seeing that big picture in a timeline provides a good framework for making sure you’re covering all the different areas of your organization while also paying attention to the seasonality of your customer needs,” says Patty.
Step 3: Set priorities and governance standards
Gather your stakeholders to agree on how content projects will be prioritized, the quality standards, and management procedures for requests that don’t fit under the chosen theme.
“It’s important to get everyone aligned to a central vision and guidelines on what good content actually is,” says Ali Orlando Wert, Appfire’s senior director of content strategy.
Getting that consensus in advance minimizes the collaborative friction your creators may experience working on cross-team initiatives. It can also streamline content reviews and approvals, making it easier to hit deadlines and get fresh assets into the marketplace.
In her Content Marketing World 2023 session on scaling a content strategy through operations, Ali recommended building a content council – a cross-functional group representing key players involved in the brand’s content creation.
Ali views these councils as a space where teams can develop a content philosophy collaboratively and determine and drive best practices. It’s also a space where teachable moments can emerge. “Use it as a learning opportunity, where [content marketers] can share their insights and best practices and do a ‘show and tell’ of all the content they’re working on,” she says.
Ali also advises omitting stakeholders who are detractors from the council list. “I would absolutely pick people based on their passion for content,” she says. “People who want to be there and can influence their team and sell [ideas] up to their leaders.”
Step 4: Identify tasks and start building story elements
Next, your team creates a bill of materials by outlining the tasks to turn top-priority ideas into raw content elements, such as key messages, data-driven insights, and storylines.
Rather than jumping into the creation of full content assets, assign team members to craft the raw story elements. That gives you a repository of modular content pieces that can be fleshed out and combined in multiple ways. Those elements wait for the team to package, optimize, and distribute them as assets that fuel the content calendar and fulfill other requests.
Step 5: Map out your processes and workflows
As the team works on the elements, you can map the pieces into content production processes and workflows. Consider all the steps to build the assets in the appropriate content types and formats and optimize them for distribution on your platforms and channels.
This step prevents viable assets from falling through the cracks in your content operations and sitting in the archives where they may fail to get measured or updated.
Manage more, struggle less
Combining a structured production process with a thoughtful plan for creating multipurpose story assets makes a more agile content strategy. It gives your team the time, flexibility, and bandwidth to be creative. It also allows budget and resource planning to be more predictable and increases production efficiency, making “more” an achievable goal.