This is not a post about how to hire a content marketing team, because if you're reading this, then you live in the real world. Your budget is limited, as is your time. You have to work out how to do more with your existing team, and maybe, at best, you can hire a freelancer or two to help fill in the gaps.
In my experience working both brand and agency side, I've come to believe that producing awesome, linkable content with your existing resources is about identifying who has the right skills to step in at every stage of the process - and with those skills, even a small team can produce big results. Let's look at how awesome content gets made, and the skills you need at each step in the process, from ideation to design and writing to outreach.
Content Brainstorm & Ideation
Primary skill: Curiosity
In my experience, the people who come up with the best ideas the most consistently are people who are naturally curious.
- They want to understand why things are the way they are - they care about the story behind the story, the angles that nobody's talking about.
- They consume a high information diet, across a ton of different verticals.
- And they probably use Twitter or Reddit to keep on top of the news cycle.
- They're likely more than a little scattered, and they might be a contrarian, because they like to argue with you and convince you they're right. And though it pains you to say it, they usually are.
But great ideas can come from anyone at any time. They'll come from anyone on the team, or any one of our clients. For plenty of people, they sneak up on you in the shower like Norman Bates. Except with less stabbing and more inspiration. At DTC, we're encouraged to spend around 10% of our time reading anything - from industry news to think pieces to actual books written on paper. Keeping your team curious, and open to new ideas, is essential for creating an environment that produces awesome content.
Primary skill: communication
Any decent project manager can get a project done on time and on budget. A great project manager produces a great product on time and on budget. And producing a great product is about managing a creative team through effective communication.
Great project managers produce a great outcome without sending passive-aggressive emails about deadlines and excessive check-in meetings. They know they're managing a creative team, and they'll get a lot further by giving them some creative freedom and a ton of praise. They also know to communicate the important stuff up front. Does everything need to be in a given color palette? Do we need to build in an extra week for revisions of our first draft? No problem, just make sure you team knows the big ugly stuff up front. They'll figure out how to make awesome content in spite of the constraints - that's their job.
Primary skill: analysis
There is a ton of information out there, and the talented researchers I've worked with don't distinguish themselves by just finding information - they distinguish themselves by analyzing it.
Knowing what matters and why, what's a distraction, and explaining thousands of words from different sources in a succinct paragraph is a rare and valuable skill. Just because there's a mountain of information out there, it doesn't mean that we need to know all of it. Find the kernel that's interesting and under-reported, and tell us what it is and why it matters.
Primary skill: branding
Whenever you're creating branded content, whether it's for a client or for yourself, your brand is your biggest limitation.
You can create an awesomely linkable interactive map or infographic, but if you take it to your client or your CEO and they tell you the piece is off message, all your work goes down the drain. So while branding considerations inevitably come in at previous steps in the process, turning a mountain of research into a concise, interesting, and most of all on-message piece of content is the most important skill of a talented writer. None of this is to say that they should be cranking out a promotional brochure either - but working out how to walk the line between a piece that's on-message and a piece that's actually interesting and linkable is an invaluable skill.
Primary skill: adaptability
Just as "finding information" is the price of entry for a good researcher, creativity should be implied for any designer, developer or animator.
However, they need to be able to use their creativity to adapt to the scope of your given project. If a designer can't create the piece you want within the color palette given, then their creativity counts for diddly squat. They also need to be able to adapt their style to your intended audience for the piece. If you're developing an infographic for a tech audience and your designer can really only develop cartoonish graphics, then you need a new designer, who can design in any aesthetic for any audience.
Primary skill: personability
Link building used to be an activity that happened in the deepest, darkest corners of the internet (and in some cases, still is). But these days, it's one-to-one, human-to-human exercise.
The biggest predictor of outreach success is personability. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to be an extroverted or outgoing person; what it means is that you need to be able to understand the person to whom your addressing your email, based on the information you have on hand- whether it's their past emails, their tweets, their website audience, or whatever else you can find. A great outreach email sells the piece you're pitching, sure, but more importantly it understands its recipient.
Teamwork Makes the Dreamwork
You can't make awesome, linkable content all by yourself. I mean, you might be physically capable of coming up with an idea, researching, writing, designing, and conducting outreach without the help of any other individual, but chances that would a) be way too much work for one person to reasonable take on, and b) result in sub-par content. Neither of those options sounds ideal, right? Instead, lean on your internal team, or seek the help of a 10 armed agency monster who have the skills described above. By spreading the workload among a capable team, you'll improve the quality (and linkability) of your content without wasting your time and budget- a win-win situation. Want to learn more about what qualities you need to create shareable content?