30 Tips to Document Your Content Marketing Workflow

30 Essential Tips to Document your Content Marketing Workflow

In a recent webinar by Content Marketing Institute, Matt Heinz, CEO of Heinz Marketing, and Heather Hurst, director of corporate marketing at Workfront, gave expert advice on documenting content marketing workflows.

Heather Hurst:  We’re going to run fast and furiously through 30 essential tips to document your Agile workflow, which may not sound like the most interesting topic in the world, but it definitely will give you back your nights and weekends, as Joe said.

So why are we talking about this at all? Content marketers are not really approaching workflow the right way today.

In fact, if you look around a lot of content teams, they’re passing back and forth information from spreadsheet to email to Word doc, running around hassling each other for updates; it’s really kind of a mess.

And so today, Matt and I are going to take you through these five stages of marketing workflow, which in the end will add up to 30 tips, I promise; we just must love math.

We’re going to start today with the ideation and the request process. Matt, I’ll let you take this one.

Matt Heinz: Pretzels and popcorn ready, starting with number one.

In terms of the ideation process, we hear a lot of people really wondering where do you get more ideas? Where do we need to go? Do we need to go brainstorm? Do we need to go do some specific discovery sessions with our team?

You can certainly do that, but I think if you look around you, you will find inspiration for content everywhere, especially if you’re already grounded in who your target audience is, who you need to be speaking to. Your brain will start to filter for the right information.

1. Look everywhere for inspiration.

There are a number of great things here. We’ve got listed a couple I would point out. People you disagree with, things you think are dumb, taking a contrarian viewpoint on topics is often recommended.

Certainly take advantage of your customer-facing teams; your sales team, your customer service team; those that are in front of customers all day long that might be the first to start to hear trends in the market that you want to take advantage of in your content as well to address and drive more attention and credibility.

Heather Hurst: One big thing, once you have those ideas and you’re putting your work requests into place, definitely do not fall for the puppy-dog eyes that you can get from a lot of your work requesters.

What I recommend is that you establish a way that you receive all of your work requests.

2. Establish a process to receive work requests.

Whether that’s an inbox, an email address that you always follow, whether that’s a web form or whether that’s a work management or some kind of other tool; make sure that all of your work requests come in in the same way. This is really going to eliminate a lot of chaos.

Matt Heinz: Number three, find an owner of the request process.

3. Select an owner of the request process.

Way too often, the processes become inefficient and too complex because there isn’t a particular owner.

That doesn’t mean that owner necessarily has to do a lot more work, but designating someone as the owner of the process in terms of requests for content, in terms of organizing the parking lot of great content; again this isn’t necessarily your editorial calendar but having a place where all content ideas can be put in one place, can be put in a parking lot to be reviewed during editorial sessions.

Having one person who can do that makes the process of submitting ideas easy.

Anyone in the organization that’s seeing things they think are dominant, or that are seeing things they think can become great content; they don’t have to be responsible for it. It doesn’t go on the calendar. But the request process and the parking lot process becomes a whole heck of a lot easier.

Heather Hurst: Absolutely, Matt. And the next thing is require those requesters to complete a creative brief.

4. Require requesters to complete a creative brief.

I’m sure you’re all very, very familiar with them. But where things get a little tricky is actually getting people to fill out their creative briefs.

I’ve worked from agencies to corporate settings where you only receive partially completed briefs, where people put in the deadline “ASAP,” which is one of my biggest pet peeves. Or they’ll say in the tone section something like “stick to corporate standards.”

One of our customers actually made a really good argument recently that you should only have one creative brief that works for all of your request types so that you don’t confuse your requesters; they don’t have to worry about filling out the wrong one.

Then it comes down to this delicate balance of keeping it very simple, the creative brief, but also getting enough information for your team, which could be a dance that you have to go back and forth with your teams on.

But eventually, you’ll really get to the greatest creative brief that will move all of your work forward and not delay things as you go through it.

Matt Heinz: Boy, amen to that. A little bit of extra work up front goes a long way. And part of that creative brief in any request you have, is to make sure you’re really clear on what the results are.

5. Include expected ROI on all requests.

This doesn’t mean that every piece of content needs to drive revenue. I literally sometimes will hear CEOs and others say, “That’s a great blog post; how much pipeline did it generate?” Well, things don’t really work like that.

But if you’re clear on what your expected measures of success are for a particular request, is this something that you expect to drive more traffic, to drive repeat eyeballs of people?

Maybe a good blog list gets people to read your blog more often. Maybe a particular piece of content is intended to be an asset that can drive lead generation into your organization.

Maybe a piece of content’s real job is to allow the sales team to more efficiently communicate a particular point to drive people from middle of funnel to bottom of funnel.

Be really clear about the context in the ROI of those requests so that as that content is being created and as it’s being used, it can serve that purpose and do that job more successfully.

Heather Hurst: I could not agree with you more, Matt, that it’s not all about the dollars’ revenue but it is all about aligning into whatever goal you have in place.

And that kind of comes to this slide that all of your content requests should be targeted, contextual, evocative, integrated, and measured. And ultimately, what all of that comes down to is all of your content requests should not live alone.

6. All content requests should be targeted.

They all need to roll up to the bigger corporate strategy, or the bigger marketing strategy, or something that you’re trying to have a result around within your company or within your department.

And at the same time, they all need to be really interesting. You need to drive content that people are really going to focus in on and pay attention to.

Matt Heinz: Absolutely, and I think as you think about the usage of the content, we talked about ROI. But don’t make assumptions around how that content is going to get into the field. Have a sense for how it’s going to be distributed.

7. Establish the content distribution strategy upfront

This doesn’t mean getting the most eyeballs to your content. Success is not most impressions; it might be the right impressions. Your content distribution strategy might be 100 percent the sales team, or a customer-facing team that’s going to use that content.

But make sure if it is that, that the sales team knows why they need it. Do you have a plan to introduce it and to engrain it into their processes so that it gets used more often?

We’ve all seen content get introduced at a sales kickoff, or get introduced at a sales meeting and it gets distributed in email and then everyone forgets it. No one knows where to find it, no one remembers how to use it and when, and that’s just for use with the sales team.

So depending on how you need that content to be fielded, make sure you understand that up front and make sure the costs and resources associated with doing that are very clear from the get-go.

Heather Hurst: Yes, that’s absolutely right, Matt. Unfortunately, you’re all too right on the whole sending an email after a sales kickoff and it just goes out into the ether.

And some of that comes down to thinking through all of the formats and all of the types of content you’re going to need to support the bigger content goal.

8. Consider all the formats you may need.

So for example in that sales kickoff scenario, you might roll out a new brochure or a new PowerPoint deck.

But you needed a few things to back that up. Maybe you needed signage around the sales department, or maybe you needed follow-up emails that you sent, or additional training that went out to your enablement team.

Other things to support that rollout and also support the ongoing promotion of the content really should be taken into consideration up front so that you can lead to a successful launch. And again, going back to the affordability of the campaign, you know that you can afford to create all of this.

And then also you’re going to be a lot more successful, and you’re not going to have big cycles on all of your team’s resources if you could create a lot of similar assets all at the same time.

That brings us into priorities management. Matt, let’s hear about how we can set priorities.

Matt Heinz: Not all requests are equal, and just because someone put an exclamation point on the email they sent to request it, doesn’t mean it’s as important or more important than other things as well. I would establish some kind of a system.

Especially when you’ve got a small team, you’ve got limited resources. Establish some kind of a system to stack rank your priorities. Some of them are going to be urgent, but others are going to be both urgent and important.

9. Rank all requests by priority.

Consider the impact that content is going to have. You can’t get everything done right away; you can’t get everything done period. There are going to be content projects that have to wait. There are going to be content projects that simply don’t get done.

So there’s an opportunity cost. If you do things that are urgent but not important, there’s an opportunity cost of things that could have a bigger impact. There’s an opportunity cost of being purely reactive and just doing what happens to be in front of you or for the person that’s screaming the loudest.

So make sure you have a system where you are ranking requests by priority. You’re constantly triaging what’s on the list so you’re getting the most important, most impactful content done first.

Heather Hurst: Absolutely, Matt.

That can create kind of a firestorm within organizations. Sometimes it’s the loudest person who tends to get their work put at the top of the priority list, when that’s not at all what’s going to drive the biggest business benefit. So I couldn't agree with you more.

One way that you can filter things more to the top of priorities is to think a little bit bigger around serialization.

10. Serialization mindset - build on what you've already created.

How could you take smaller pieces of content and build them into something bigger? Or how could you take a bigger piece of content and break it down into its parts to be something smaller?

A good example of this is if you’re going to be blogging a lot on a particular topic and if you thought a little bit ahead on those blog posts, could you potentially be writing chapters, loosely used, for an ebook that you could launch at the end of the year that would be a really meaty piece with tons of contributors and really a lot of actionable insights and tips?

That’s something that you’re blogging anyway.

But with just a little more mindfulness about the overall purpose and the potential use down the road of some of that content, it can get you a little bit farther. So just thinking about that ahead of time can really help to simplify your overall content needs.

Matt Heinz: Another way to think about this from a priority standpoint is to think about where you’re going to commit resources to each business need.

11. Determine how much work you can commit to each business need.

First of all, build an inventory of the different parts of the business that you are going to agree to support.

That doesn’t mean they’re all going to get the same amount of time and attention from you, but it does mean that that becomes the area in which you are focused; the customers you have, if you will, from a content standpoint.

I would then think about how you’re going to roughly break up time and attention on these. This becomes an element of building that priority list and that triage list of what’s going to get done.

If half of your job is to support the demand gen and the sales efforts, then ostensibly half of your time should be against those projects. So, you wouldn’t equally weight projects from demand gen or recruitment, HR, etc.

This becomes a little bit of a nuanced game and it’s not a perfect science in most cases, nor is it going to be.

But I think your ability to at least be aware of what this is and make sure that everybody you’re working with is aware of how you’re breaking that up, that clarity adds a whole lot of efficiency to the process.

Heather Hurst: Building on that a little bit, you break up where you need to allocate your time.

But inevitably you have fire drills that come in, and you have those ad hoc requests that come at you. I’ve talked to content teams where they essentially spend all day just working on those emergency projects and they never really get to their prioritized work.

One key thing is to set in place a rule around fire drills.

12. Establish protocol for ad hoc requests.

One practice that’s in place with Kanban teams is that they only allow one ad hoc request to be in process at any given time. So there does have to be conversation if two ad hoc requests try to come into the pipeline.

I’m not saying that everybody has that luxury of being able to say, "Sorry, we’re already working on one; we can’t take another one."

But it is all about having a process, having a policy in place that you communicate out to your team.

That will really help to not only reduce those ad hoc requests and get people to think ahead about the content they need to have built, but it’s really going to help your teams to not be driven to burnout.

Matt Heinz: We covered this a little bit already, but the idea that you are documenting how you are prioritizing things, making it really clear what percent of your time you’re spending on one project versus another, letting people know how often do you re-prioritize what’s on the triage list.

13. Document your work request prioritization methods.

Are there certain projects that really do count as fire drills? I really like what Heather said about making a little bit of a penalty for those who are coming to you with fire drills.

I remember working in a PR agency and we were working with Microsoft. There was a set period of time that the Microsoft review engine, which included legal review and everyone else; that if you had your proverbial stuff together it was an X-day process.

If you needed it done in two days or in one day, there was literally a cost that you had to pay as part of your marketing budget.

So making sure people understand what it costs to have a fire drill, but also what it means to prioritize; again, this may not make everybody happy. But clarity will at least make them understand the rules under which you are executing.

Heather Hurst: I absolutely agree, and that goes to this next one which is how to keep your requesters in the loop.

14. Establish a method to communicate back to your requesters.

Obviously, they don’t want to feel like they put a request in, whether that’s someone from outside of your team or inside your team, they don’t want to feel like they submitted a request to you and then it just went into a black hole where in some amount of time, a miraculous piece of content will come filtering out.

They want ongoing updates. They want to know what’s going on. They want to know where it ended up falling into the request queue. That’s where it’s best to establish a process up front of how you communicate back with your requesters.

We live in a constant state of interruption now, and the last thing you need is 10 requesters a day IMing you, sending you email, coming to your desk asking what’s going on with something they submitted to you.

Whereas if you have a process where you tell them if something was rejected, if it’s been accepted, if you need more information, or how long they can anticipate waiting for something to come back to them; you’re going to have a lot less drop-bys and interruptions and you’re going to have a lot happier requesters.

Matt Heinz: I want to encourage everyone when you get done with this summit to look yourself in the mirror and get used to saying the word “no.”

15. Learn to say "NO."

I realize probably like me, you want to make people happy; you want to do right by the business. You want to have a bigger impact. You want people to be happy, and you want to make sure that what you’re doing is moving the needle for the company.

You cannot do everything. Not everything is worth doing.

You could work 24 hours a day and still not get the entire project list done, and I guarantee you it will continue to grow.

So by definition—you can’t do everything—so by definition, you need to be saying "no" to more things. If you make it clear what you’re focused on, if you make it clear what your priorities are and what are the outcomes you’re working towards, it’s easier to say "no."

I also guarantee if you’re sitting in your chair today and saying, "I don't have enough resources to get stuff done, I need more resources to do my job;" saying "no" will, in many cases, help people see where your guardrails are.

They’ll see where your boundaries are and it makes it easier for people to then say: "Maybe he or she does need more resources to get the right work done."

Heather Hurst: One thing that can really help you with that overall prioritization and knowing if you need to say "no" or not is by understanding how long things actually take to be created.

So think of something really simple like a blog post. You might be thinking that’s a really simple piece of content; you just write some words, and then you find a picture and you publish it.

But there’s actually often a lot more to it.

If you don’t document all of the steps that you go through for content production, analyze based on historical information how long all of those stages take you, and not just in time for you to spend on the work but also in those transitions of you waiting for reviews, waiting for approvals, waiting for a spot to open up on the blog when you can publish; you’re not going to know as well what really is on your plate.

So creating templates around your types of content production, whether it’s writing a press release, or creating an ebook, or making a brochure; if you understand how long all of those take and the stages you go through to create them, it really will help your team to have a much better understanding of what they’ve ultimately signed up for.

16. Create templates for content production.

So once you’ve prioritized and you’ve gotten all of your requests, now that brings you into the actual creation of the content.

Matt Heinz: Super props to the creative team for all the pictures behind these. Between the memes and the cultural references, it’s just fantastic.

When it comes to content creation at any level of your workflow, the more you can automate what you’re doing—the more you can have robots remind you and keep you on track—the better.

17. Leverage automation and reminder tools when possible.

Reminder tools don’t necessarily need to be email reminders or, God help you, the alerts that pop up incessantly on our desktops.

Reminders can also be just a trusted system that you use on a regular basis. I have a daily do list, for example, that I look at every morning.

When I travel, I have a laminated version in my folio that I carry with me. It reminds me of a number of different content creation, content curating tasks that I need to do on a daily basis.

These tools—these automation tools, these reminder tools—can not only help you be more consistent, they can not only save you time, but they can make it so you can get more done.

You spend less time thinking about the daily tactical things you need to remember and more time executing, more time being creative, more time being productive.

Heather Hurst: Matt, not to be hung up on this but I’m really going to need a picture of that laminated to-do list, because I am super, duper intrigued by that.

One of the biggest things you can do is decide who you actually need to have involved in the review and approval process.

18. Determine key stakeholders to involve in review and approvals.

If you’re anything like me throughout my career, when you think about reviews and approvals, you just sort of have this sad feeling lingering in your heart where you know that eventually you’re just going to have to start stalking people and risk having some sort of legal action taken against you at some point in time.

One of the biggest things that can help with that is figuring out exactly which stakeholders need to be involved at which stages, and with what types of content.

Because inevitably, you’re often sending things to people who don’t need to see them. You’re waiting on them, you’re wasting time. And it’s not a priority for them because they probably didn’t actually need to be involved.

So work with your teams to establish which of your stakeholders are the must-review, which can often be your legal department or your CMO, or the author on a ghost-written bylined article, for example.

And then those who it’s nice to have on the review list and if they’re able to see it, great; it’s a nice FYI. But if not, then you’re going to move on without them.

Matt Heinz: Heather, I’m more than happy to share a copy of the laminated sheet, for one. And two, does anyone else miss the Far Side? I don’t realize how much I miss the Far Side cartoons until I see a Far Side cartoon.

Heather Hurst: Every day!

Matt Heinz: Oh my gosh, they’re amazing!

So anyway, somewhat related from an accountability standpoint: because you’ve established a process up front in creating content for other people to review your content, that doesn’t mean they’re going to follow it.

They’re going to get busy as well; they’re going to think they can get you something late. They’re not going to give you their full feedback, and then during your final round they’re going to say “what I really meant was…”

Be really clear about what you expect from people in reviews.

19. Create accountability around reviews and approvals.

Be really clear about when you need things back. Establish those requirements up front. And without being punitive, make sure that there is some implication if it’s late.

Just because they are five days late delivering their content feedback back to you doesn’t mean the content is going to be created on time. Just because they’re late doesn’t mean that should be a penalty for you.

It doesn’t mean that you’re going to say, "Every day it’s late, it’s going to be a day late delivering this document."

Because the impact of that content still needs to be had. But, I would make sure people understand the seriousness of following the process. That it’s tied to results, that it’s tied to the results that they need, that they’re trying to achieve as well.

Heather Hurst: Matt, you covered this really well so I don’t need to belabor it. But I think one of the biggest keys we forget is ongoing communication.

20. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Communication about where a piece of content stands in the process. Communication with a stakeholder about what they can expect coming up in the next week.

Communicating with your stakeholders to see if they’re going on vacation and are going to be off the grid, and it’s not a possibility for you to send them anything for review.

Communicating on an on-going basis is really, really key to keep all of this moving along on a good path.

Matt Heinz: Related to communication, I think smart communication is feedback. It’s improvement of the processes and systems that we’re using. I guarantee you that once you create and launch a feedback process, or just a request process, there will be adjustments of that over time.

21. Communicate more. Continuous feedback into your processes.

I think it was General Patton who said, “best laid plans never survive first contact with the battlefield,” and it was the great poet of our time, Mike Tyson, who said “everyone's got a plan until they get punched in the face.”

Download our free ebook "Organize The Feedback: A Marketer’s Guide to Project Collaboration" for suggestions on how to garner and use feedback on your team.

So as you go and execute on your programs, there will be improvements you want to make, there will be feedback you get from those you are creating content for. Make sure you are regularly reviewing those and incorporating those updates, those improvements, into your process.

It will reduce friction that may exist in the execution process. It will help you get more done faster, knowing that you’re never done improving the process. Even if it’s not just a daily or weekly thing, but at least on a monthly basis incorporating that feedback is important.

Heather Hurst: Part of that feedback is deciding when something is done.

22. When is content "final."

You probably have kind of a puzzled look on your face as you hear me say that. But think back to how many times you’ve had something marked “final version 32,” or “final version 68.” It’s a really sad scenario to be in, but unfortunately it happens all the time.

So deciding when something is actually done, when it’s off the table for further review, when you are going to move forward with publication, is definitely key to having that content process move forward smoothly.

So from content creation, that brings us to content organization and storage. Once something is done, how are you going to remember where you put it and keep it available for other people?

23. Establish content storage process.

For example, we did a study among sales reps and we asked them: "what are the top time wasters for you outside of active selling?" Number-one time waster was time in CRM; not surprising. Number-two time waster was recruiting their own content; not surprising.

Number-three time waster, of all the things sales reps could have said, the number-three top waster of time for sales reps is looking for the right content.

I’ve seen so many examples that reinforce how important it is to make sure you have a coordinated, clean, simple, efficient content storage process.

So when someone’s looking for the Ark of the Covenant again in a couple months, in a couple days, they know precisely where to find it and how to find it.

Heather Hurst: Matt, you’re absolutely right. And I don't think the ark came back in another movie, which means they definitely never found it again.

Matt Heinz: That is true.

Heather Hurst: A big thing is having organization protocol for all of your assets.

24. Set up an organization protocol.

Think about how many times someone has come to you asking for your corporate logo, which is something that should be easily available for everyone within the organization.

That gives you an idea, back to what Matt was saying, about sales teams and others not being able to find content; how big of an issue this is.

Work with your teams, and then work with all of your content consumers to set up a way that you store content, and a way that you identify for them whether or not something is still able to be used or whether it’s expired and it would need to be updated if you were going to try to use it again.

Matt Heinz: Naming convention is part of this as well, and I could argue this is one of the most important things to do to make it easy. And not just how you name things, but how that naming helps people sort for things.

25. Create a naming convention.

There are a bunch of practices; lots of people have different ways they might do this.

One of my favorites is to use dates at the beginning, and include either a dedicated project name, or use client names in the title. So for instance, one thing we do internally is we have a process where every file starts with the year, dot, the month, dot, the date.

So you can literally see everything. Then you’ve got words after it that are sortable. But if you’re like, "well, that happened last June," you can immediately flip to that section and look for that piece of content. It works for us; it may not work for everybody.

But I would encourage you to create a naming convention that everyone understands, that everyone starts to use. This is something you could improve on over time, as well. But having something consistent will really save you a lot of time and effort long term.

Heather Hurst: One big thing you can do is have a process where you hand off content to whatever teams are going to promote it.

26. Create hand-off process to promotion teams.

So, whether that’s handing off to your sales enablement team that’s going to go train your sales team, or whether that’s handing off to demand gen that’s going to create emails and ads and other assets around it, or whether that’s handing to your blog department; having that process where you have that clear handoff to tell them this is finished, it’s ready for promotion.

And going back to some of our earlier slides, understanding ahead of time with that group the purpose it was created for, and how you intend for them to use it.

Having that set up ahead of time is really great so that when you hand it off, they know it was coming, they have resources in place, they have plans in place to promote it and it can all move forward really seamlessly.

Then of course, the most fun part of any content creation: publication and promotion of the content.

Matt Heinz: This first one we’re going to have to give Robert Rose from the CMI team all the credit for this. Heather, I think you pointed to he said a number of times just because something is done doesn’t mean it’s time to publish it.

The timeline to get things created does not necessarily follow the strategic plan that you’ve created for your content, the plan that you have for getting the maximum impact for that message, for that content, in your sales process, in your marketing plan, in your business objectives.

Make sure that you are strategic and smart about how and when you publish and promote that content; not just because it was finally finished in that version 32 last night.

27. Publish, promote content based on your distribution strategy.

Heather Hurst: It can get a little exhausting if you’ve been working on a piece of really big content for months and months.

You finally get it done; you just want to throw it up on the website and forget that it ever existed. But you’re not going to get the ideal number of eyeballs on it. That’s where having some distribution best practices comes into play.

28. Distribution best practices.

There are technologies that you can use to help you improve this.

Or going down to things like maximizing on a hashtag, or going back into old posts in your blog that have been really, really popular and adding links to that new content. Or leveraging influencers to help get out there and promote your content.

Really using the best practices around distribution is going to help you get content out the best way.

Matt Heinz: Heather, we are powering through this list. We are almost done. I feel like this one in particular we could spend another 30 minutes on.

Getting sales to use your content is not always easy. I’ve seen stats saying as high as 90 percent of content created for sales doesn’t get used. I’m not convinced that means it’s not good content.

29. Get sales to use your content.

I think it could be that it’s stored with the Ark of the Covenant and people don’t know where to find it. It could also be because people don’t know what content is going to help them make money.

I think a lot of sales teams want demo content, they want product content. They don’t understand that the contextual content that helps establish the need, that helps establish the commitment to change, could help them move forward as well.

So, understanding how each of those pieces of content helps them make money is important.

Making sure your reps know how and where to find the content, reinforcing that it works, finding the early adopters and promoting their success; lots of things to help the sales team be more efficient and more successful with your great content.

Heather Hurst: We’ve come to finally number 30: measuring results.

30. Measure results.

Go back frequently and take a look at what content is driving the most results for you, whether or not the content that you’ve built has actually achieved the goals that you set out for it.

And let that inform your plans for moving forward with other content. Because you’ll always get really interesting takeaways from the content you’ve created.

It will help you drive forward with interesting topics that people liked, interesting content that the sales team really gravitated toward and used a lot; things that drove a lot of demand that really you weren’t expecting.

Absolutely make sure that you keep that circle going 360 back to measuring results as often as you possibly can.

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