Why your marketing projects run late and what to do about it

Pocket watch: why your marketing projects run late

When a deadline is looming, it can feel like you’re running a race with a rock in your shoe, a cramp in your leg and other runners cutting you off left and right.

If your marketing projects run late and you feel like you’re struggling instead of finishing strong, it’s time to  reassess your strategy.

This post will help you identify the specific obstacles that make your marketing projects run late and help you do something about them.

Getting off to a weak start

A bad brief will kill your marketing project before it begins. It causes writers to guess at the direction of the content, which leads to an inconsistent message. Extra time is then spent on rewrites and reorganising.

We will never be able to stress enough the importance of a good brief that clearly explains the message in each piece of content and the goal of the project from the start.

Your timing is off

The ability to recognise a realistic timeframe for any given project is a must. Otherwise, you may say yes to a project that doesn’t fit into your schedule or commit to an impossible deadline.

Try creating a list of how much time it takes your team for each task, or assessing projects by their complexity. This way, when you look at a project, you can accurately determine how much time and effort is needed to get the job done before you take it on.

Expecting instead of anticipating problems

You know very well that projects can run into problems. You expect them, but they eat up your time if you don’t anticipate and plan for them.

Of course, don’t plan for crashed servers on every project. Simply allot the time it takes to complete tasks and then schedule a realistic contingency for potential problems.

Good, old-fashioned procrastination

Once tasks are assigned to your own team, freelancers or to an agency, the pace may feel a bit out of your control and it’s hard to trust that it will come together on time.

Create incentives for timeliness and early deliveries. This can be in the form of first pick on new assignments, moving to the top of the list for the next project or even a bonus.

A less than thrilling chase

A lot of time will be wasted if you or your team has to chase down resources for the project or signatures for approval.

Include all resources needed from the start with the brief and make sure you have signatures scheduled as tasks with a specific time for content to be reviewed and approved.

Setting yourself up for failure

Agencies run into the same obstacles you do on marketing projects and a mismanaged agency will not be able to overcome causing you to miss your deadline.

Realise that you do have control over choosing who to work with and manage your roster accordingly. Pick the agencies that allow your team to meet goals and deadlines.

Standing at the bottom of a deadline avalanche

As the project manager, every task comes back to you in the end and a marketing project has a lot of moving parts. If everything hits you at the same time, your ability to turn it over quickly may be jeopardized.

Start thinking in timelines instead of deadlines. Have a manageable cycle of deadlines which will help you feel that you’ve handled each item and are handing over a quality project.

Get serious about deadlines

Everyone working on your marketing projects needs to be on the same page when it comes to deadlines, meaning they have to understand just how important they are to the overall success of your company.

But the way you manage deadlines plays the greatest role in whether or not your team meets them. Be proactive about overcoming the problems a marketing project faces and finish strong every time.

(Hat tip to Lauren Hammond for the photo)

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Why marketing professionals need professional writers

Professional writers: monkey at a typewriter

Professional copywriters help you cut through the noise. They write pithy, persuasive, remarkable content that resonates with your customers and drives up sales.

‘If you have budget to invest in your website, I would say, “hire someone to write for you.”’ – Rebecca Churt, HubSpot.

I couldn’t agree more. Good writing is at the heart of great brands and it is the engine of great campaigns.

What professional writers do

Copywriters aren’t just word monkeys. They don’t just ‘bang out copy’ or ‘wordsmith’ existing verbiage. No.

Professional writers get into the heads of your customers and write punchy, persuasive copy that links your products and services to the needs and ambitions of the people who are going to buy them.

And with the average web user leaving a web page after less than 20 seconds and reading only 20 percent of the content, first impressions count. You need to get across what you want to say, fast, and say it better than anyone else.

Copywriters help you to clarify what you’re trying to say and tell a story that connects with your customers.

And, what’s more, they’ll save you money while doing it. Companies using inbound content marketing generally experience a 61 percent lower cost per lead than those using traditional methods.

‘But, if it’s just writing,’ you say to yourself, ‘why can’t I do it myself?’

Here’s why.

It isn’t just writing

Anyone can write, but not everyone’s a writer.

It can be tempting to strike out on your own and write your own copy, but try to do everything yourself and you’ll burn out.

Effective copywriting is more than just stringing syntactically correct sentences together. It’s about distilling the features of your product or service into benefits that your customers care about and finding the right style and tone of voice to get the message across.

Delegating some of your content creation to expert copywriters takes the struggle of writing and rewriting copy out of your hands. You still get to decide the direction, objectives and feel of the content, but a writer can bring it to life, letting you focus on growing your business.

Tricks of the trade

Writing is a muscle that professional copywriters exercise everyday, so they know every trick in the book to polish up your copy and use it to increase website conversions, boost click-through rates, and, ultimately, drive up sales.

They know to keep it short and sweet, conversational and direct, and they avoid hype, hyperbole and spin like the plague.

They understand that remarkable writing that resonates with your buyer personas is the heart of the content that gets found.

Tapping into the main issues of your ideal customers and the keywords they use in search queries, professional writers naturally improve your content’s search engine optimisation. You won’t be left with keyword-riddled nonsense.

Good copywriters also keep up with industry trends, as well as those of their clients, to make sure they’ve got a good grasp of the market. They send the right message at the right time to the right people to make your business stand out from the crowd.

A fresh perspective

And last but certainly not least, writers come to your business with a fresh pair of eyes. We don’t know the lingo and the specs, but neither do your customers.

As much as you might love your product or service and revel in all the gory details, your customers – that cynical bunch – want to know how it benefits them. They want quality advice and insight, not bigger, better and stronger.

They don’t think, ‘I need a state-of-the-art, cost-effective CRM solution’, but rather, ‘I want all of my customer information in one place’.

Copywriters can look at your product or service from a customer’s perspective, pick out the best bits and communicate them effectively. They turn the jargon and techno-babble into compelling copy that converts leads and pushes up sales.

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10 provocative questions that will bend and blow your mind

provocative questions: thinking man with scales

Sometimes it’s nice to sit back and ponder the world around you. Sometimes thinking about the world around you blows your mind. We’ve come up with ten provocative questions to get those brain cells creaking. We’d love to hear your answers – leave a comment!

provocative questions: Lego sinking titanic1. If anything’s possible, what’s important?

We’re often told you can do anything you put your mind to… But if you really, actually, could how would you prioritise? It’s easy to get caught up in the possibilities, but by having clear goals, when you need to prioritise, it’ll be easy to know where to start.

 

provocative questions 2-w4802. What would you attempt if you knew you couldn’t fail?

They say that it’s through mistakes and failure that we learn some of our most important lessons in life, but what if you could learn those lessons without the ego bruising? What would you do? Would it be as exciting without the risk of failure?

provocative questions 3-w4803. How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?

We place a lot of importance on time, but remove some of those markers of time and what are you left with? Does it matter how old you are? Is it how old you feel that matters? Is that just something people say to make themselves feel better?

For businesses, age is often an advantage, so why are we so averse to aging? A few wrinkles are a small price to pay for experience, surely?

provocative questions 4-w4804. Will people remember you in a million years? Do you still want to be famous?

It is said everyone gets their five minutes of fame, but what if you were one of the few who got a little longer? How long would you want that to last? If it didn’t last that long, would you still want it?

In the grand scheme of things fame should be the result, not the goal. Do something remarkable well and it’s hard not to leave a lasting impression.

provocative questions 5-w4805. Is it worse to fail at something or never attempt it in the first place?

People hate failure. But fear of failure may be worse than the actual experience, according to Seth Godin. How do you learn to fail better?

provocative questions 6-w4806. How do we know that pleasure is good and pain is bad?

While I’m sure scientifically there must be an answer out there for this one, it raises an important point and feeds off the age-old question: can you experience happiness without ever having known sadness, or the good without the bad?

Sometimes you need to embrace the bad if you want to experience the good, and a little analysis is needed to figure out what isn’t working; without knowing where you’re going wrong, how could you possibly fix it?

provocative questions 7-w4807. If we learn from our mistakes, why are we always so afraid to make them?

Nobody likes to be wrong, but is this aversion to ‘wrongness’ actually doing us a disservice and stopping our development? If so, why are we standing in the way of our own progress?

Mistakes are inevitable, but fear of them should never stop you from evolving. Instead you should be analysing risks, because in business, as with life, sometimes you should feel the fear, and do it anyway.

provocative questions 8-w4808. Which is worse: forgetting everything or never remembering anything new?

Any form of amnesia is undesirable, but if you had the choice would you say goodbye to everything you’ve ever known, or never learn anything new again? What makes this question so difficult is that memory is so important, and too much unbalance with it can be problematic; remember too much and you can stultify progress with too many rules; remember too little and you never learn the lessons from your past.

provocative questions 9-w4809. Do the right thing? Or do things right?

Ideally both right? But which is more important? Without doing it right, is there any real point in doing the right thing? Equally, doing something perfectly is amazing, but really don’t you want it to be for the right reasons?

In business no one likes to feel they’re working for the bad guy, but no one revels in half-hearted effort either. There’s a line to tread here if you want to motivate people, but which side should you be veering towards?

provocative questions 10-w48010. Why is there something rather than nothing?

Being in business is a constant battle against nothingness, but nonetheless, I guarantee you that if you spend too much time thinking about this one, your head WILL explode.

(Hat tip, in order of appearance, to: ericconstantineaujjackowskigrooverfwpauloaranast3f4n98327290@N02blackzack00mrzeon and hoyvinmayvin for the photos)

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How we work: Work traffic planning

traffic planning: ooda loop - observe, orient, decide, act

Plans are irrelevant but planning is essential. Instead of trying to micro-manage people’s schedules and getting lost in multi-page Gannt charts, at Articulate, we take an agile approach with pair-writing at its heart. We work in weekly sprints and we have stand-up meetings each Monday to allocate work and set priorities. We track progress by measuring, sharing and celebrating deliveries to clients.

There. That’s everything you need to know about how we do traffic planning.

Naming of parts

But let’s unpack that paragraph fully so that you know what it means, how we do it and how to work well with us.

Here are the parts of our planning philosophy and some of the terms we use:

  • Traffic. We use this word to mean the flow of work in the agency and how we manage it to get the right results to the right clients at the right time.
  • Agile methodology. My background is in software development (back at Intelligent Games) and we also created our own online application (Turbine) so we’re inspired by Agile software development. For example, we aim for customer satisfaction by rapid delivery of useful content. We refactor our own processes regularly to adapt to changing circumstances. We put our faith in self-organising teams, face to face conversation and trusted, motivated individuals.
  • Pair-writing. Writing is an essentially solitary activity but behind every great writer there’s a great editor and we try to capture that dynamic with pair writing, which in turn is inspired by the extreme programming movement. It means that there are two people assigned to each project and typically both are involved in interviews, research and then one writes while the other edits. Ego-less feedback produces better work.
  • Sprints. How do you eat a whale? One mouthful at a time. It’s the same for large projects – better to break them down into smaller, bite-size chunks where you can deliver something valuable in a matter of days. We plan a week in advance; which is about as much forward thinking as most writers can cope with. After all, it’s easy to imagine what you’ll write tomorrow and the day after. This kind of intuitive day to day planning is better than management by deadline.
  • Stand-up meetings. We borrowed this term from Pivotal Labs (one of our hero companies). While meetings are important for team communication we try to avoid having too many meetings or making them too long. We use these meetings to discuss the week ahead, availability, client issues, priorities and then the heart of the matter: what needs to be done and who is doing it. I tend to take the lead in allocating work based on previous experience with the subject matter or the client but also with an eye on employee development and future needs. Sometimes, it’s easier to let people pick the projects they prefer. It’s relatively informal.
  • Delivery tracking. As we complete our assignments and send them to clients, the delivery is tracked in a big spreadsheet (with pivot tables and analytics) and also shared and celebrated on our Yammer site. We have a delivery checklist that also triggers invoicing and other follow-up activity if appropriate. Shipping work that clients love is what matters and we celebrate it. If a client gives us good feedback or we see the work in the wild, we also Yammer that.
  • We are our own client. House projects, such as blog posts for Bad Language and Turbine, are included in our traffic planning alongside client work.

The tools we use

Basecamp is our primary tool for project management and collaboration. We have a ‘Traffic’ project where, each week, we capture the results of our stand up meeting in a discussion. This is available to everyone in the company. We create a new Basecamp project for each piece of work as it comes in and groups of tasks for the steps required to complete it. After the stand-up meeting, we’ll assign those tasks to different people as well. This is a snapshot of a typical writer’s assignments for a week:
Typical assignments in Basecamp

We use Skype for video conferencing – now you can have up to 10-way calls free. Being able to see people while talking has made these calls more collegiate and friendly.

To report progress, we use Yammer. It’s also free (although there’s a paid version with extra functionality). It’s like a private Facebook for your business and we really like it. Using IFTTT, we automatically publish blog posts to Yammer and I manually update it to share other client deliveries.

Reporting deliverables on Yammer

On a personal level, I’m currently experimenting with Taco for task management and Toggl for timesheets. (We don’t bill by the hour but I’m really interested to see how I actually spend my time.)

How to work with our traffic planning process

I’ve written before about how clients and agencies can build great relationships and what to do at the start of a new one, but understanding our working process and rhythm can really help clients get the best work out of us. Here are a few tips:

  • Timing. Give us your brief on or before Friday the previous week. That way we can plan it into the following week’s sprint in a very smooth, efficient way. It gets you to the top of the to-do list relative to last-minute pop-up tasks.
  • Briefing. Give us a good brief so we can quantify it and plan it efficiently. Download our briefing checklist.
  • Pop-up tasks. There’s always a little bit of scope for pop-up tasks – small, urgent projects that crop up without much notice. For example, we can defer some blog posts to make room. But there’s always a risk that we can’t do it and pop-up tasks tend to go to the bottom of the list of priorities in any case. So, if you can give us a few days to put it into next week’s sprint, that’s so much better.
  • Delivery timing. We’ll usually have a good idea of when your task will be done after the Monday meeting and I’m often uncomfortable about committing before then. Now you know why!
  • Learn to love Basecamp. It’s incredibly easy and its the way we prefer to track progress, discuss projects and share feedback. It will pay back the time you invest in it by giving you a clear view of exactly what’s going on with your project.

We’re aiming for a minimum-viable bureaucracy. This means having enough process to keep everything running smoothly but not so much that we can’t respond boldly to changing circumstances or new opportunities; even if it is just a ‘pop-up’ urgent task from a client on a Friday morning. Because it lets us do exactly this, our traffic planning process is at the heart of Articulate’s working practice.

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The Devil’s Marketing Dictionary (Second Edition)

The Devil's Marketing Dictionary

Here at Articulate, we take our work seriously. Ourselves – not so much. In this spirit, this cynical reappraisal of some of the common words we use about our work should raise a smile or two, at least among marketing types.

It’s inspired by by Ambrose Bierce’s wicked Devil’s Dictionary, which is full of cynical gems, such as the definition of duty as ‘that which sternly impels us in the direction of profit, along the line of desire.’ Enjoy!

  • Analytics. Metrics with a PhD.
  • Best practice. What everyone else pretends to do.
  • Blog. A website written by people with nothing to say for people with nothing to do. (Thanks to Guy Kawasaki for this)
  • Case study. A work of fiction punctuated by frankenquotes.
  • Click-through rate. The number of people you are renting from Google to ignore your website.
  • Content calendar. What we’ll do if everything works perfectly, you pay on time and nobody has a day off.
  • Content. Lorem ipsum polyfilla to anyone except the harmless drudge who has to write it.
  • Curation. Retweeting stuff people have already read.
  • Earned media. Somebody mentioned you on their blog.
  • End-to-end. A solution that does everything from A to Z, except B, C, D, E, F etc.
  • Enterprise. Any company big enough that your CEO has to take their CEO out for lunch.
  • Focus group. A tool for cowardly managers.
  • Gamification. The accurate theory that people can be persuaded to do almost anything in return for digital badges and sound effects.
  • Hard bounce. Did you really think I was going to give you my real email address?
  • Inbound. Where the customer does your marketing for you.
  • Influencer. You don’t know where they work or what they do but your PR firm says they’re important.
  • Infographic. Meaningless statistics turned into incomprehensible diagrams.
  • Long tail. Pinocchio’s other guilty little secret.
  • Metrics. What agencies use to convince you that their plan is working.
  • Open rate. The number of angels that can dance on a pin head.
  • Outbound. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.
  • Paid media. Didn’t we used to call this advertising?
  • Passion. A word that has no place in business even if you have switched on your sincerity simulator.
  • Press release. PRs pretend to be excited. Journalists pretend to be interested.
  • Return on investment. Your marketing agency owner’s new sports car. Also, an imaginary number that is equal to or greater than the cost of purchasing a solution.
  • SEO. There are three secrets that are guaranteed to put your site at the top of Google’s search results but nobody knows what they are.
  • SME. Any company too small to have a dedicated account manager.
  • Social media.  Where your expensive content goes to be ignored.
  • Soft bounce. I went on holiday and all you got was this lousy out of office message.
  • Survey. A series of carefully crafted questions that generate the answers the PR company had originally wanted.
  • Synergy. The mystery factor that will balance the books, make the solution work and get the project done on time. See Kryptonite, Philosopher’s Stone, Unobtainium and XYZZY.
  • Tipping point. The moment when all your colleagues have heard the title but haven’t read the book.
  • Traffic. The number of bots, site scrapers, internet trolls and hackers that visited your website plus your mum.
  • Vice president. The minimum qualification required to be quoted in a press release.
  • White paper. Like an article but with added truthiness.

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Marketing secrets of coffee baristas: why choice matters

Marketing secrets: coffee menu

Most coffee drinkers will tell you that they like a ‘dark, rich, hearty roast,’ says Malcolm Gladwell. But if that’s what everybody wants, why is Starbucks’ menu so long?

It turns out people don’t all like the same thing. Sounds obvious, but plenty of people overlook this vital fact when it comes to building and marketing their business.

Embracing choice can be a game-changer, argues Malcolm Gladwell in his 2004 TED talk: ‘In embracing the diversity of human beings, we will find a surer way to true happiness.’ And that goes for businesses as well as customers.

You too can (and should) embrace your customers’ preferences. Whether you expand your product range or tailor your business to your customers, you can make variability work for you.

Spaghetti sauce is Gladwell’s go-to example, and while sauce is good, coffee is better, so we’re going to show you the marketing secrets you can learn from your favourite baristas.

Decaf, one-shot, skinny caramel macchiato

Thanks to Gladwells’ muse, psychophysicist Howard Moscowitz, businesses now invest much more heavily in researching what people want. It can be very insightful, as often people don’t always know what they want themselves. By accounting for these preferences, businesses have cemented customer satisfaction in old and new markets alike.

While Starbucks have subsequently mirrored this variety of desires in their products, this isn’t the only, or even the best, response. It can be as simple as remembering that you can’t please everyone.

There’s no shame in limiting your market if it means truly resonating with, and delighting, your target audience. Knowing your niche well will allow you to do this and, done correctly, will leave you with a tribe of loyal fans.

The marketing secret here? You need to know your audience to market to them.

Starbucks or Kopi Luwak?

Whether you’re the Starbucks of your sector or its ‘cat-poo coffee’ antithesis, it’s just as valuable knowing what you’re not as what you are.

For every Starbucks lover there’s someone who likes artisan coffee, and someone else who prefers tea. By knowing what your competition is doing you’ll also know what they aren’t doing, opening your business up to multiple possibilities, including success in untapped markets.

When competing for the same market, don’t be afraid of a little competition; rivalries often produce better ideas and better products.

A bit of healthy competition not only inspires better creation, but also encourages businesses to research and hone in on the particulars of their demographics. By using this knowledge you can offer what your demographics love and want to buy. This will resonate with them, so your customers will win too.

Costa advert

To drink in or take away?

That being said knowing who you are is integral to communication with your customers, because without knowing what you offer, and why people need it, how can you effectively sell it?

Just as people frequent coffee shops for certain things (comfortable sofas, location, better literature, maybe even better coffee), they buy products for specific reasons too: Quality, usability, style, portability, comfort, etc.

Your core product is important, but it’s not everything. For coffee chains, winning a taste test doesn’t necessarily mean winning the most customers. As much as anything else, industry-leader Starbucks has cashed-in on consistency, being reliably familiar the world-over, which some people care about more that than the drinks.

As with Gladwell’s spaghetti sauce example, some research could reveal elements of your product that you hadn’t considered as selling points before. Even if your product range isn’t varied, people’s reasons for buying it could be, so know what they are, and make them a part of your brand.

Fair trade or hand-made?

Speaking of brands: When people buy brands they don’t just buy them, they buy into them.

Anyone could tell you that Google isn’t the only search engine on the internet, yet neither Bing nor Yahoo inspire anywhere near the same loyalty or fandom.

This is due, at least in part, to Google’s dedication to its ethos. Google is more than just a search engine; it is a company built around innovation and connecting people to information. By keeping its gaze firmly fixed on this purpose, Google evolved into a prominent, profitable brand, operating seamlessly in multiple sectors.

Like Google, you need to look at what your business really stands for and move towards it, regardless of where it takes you. Like coffee shops, be prepared to think outside the cup.

(Hat tip to Sam Stewart Etc for the photo)

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How to use stories to communicate with clients: the dotMailer logo

image

Email marketing firm dotMailer is a British success story: AIM-listed with offices around the world. It occupies a prime spot in the email marketing automation marketplace, competing against companies like Marketo, SilverPop and ExactTarget.

However its historical roots are in the fire-and-forget batch mailing market. Over time, the platform has evolved upmarket, adding user-friendly features that make it easier to target and tailor emails to a particular audience and measure the results of each campaign.

So the big question is ‘how do we reposition the brand’ to communicate the journey from ‘batch and blast’ to ‘fully automated email marketing’? Well, according to my friend and ace designer Phil Draper, it starts with the logo. (Also, in the interests of full disclosure, dotMailer is an Articulate client.)

Logorrhea

The problem with logo projects – and I know having gone through an extended (but successful) redesign process on the Turbine logo over the last year – is that they turn into talking shops; too much talk and not enough design.

Every design marriage starts with a sweet honeymoon but it doesn’t always last. Why?

  • Business stakeholders struggle to explain what they want in terms that designers can understand so they go to what they know: brands they like and logos they know. The result? Saminess not differentiation. Fashion rather than innovation.
  • Designers, on the other hand, run the risk of compliance: they do what the client wants even though it may not be right for the project just to get the thing signed off. Or they let the project run, increasing the cost and delaying completion, as they do endless iterations. Or, worse, they get into a kind of ‘take it or leave it’ defensive stance behind a wall of design jargon.

(As an aside, my partial solution to this problem is to use mood boards on Pinterest to express my sense of what I want in addition to the traditional written brief. Also, I’ve been taking a succession of design courses with a view to learning to communicate properly with the design community.)

Story-telling as client management

Phil took a different approach with his colleagues at dotMailer. He created a presentation that took them on a journey from where they were to where they wanted to be and tied the evolution of the logo into that journey.

The brand and its competitors

He started with the evolution of the brand and what it meant to customers. He set out some brand pillars and explained what they meant to customers. For example, one pillar is ‘empowering technology’ and one user story underpinning this is ‘It’s so quick and easy that I can spend more time on other marketing tasks.’

State of the art logo design

Then he looked at how logo designs were tending towards ever-greater simplicity with before and after images of different brands.

clip_image002

Seeing with a designer’s eye

He deconstructed the old logo to help his colleagues see it through his eyes.

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Font-astic

Then he showed how a new logo, with the roundel moved from the top to the left, would look in different fonts.

clip_image005

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Further simplification

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The next iteration put the roundel into the text and eliminated the capitalisation, making the logo even simpler. But he reckoned the ‘font is too heavy and the black is too dominant’. (But remember each stage of this journey is public and visible to his colleagues. It’s not a fait accompli.)

In the final version, the ‘colour’ of the text on the page and the actual colours used in the logo are both lighter. It’s modern and clean.

clip_image011

Why it worked

  • The right communication tools. He created a presentation so that they could see what he was talking about and gave them a PDF version to review after the meeting.
  • Let me tell you a story. In 25 slides, Phil took his colleagues through the story of how the logo evolved – its journey. In doing that, he addressed the most likely questions, objections and detours. It’s a very compelling example of logical persuasion through the control of suspense.
  • Show your working. Remember when you did maths exams at school? You had to show how you solved the problem not just reveal the answer. Phil did the same, showing how he had gone through different iterations of the design and revealing his design influences.

This approach could work for all kinds of graphic design, copywriting or marketing projects. It means letting go of our ego, sharing our thinking and admitting that we don’t get to the perfect outcome instantly. When we do this, we invite our clients and shareholders into the process and earn their trust.

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8 excellent tips for keeping an editorial calendar current

8 excellent tips for keeping an editorial calendar current

An editorial calendar is a must for any marketing manager, but keeping the calendar up-to-date can be a struggle.

The team’s workload, confusion on responsibilities or inconsistent publishing can cause a perfectly good plan to fall apart. But your content marketing is too important to let the content it needs get left behind.

Your strategy for keeping an editorial calendar current needs to be in place every step of the way: from generating ideas to hitting publish.

1. Don’t cripple your calendar when you brainstorm.

Generating topics is a constant battle between having enough topics, making sure you don’t repeat topics and keeping every topic relevant to your potential buyers. To achieve the trifecta, you can:

  • Focus on personas and keywords. Your buyer personas will have keywords associated with them. Those keywords will help you brainstorm plenty of topics while staying relevant to your ideal buyer.
  • Don’t get caught in the details. Generate titles instead of whole outlines. If you start outlining each topic, you’re taking time away from generating ideas.
  • Encourage continuous brainstorming. Don’t limit ideas to one meeting. You and your staff should log ideas as they come, for example when a customer presents a particular problem or when you find a relevant article
  • Branch out. Plan to use content from outside sources to help fill your editorial calendar. Schedule guest bloggers, videos or post links to relevant articles.
  • Generate the right number of topics. When you get to the planning stage, you don’t want to come up short on topics. Know ahead of time what your publishing schedule looks like and how many topics it takes to fill it.

2. Schedule your content in advance.

It’s important that all those great ideas you generate don’t come out looking like creative vomit on your blog and social media channels. You want consistency in both publishing and content themes.

Some recommend planning an entire year at a time, but you may work best on a quarterly basis. Either way, you need to look at the big picture and plan your content long term. This allows you to capitalise on certain topics for seasons, events or holidays.

3. Include the right information in your calendar.

Again, you don’t need to outline every topic, but a well-planned editorial calendar will always contain certain information, like:

  • Title. What is the title you generated in brainstorming?
  • Buyer persona. Which buyer persona is this based on?
  • Relevant links or keywords. What inspired the topic or should be included?
  • Deadlines. When do the drafts need to be completely written and edited?
  • Publishing Date. When is the content being published?
  • Writer. Who is responsible for researching and writing the topic?
  • Editor. Who is editing the draft, fact checking, etc.?
  • Platforms. Where is this content going to be published and promoted?

You may adapt some of this to suit your agency, but your team will be more effective if they know who is responsible for which content and when it’s due.

4. Schedule deadlines before the publish date.

Schedule the final version of each piece of content to be written and edited before the date you expect to publish. This gives you breathing room in case of unexpected projects or even sickness and vacations on your team.

5. Make the calendar accessible to everyone.

The critical point of a successful editorial calendar is that it must be accessible to the whole team. Use a web-based manager like Basecamp, Asana or even Google Spreadsheets so that the whole team can look ahead to see what’s coming.

6. Stay flexible on your content.

It’s a writer’s job to generate relevant, remarkable content before the deadline even if it wasn’t in the original plan, but it’s your task to help them do that. Keep an open dialogue to make sure the content you publish is all it can be.Tweak topics, change the course of research or add in new content as it comes up.

7. Learn to anticipate busy times.

Sometimes, your staff is truly busy and lacks the capacity to write remarkably. Use your calendar to anticipate those times and sprint ahead on content writing or know when it’s time to outsource. The effect of content marketing is well-worth the resources it takes to keep up with it.

8. Make time to update the calendar regularly.

Don’t let your calendar dissolve into chaos when a few things change. Adapt your calendar as new topics are introduced or unexpected posts are published. If you’ve put your calendar in a web-based manager, this will be easy.

The success of an editorial calendar and by extension your content marketing comes down to strategy. You must be able to generate plenty of strong topics, create a plan to consistently generate content based on those topics and ensure commitment to that plan from the whole team.

(Hat tip to S.F. for the photo)

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How to have better meetings

Five dogs sitting around a table looking at a ball and saying 'perhaps we're overthinking the situation'

Do you get to the end of the day and feel like you have nothing to show for it?

You’re not alone.

Now ask yourself: ‘how much time did I spend in meetings today?’ Include:

  • Formal sit-down project review meetings
  • Marketing status meetings
  • Client phone calls
  • Ad-hoc meetings with colleagues when they drop by your desk
  • Purgatorial phone conferences

If the answer is more than three hours, you could be suffering from meetingitis.

Meetings are the opposite of work and they make you grumpy.

Six painful questions about meetings

Now here are the critical questions:

  1. Are the meetings life-enhancing experiences?
  2. Does your job description include ‘wasting time in pointless meetings’?
  3. Do you tell your friends and family, with pride, about all the wonderful meetings you were in?
  4. When you sit down with your boss for your pay review, do you tell her about your amazing doodling skills?
  5. If you had fewer, shorter meetings, would you spend the time saved on less exciting, innovative and productive work?
  6. On your death bed, will you wish that you had spent more time in meetings?

No, I didn’t think so.

Traditional meeting advice about setting an agenda and recording decisions etc is good, as far as it goes but it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter: too many meetings.

Fewer, better meetings

At Articulate, we have one stand-up meeting at the beginning of the week to plan our work and monthly one-to-ones for mentoring and development plus regular in-person get-togethers. That’s it. All our other meetings come from our clients and we don’t like to say no to them.

  • Do a time and motion study to see where your time is going. We like Toggl as a tool for doing this.
  • Replace status meetings with a weekly email status report.
  • Replace random phone calls with an IM tool like Lync or Skype.
  • Use iDoneThis or just regular emails to keep track of your own productive work and your team’s.
  • Encourage suppliers and clients to use a project management tool like Basecamp. This is what we use at Articulate and we love it when clients embrace it too.
  • Invest time in meetings that matter: one-to-one mentoring for your team, getting to know new customers, brainstorming strategy.
  • Try sending your ‘apologies’ for one meeting a week and using the time saved to focus on making real progress on a critical project.
  • If you call a lot of meetings, try trusting that your colleagues and suppliers can do their job without micromanagement.

End conference call hell

Stop using dial-in conference calls, which are an evil waste of time. Use Skype video calls, Google Hangouts or UberConference instead. Anything that is not a dial-in conference call is a better meeting.

Meeting charter template

You could also try to agree a meetings charter for your organisation so that everyone knows the rules of the game.

  • Meetings should never last more than 45 minutes.
  • We agree to stay on point and keep the side chat for later.
  • In order of preference, and depending on the context, we use Basecamp, email, Yammer, IM, Skype and then phone calls for communications.
  • However, mentoring, money and important personnel meetings (eg disciplinary meetings) are best done face to face.
  • We prepare an agenda in advance of the meeting.
  • There is always a chair who is responsible for sticking to the agenda and the timetable.
  • The best meetings end early, with clear decisions.
  • For internal meetings, rather than writing minutes, we assign Basecamp tasks to people as we go.
  • For interviews or client meetings, we take notes directly in Salesforce or Basecamp during or immediately after the meeting.

And finally….

And if all else fails, go straight to the pub and buy everyone a drink.

Better meetings: People in a pub agreeing with each other

(Thanks to the multitalented Helen Chadwick who made me this cartoon years ago when I was suffering from too many meetings.)

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How to mediate between clients and creators more effectively

Girl screaming – how to mediate between clients and creators more effectively

Life isn’t easy as an account manager in a marketing firm. Acting as the go-between trying to mediate between clients and creatives can leave you feeling a bit like James Dean, here.

James Dean in 'Rebel Without a Cause'

Client says one thing, creative says another. The client mulls over an idea for months and then suddenly decides they need it by the end of the week, leaving you to break the bad news to the art department or the overworked copywriters. These scenarios probably sound familiar.

But these tensions are an opportunity for you to shine. You can inspire your team, set your client’s expectations, pull in external resources (ahem, like Articulate – yes, we love working with other agencies) and help to deliver the job on time and with everyone’s egos intact. You’re the gatekeeper of great content.

Stressful as it is, with the right approach you can avoid the hassle and the headaches and be mediating like a Jedi master within no time.

To begin at the beginning

Introduce client and creator, whether in-house or external, and get them together in a meeting from the very start, even as the client is developing their objectives, so everyone’s on the same page from the get-go. Everything’s rosy at the start so that’s the best time to deal with potential problems. Reduce risk with a pre-mortem.

If you can’t organise a meeting, try to at least provide the creative with some email threads and minutes that show the client’s thought process behind the project. This kind of context helps people understand seemingly arbitrary decisions.

Having the client and the creative only meet when something actually needs doing, or not at all, can result in the content missing the mark and having to be reworked. Although this isn’t anything a good brief can’t solve.

Good brief!

Excellent content and a fast turnaround depend on a good brief. You need to be sure about what the client wants, when they want it and how they want it, and convey that to the creative clearly.

That’s not to say, however, that the brief should state explicitly what the creative has to do; it should just be sure of its aims and whom it wants to reach, otherwise the creator is just running blind and is far less likely to realise what the client had in mind.

Practically, this means providing the creatives with the client’s existing collateral, house style guides and buyer personas, alongside the brief, to keep the tone and messaging of the content on the right course.

Half-baked ideas and flimsy timescales create nothing but a lot of unnecessary rework and frustration when the creative is suddenly expected to write War and Peace by Wednesday. As I’ve said before, realistic and definite deadlines are necessary but they’re no replacement for good planning.

Knowing me, knowing you

As an agency, it helps having a good mix of in-house talent and external content creation partners, whether freelancers or other specialist agencies, each with their own particular skills.

This not only makes you much more flexible as an agency, but it also helps you to create client and creative couplings that gel, rather than trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, making everyone’s life a little bit easier.

You may not be able to predict when your client’s deadline crises will occur but you can prepare for them. Building that creative team before you put it to the test is essential. Find trusted suppliers, contractors and employees before you need them. Test your communication systems in advance. Meet them when the heat is off so you understand them better when the kitchen gets hot. Better to be Ferran Adria – cool, calm and collected – than Gordon Ramsey.

All in the same boat

Finally, obvious, but frequently forgotten, remember that everyone – you, the client and the creative – is working toward the same goal: generating great content that attracts customers and makes everyone look good.

This should be an egoless business – no point scoring, no hissy fits, no grudges. Sure, frustrating, stupid mistakes will be made, but everyone’s human. Ego-less feedback is essential

And this is the key to mediation enlightenment. Building long-term relationships with clients and external content creative agencies means that everyone gets a feel for each other’s tics, foibles and working practices, making the whole process a lot less painless and your job a whole lot simpler.

Hat tip to greg westfall for the photo, and to giphy.com for the gif.

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