Today's marketing automation will mean less content work tomorrow, right?

Funny thing: IBM promised to tame the "paperwork explosion" through the widespread acceptance of its latest technology, the Selectric typewriter. The year was 1967. You know what happened next: Paperwork increased.

Fast-forward five decades. "Automation" technology dominates the marketing conversation, promising to reduce or eliminate manual processes. But you know what's happening right now: Manual work is increasing.

Our marketing automation platforms are voracious beasts that demand constant streams of fresh content for multiple target segments. The workload is huge—but in many, if not most, offices (even among enterprises), the teams responsible for creating that content remain small. It is not unusual to find one- or two-person teams laboring to create as many as a dozen content pieces a month for three, six, or ten different segments.

Less Creating, More Ring-Leading

How can such small teams create that much content? They can't. But they can manage the content-creation process if they rethink their roles.

Instead of serving as content creators, content marketers can direct teams staged in a sequence of rings, like the ripples in a pond or the circles within a dartboard.

As a content "ring leader," you oversee content creation among the following three circles.

1. Center Ring: Core Content Producers

This is the ring smallest in size but greatest in significance. In this ring, your core content marketers become producers who not only create but also edit, manage, and expedite content creation—regardless of who actually executes the work.

Like the editor of a major magazine, your job is to...

  • Ensure consistency of message with the brand, the overall marketing strategy, and the more granular content strategy
  • Assign work (to yourself, your team, and to others) that fulfills your content objectives
  • Edit, review, and revise created content to meet predetermined standards
  • Manage and oversee the content pipeline: who's doing what work when, in accordance with your calendar and your marketing objectives

2. Middle Ring: Internal Subject Matter Experts

In your organization, you have allies, whether you or they acknowledge it or not. Often, they're not marketers, but they are either close to your product or service (engineers, designers, product managers, tech staff) or close to your customers (salespeople, consultants, and customer support staff).

Most internal experts will readily trade their insights for exposure, but few have the time (or skills) for actual content creation. So don't regard them as content creators but as knowledge contributors. Their job is to...

  • Inform marketing about new products, services, features, functions, and benefits: what they are and what they mean to customers
  • Inspire new content based on the organization's experience: how customers benefit from your products and services; success stories and testimonials; how-to wisdom that can be packaged (and repackaged) in a variety of content formats
  • Provide on-the-ground insight on what customers and prospects are thinking and feeling: their hopes and fears, desires and challenges, aspirations, and frustrations
  • Serve as a source of expertise, most commonly as interview subjects for articles, blog posts, whitepapers, podcasts, webinars, speaking engagements, and more

3. Outside Ring: External Content Creators

You cannot create all the necessary content yourself, yet you do not have the budget to sustain more full-time employees. Fortunately, you don't have to, because there's a world of independent talent eager to serve you. Many of them have a great deal of experience in your industry, offering content-area expertise deeply relevant to your market. Under your management, these freelancers offer you attractive advantages:

  • You pay them only when they contribute. When there is no work, there is no financial burden on your budget.
  • They offer deep talent in writing, illustration, design, video, audio, etc.
  • Freelancers, by virtue of their independence, can provide objective judgment and critical insight that can check the corporate Kool-Aid (if you allow them to...).

Tips for Managing the Division of Labor

Once you've defined the various content roles and put your teams in place, you need to make judgment calls about responsibility or "who gets what task." While context (industry, company size, location of workforce) will shape the distribution of assignments, here are some general principles to apply:

  • Center ring gets the short stuff. People ask me all the time, "Should I use freelancers to create the short-form social media work, like blog posts, tweets, or 'grams'"? Consider this rule of thumb: If it takes as much time to explain the assignment as to fulfill it, do it in-house. Your people are closest to the action and best positioned to flip the small stuff quickly.
  • Middle ring: make the most of their time. These people are busy. Honor their time by planning to draw multiple content pieces from each interview/engagement with them. Record your conversations and get transcriptions of the results (they're cheap!). Use the resulting material as fodder for blog posts, podcast snippets, e-book content, case studies, etc.
  • Outside ring gets the long stuff. Let the freelance talent take on the time-consuming projects: videos, whitepapers, e-books, websites, etc. They've built their practices to manage those tasks efficiently.

    Think of these projects like household handyman work: Sure, you could replace the kitchen faucet if you absolutely had to, but it would take you four hours and require you to make a trip to Home Depot for the tools you don't have; or you could call a plumber and have the job done professionally in one hour. It's a no-brainer.

Three Additional Ways to Do More With Less

This ring-leading concept is just one of four you can read about in the joint Kranz Communications/MarketingProfs e-book, 4 Clever Ways to Create Without Going Crazy. So quadruple your content creation power by downloading 4 Clever Ways today—the stress you reduce can be your own!

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How to Create Tons of Good Content: Make Yourself a Content Lord of the Rings

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image of Jonathan Kranz

Jonathan Kranz is the author of Writing Copy for Dummies and a copywriting veteran now in his 21st year of independent practice. A popular and provocative speaker, Jonathan offers in-house marketing writing training sessions to help organizations create more content, more effectively.

LinkedIn: Jonathan Kranz

Twitter: @jonkranz