Ask Amanda About Marketing – Episode 8: An Inside Look at the Content Development Process

Back from vacation and rocking a head cold, but the show must go on!


And by “Valentino,” I mean “T.J.Maxx.”

This week, I talk about what actually goes into creating a successful content campaign in terms of process and timeline, so if you’d love more insight in that area, this is a can’t-miss episode about the content development process.

, Ask Amanda About Marketing – Episode 8: An Inside Look at the Content Development Process

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This podcast seeks to answer your questions about content marketing and digital PR with straightforward, actionable tips. You can find all episodes here.

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Episode 8: An Inside Look at the Content Development Process – Show Notes

This week’s question comes from content executive Scott Taylor. He emailed:

One issue that I’ve come across while conducting content marketing and the following outreach is time and project management. As I heard you say you’ve worked specifically in project and account management, I was wondering if you had any advice on how a content marketing piece should be delivered.

Mentioned Links / Additional Resources:

Content Production

The first thing you have to do is set up the appropriate internal expectations. This will help you develop a project timeline that is sensible and achievable, giving your team confidence in completing the content campaign successfully.

Each campaign will have similar steps, but the proportion of time spent on each step will vary based on the idea and its scope. To create quality content, you will have all of the following steps:

  • Idea generation
  • Data gathering/research
  • Data/research analysis
  • Outline creation
  • Writing/design/development
  • Quality assurance/editing

If a campaign involves extensive data collection and analysis, expect to put more time in this part of the process. If you plan on creating an interactive graphic, the actual design and coding will take up the majority of the time.

Once you have a solid estimate of what resources you need and how long it’ll take to produce the content, you need to set the appropriate expectations with your client or higher-ups in your company. You do this in two ways:

  1. Education: Explain the reasoning behind the ETA and provide details about each stage of the projects and the timeline flexibility necessary to create good work.
  2. Communication: Nothing builds trust and understanding like communication. At the very least, provide status updates at each new major stage of the production process.

Content Promotion

The truth here is this timeline will vary dramatically based on your goals and the type of content you’ve created (like how general or on-brand it is).

A lot of it comes down to your strategy, as well. Paid promotions is easier to control, but if you do personalized outreach like we do at Fractl, a lot of it revolves around whether you’re pitching for an exclusive placement or not.

An exclusive placement means the publisher is the first to publish the new data/information you’re providing to them. This value means they’re more likely to run the story. We call all outreach after the exclusive goes live the “syndication process.”

Emailing writers regarding the exclusive takes up to two weeks, and that time investment is crucial to succeeding in this strategy. How long you spend on the syndication portion will depend on how much natural syndication occurs from the exclusive coverage. (Some sites have more built-in natural syndication than others.)

Ultimately, how long you spend promoting something should come down to the conversation you had with your client about what success looks like and your team’s expertise on whether the content has more potential to be picked up by media sites.

Have a question you want to submit to the podcast?

Email me at [email protected] or comment below!

Have any additional insight for Scott? Post it in the comments! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Full Transcript:

Welcome to Ask Amanda About Marketing, a podcast in which I, Amanda, or occasionally a special guest, answer your questions about inbound marketing. Straightforward, right? If you want to submit a question, email me at [email protected]. I’d love to hear from you. Let’s get right to it.

So I want to start this episode with a quick apology for being a little late in publishing this episode. I got back from my vacation and ended up with a pretty bad head cold, so I didn’t want to record this yesterday when I was sounding pretty terrible. I still don’t sound really great, but definitely better than it was yesterday. So, sorry for being a little late, but I’m really glad to be back. I had a great trip on the West Coast road tripping from Seattle to San Francisco and I feel refreshed and ready to dive back into marketing.

So this week’s question is from a content executive in England named Scott Taylor and he sent me a great email with a bunch of different questions. Unfortunately, I can’t answer all of them in one episode. But for this episode, I’m going to address one of the things he talked about which was related to this. He said:

“One issue that I’ve come across while conducting content marketing and the following outreach is time and project management. As I heard you say, you’ve worked specifically and project and account management. I was wondering if you had any advice on how a content marketing piece should be delivered.”

He then went on to mention that, as we all know, different content pieces are going to vary greatly in the amount of time they take. But when you work on projects like Perceptions of Perfection or America’s Best Airports—which are both campaigns Fractl produced and I’ll provide links [for] in the show notes—when you’re working on extensive projects like that, he’s basically asking a little more insight into what that looks like behind the scenes. What does it take to make that and how long does it take to make that?

Everybody knows, okay, you have to go out and create great content. But what does that actually look like? What does that mean? How long does it take? What do you need? What is the process like?

So that’s why I’m going to talk about today. I’ll start with the actual content production and then touch on promotions at the end. But the first thing, when you’re about to produce content, you have to set internal expectations.

So before you even think about talking to your higher-ups or talking to your client about it, you have to feel comfortable with your own team about what you’re going to need to accomplish this, how long you’re going to need, and if that information is all available.

Like Scott said, every campaign is going to be different and that’s really something you have to remember always. Because you have to take this time up-front to decide your estimations for what this specific campaign’s idea is going to take. The good news is that almost every campaign—at least we found this internally at Fractl—every campaign has similar components and the main difference is the proportion of time and resources that each portion is going to take.

So let me run through that really quickly to give it a little more clarity. For example every campaign—if you’re going to be producing something of quality—is going to involve a research stage. All this comes after actually coming up with the idea—that is almost its own entire category really crucial category: How do you come up with an idea that’s going to work?

But when we’re talking about actually producing content, the research and data collection stage is going to be one of the most time-consuming. This is going to range. Sometimes say your methodology is to run a survey. If you’re working with a really broad audience, that could take a day and then you have, you know, a couple more days to analyze the data.

But sometimes, like Scott mentioned, some of our projects are a little more in depth. For example, Perceptions of Perfection involved reaching out to designers in different countries and having them edit an image. That takes the effort of finding these designers, reaching out to these designers, waiting for them to respond, then waiting for them to edit the images.

You’re not always going to be one hundred percent sure how long they’re going to take, but what you need to do internally is decide how much time you think is reasonable to allot to those tasks. And if you’re really unsure then run a test, is one option. So for example, for a survey, just survey 10 people and see how long that takes if you’re planning a survey of a thousand. Or if you’re going to reach out to people like we did before Perceptions of Perfection, reach out to a couple and see if they even respond to you. This will give you an indication of how difficult it will be overall.

The second thing you can do is look back on campaigns you produced in the past. How long did those take? What types of campaigns were they and why, if there was a lag, what caused it so you can prevent it from happening in the future? So make sure that you are analyzing the research component of it and exactly what you’ll need to do and spell this out so the whole team is aware.

So you’re starting really strongly when you’re creating a timeline. Once you have all the research and data you need and you’ve analyzed it—which that portion and itself could take a week or multiple weeks—you’re in the planning stage. This is when you’re essentially looking at all the information you got, comparing it to your original idea and objectives, and making sure you can still pursue the project in the way that you had envisioned and that the information is what you were hoping to gather.

If it is, then your next step is to outline exactly what kind of content assets you’re going to create. Are you making an infographic? Are you making a landing page? Would this be better suited for an interactive? Mapping all of that out so that everyone who’s going to have a stake in this project knows exactly what you’re going to produce.

So what exactly would be in an outline? The actual names of each content asset that you’re going to create. The exact information that’s going to be on that asset. A lot of the time, we use Tableau to illustrate the data and show exactly what that graph or the illustration is going to look like. All of this is going to tell the designer exactly what needs to be designed. Everything should be communicated at this point of the planning stage. There should be no question about what the final asset should look like.

Obviously, there will be a little more creative flexibility with the designers and the developers when they take it over but everyone internally should know, okay, this is what we’re doing and this is what it’s going to look like at the end. The planning stage is also a great time to have your client or your higher-ups review the project. If you go any further from here and you have to make edits, it’s going to take a lot longer in “post-production” to fix things.

At this point, you’re going to have all the information you’re going to use and having, you know, the stakeholders review at this point is going to be crucial because they’re going to approve all the information you plan to say and the angle you plan to take and the way you’re going to tell that story. So this is always a good point to take a pause for a minute and make sure everybody reviews who needs to sign off on this.

All right. So at this point, you have a plan. Now it’s time for the third stage which is execution. The amount of time this is going to take is going to vary on the size of your team and the resources that you have and obviously the budget. So this is going to involve designers, writers, potentially coders, developers depending on the complexity of the project so because you have an outline, you have a plan, you’re going to know how extensive some of this work is going to be.

So that’s what you have to consider, even in the idea stage. You have an idea of what it’s going to look like at the end, but it’s during that planning stage that you’re really solidifying what you’re going to pursue in terms of the type of content asset.

So for the execution, it’s making sure that you have a timeline, even just for that portion. And obviously, if you’re going to create a simple infographic, it’s going to be much shorter to produce than an interactive or an animated GIF or something of that nature.

Just a quick note here: complex does not always mean better. Actually, you should never really look at a campaign and think that it’s complex. You should think that it took complex data and communicated it simply. So if the information can be communicated really simply in the form of an infographic that’s really shareable and clear, that’s probably the best way.

But if you have a lot of complicated information, maybe a huge dataset that nobody can make any sense of and an interactive can break that down in a really visible, clear, concise manner, then that’s the best way to do it. Never try to overcomplicate data by making something that looks fancy or impressive because it’ll become convoluted and hide the message.

Then finally, you’ll have the quality assurance stage, the fourth stage of the process. So once you actually have your campaign completed, you’ll want an editor or a fact checker or really all of the above to go in, scour your project with an objective point of view, and make sure that everything is accurate is clear, grammatically correct, and just completely packaged to perfection.

As with everything, this will take a few days, but it’ll range depending on the complexity of a project. If you got data from somewhere else and you need to double check the names of things or the sources and the fact-checking component is really thorough and you have to confirm a lot of math, that might take more time than something that’s based on internal data that you’ve already checked multiple times, right?

So again, a lot of this is about setting internal expectations when you’re deciding how long an entire project is going to take. You need to break it down to these four stages: research, planning, execution, quality assurance. Decide what those different proportions are going to be and allot time for each one. Instead of thinking about a campaign as just this one thing that you’re going to make, breaking it down into these four stages will help you get a little more perspective on it and get you a more accurate estimate.

After all this, you should have a pretty clear idea internally of what to expect. But the next thing you have to do is set the appropriate expectations, either with the stakeholders within your company that you’re reporting to or with your clients. So once you have the idea, the internal timeline, and the resources that are going to be necessary, the first thing you need to do is add some buffer days to those timelines because no matter what no matter how efficient you are, how experienced you are, something will come up every now and then and it’s good to have a couple days built in to respond to issues that may arise.

Then, aside from simply telling your clients that you have the timeline and here’s the estimate, there are two ways to make sure expectations remain aligned and realistic. The first way is through education. Not only are you going to provide ETAs, you’re also going to explain why you came up with that ETA.

This is what a project involves. These are the different stages. Get your client involved with the process. Have them understand what it is you’re doing. They can’t see what you’re doing at your company. They don’t know what you work on from the day-to-day, so giving them some more insight there will make them feel more at ease about giving you all this responsibility to make content that they’re really excited about. How much you tell them is going to vary by client and I know you’re probably sick of hearing this “it’s going to vary by ‘blank’” answer but obviously not everything is black and white and not everything’s going to apply across the board. However, I do have a tip about how to figure out how much to tell your clients.

This isn’t an honesty thing or an open communication thing. You should always be honest and open, but some people just honestly don’t want to hear everything ever about the campaign. They’re hiring you to do it. So some clients aren’t as interested in the minutiae of creating something and others are! They’re fascinated by it. They want to know everything about it.

So here’s how you can gauge how much they actually want to know. Think about their questions and really pay attention to the questions they asked at the beginning of the engagement and up until this point. Are they asking, for example, questions about the nitty-gritty, like, how did you come up with this information? Like what sites did you pull it from? How did you pull it?

Those kind of questions are going to be—they are interested in the details. But if most of their questions are about when are you going to get this done, what is going to be the result of this campaign, what does this mean for the big picture, that means that that’s their sole concern.

Everybody’s going to be concerned about results but if those are the only types of questions they’re asking, probably not going to worry so much about the day-to-day tasks that are involved in getting it done. However, you should always give a baseline amount of information about how it works because even the people who may not think that are interested in that sort of thing probably are.

It’s going to make it easier for them to understand what these projects entail and how they work and it’ll be easier to work with you and create a stronger engagement. But really paying attention to the types of questions they ask will help you decide how much information to unload on them.

With education being the first thing, the second thing is communication. Like I mentioned, you don’t want to overload clients with information, but you definitely don’t want to under communicate. That’s probably the worst thing you could ever do when working with a partner. At the very least, you should be providing an update every time you reach one of those major stages.

So once the research is completed, saying what you found, where you’re at, what comes next and that’s the bare-bones amount you should be doing. But if you come up with an established, maybe weekly update system, whatever you think is going to work best for that particular client, then keep them updated.

It’s their campaign that they’re hiring you to make. They’re excited about it and they want to know what’s going on. If you run into a time when you don’t think you have a lot to update on—maybe you’re still doing research or the designers are still working on something, you know, depending on your relationship with your client—maybe just send them a snapshot. “This is what the designer has done so far. We’re really excited about it and we’re going to send you over the full design in a couple of weeks,” or whenever you establish would be the ETA.

So aside from production, then you have promotions. The promotion’s timeline is going to vary based on what kind of promotions you are doing. Paid promotions is much easier to decide exact time frames for that. But if you do what we do primarily, which is more of the organic route of personalized pitching to get media coverage, that’s going to depend on whether or not you use the strategy we use, which is securing exclusive coverage.

And what I mean by securing exclusive coverage, I’m talking about reaching out to publications and saying, we really think you’re a great fit for this, this is brand new information and you would be the first to cover it. So that strategy adds a lot of value to the content since it’s really newsworthy and timely and new and it means that you can probably get higher authority publishers to pick it up.

However, if you do incorporate that strategy, which we highly recommend, you have to allot a certain amount of time just for that portion of promotions because it does take a couple weeks to secure that exclusive placement. Plus you have to consider that before you even start pitching, your team has to do the research on the different writers of the publishers who are going to be good fits and really understanding and learning about them.

So that’s a couple days or weeks right there. And then you have the actual pitching process. So a couple weeks for pitching the exclusive. Once the exclusive goes live, then we’re talking about what we call internally the syndication process. For syndication, the amount of time you’ll allot is going to depend on how much natural syndication occurred from your exclusive placement.

Some sites have a lot of great natural syndication. Sites will just pick up their stories because they’re really authoritative and they know they’ll be great. Others don’t have as much of an inherent network built in so you have to do more syndication on your own, pitch other publishers you think will be good fits.

So, all in all, whether production or promotions, the time is going to vary. What you have to know up-front is the strategy you’re going to use, the resources you have, how many members of your team are available to work on this, how much time they’ve taken to do it in the past to gauge how long it’ll take them to do it now, the scope of the project and which portion of the production’s going to take the most time—whether it’s the research or data collection, the planning, the executing, or the quality assurance and then depending on the type of promotions you plan to do, and finally—and I didn’t mention this before—what you decided success looks like with your client. That’s going to help you decide what kind of strategy to use.

Thanks again for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, click subscribe. Don’t leave me with the realization that I’m talking to no one and please rate and review on iTunes so I can keep making this podcast better and your lives easier. Take care.

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