Why you need to do a content audit ASAP

December is my favorite month. The holidays are on the horizon, we’re wrapping up website-audit-icon1many of our projects and everyone at work is feeling a little merrier. It’s a great time to set the tone for the new year. If you’re a content marketer, it’s also the perfect time to do a content audit, so you can start fresh in 2017 and work towards your objectives.

Here’s why you should begin your content audit today:

Take stock of what you have, what worked, what didn’t. There’s a whole lot of content on your site. Organizing it in a spreadsheet allows you to examine the subjects you have covered and evaluate each piece of content using various metrics. This can give you insights into what performed well and resonated with your audience, as well as which posts can be archived, scrapped or edited.

Assess content relevance. Go through your organization’s Web pages to see which ones are pertinent for each of your stakeholder groups. The photos of this year’s volunteer appreciation breakfast may be of interest to employees, but they are likely not useful to all your prospects. Think of moving this type of content to internal-facing pages or creating a company social media page, in favor of posting audience-relevant content on your company Website.

Better organize your site. Use taxonomies to classify your content and determine which pages to keep, which to modify and which to discard altogether. Taxonomies can also help you to create relevant links across your site.

Get rid of useless files that take up server space. Some of the content you produced may not have performed well or it may no longer be useful. A content audit can help you identify these pieces and delete them in order to free up space on your organization’s servers.

Re-purpose quality content. Be sure to keep pieces that performed extremely well and that could be re-purposed. Perhaps you have an article that could be turned into an FAQ, a social media post or even a video. Content that resonates well with your audience can be flagged and used as a foundation for other stories.

Use results to guide your content strategy.  Once you’ve inventoried all your content and completed your audit, the outcomes will allow you to produce a more complete content strategy. Start with a clean slate and set your objectives based on what you have learned.

Begin 2017 on the right foot. Think of your content audit as a closet cleanse. Get rid of old, outdated items, rediscover classics that you can accessorize differently, make room for new boxing-day purchases and completely re-think your style strategy.

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6 Questions to help your clients think more strategically

We’ve all been subject to last-minute, one-off asks that don’t link back to specific 6e000ec02c7c93eef58146bcb1c63682.jpgobjectives and an overarching strategy. Clients get anxious that they are not meeting a target and decide that ‘something needs to go out’. Maybe they’re right; but whether that something is a news release, video, social media post or other tactic, it should definitely fit into the bigger picture. That’s where you come in.

Here are a few questions to spark strategic thinking:

(1) What are your objectives?

This may seem very basic, but it’s the most important thing. Ask your client what they are trying to achieve with this particular communication. Maybe they need a spike in sales before a particular deadline, or to sell out an event. Whatever the purpose, make sure it links back to your overall objectives.

(2) Why now?

Two weeks ago, after the ‘Brangelina’ breakup made headlines, Norwegian airlines came out with an ad that read ‘Brad is Single’, suggesting that customers hop on a flight to L.A to pursue Brad Pitt. Though some found the ad to be opportunistic and insensitive, others thought it was brilliant and funny. One thing is for sure – it was timely, and therefore got a lot of attention.

(3) How does it fit into the bigger picture?

This question stems from your objectives. If your client wants to send yet another email to all his/her prospects, you have to ask, how does this fit into the overall strategy? Will it lead to desired results, or will it just annoy people?

 (4) What is the key message and what does it say about your organization?

Whatever the tactic, your key message should integrate well with your brand’s identity. Every decision you make builds your customers’ perceptions, so if even you’re making one that’s not planned, its message should appear intentional and seamless.

(5) Is this the best way to achieve the desired result?

Make sure you consider all the alternatives. Will this move have the most impact? What are the costs and benefits?  If you and your client have asked all the questions and believe you need to take a leap, then you should. Now more than ever, quick thinking and off the cuff strategies are part of the communications game.

(6) How will you measure it?

Make sure your efforts are measurable and insist on evaluating the impact to see if it was worthwhile, how it could be improved and what could be done differently next time around.

One-offs happen and can sometimes be effective and crucial. However, a string of them can turn into decisions that don’t necessarily fit together or enhance your brand. Asking the right questions can help your client think strategically and make decisions that will work for them now and in the long run.

Stop predicting the death of content marketing

PR is Dead

Makes for a sexy headline, right?

Communications pros can be quick to declare the death of fields and approaches.

With the rise of digital media, marketing and PR were declared ‘dead’ on more than one occasion. Over the last decade, new technologies and communication processes have forced us to let go of traditional strategies and tactics in favor of increasingly interactive, customer-focused communication. As such, our efforts have evolved substantially, but the fields of marketing and PR remain intact.

Content marketing has emerged as an effective way to connect with our stakeholders using relevant and valuable content to drive traffic and sales. PR and marketing training sites have been abuzz identifying the best content marketing strategies, and organizations have created new positions or hired external consultants to address the growing need for good content

And yet, people are already starting to predict the demise of content marketing. That didn’t take long.

Here are a few reasons why content marketing is here for the long haul:

Content marketing has actually been around for ages. It may not have had a label, but people have been using content to elicit a call to action for years. Recently, we’ve had to step up our game to make it more interesting, funny, surprising or solution-oriented. This is largely due to the fact that audiences are inundated with so many messages – there is a greater need for content to stand out.

Good storytelling will always be important. People are always looking for good stories, funny photographs, interesting videos, etc. Whether you are a fashion company, a tech firm or a local business, your stories can make you more relatable to your followers.

Content is at the heart of social media. Your social media engine won’t run without good content. It gives your audience something to talk about and share with their networks.

The end objectives remain the same. In the end, you want people to feel connected to your brand or organization in a way that will stimulate them to choose you and share their positive experience with other people.

It’s audience-focused. If done right, content marketing is centered around your audience. They will always need information to make decisions, whether it’s buying a car, deciding where to go for dinner or choosing a charity to volunteer for. Engaging content that is focused on the needs and preferences of your target audience will help your brand thrive.

Content marketing is not a medium. VHS may no longer be around, but people still want to watch movies. You may not get the newspaper delivered to your door, but you are still check out the daily news on your smartphone. Technologies may disappear, but audiences’ thirst for stimulating information about products and services will not.

Evolution is natural. I think we need to stop predicting the ‘death’ of fields and processes. They are not extinct, just continuously evolving and taking on taking on different forms which may require new strategies and skill sets. This may be a less dramatic way of looking at things that makes for less sexy headlines, but it’s more realistic.

Content marketing is here to stay. So let’s keep doing our research, learning about our audiences, and re-inventing ourselves with the new technologies, tools and tactics that become available to us.

How content can help make your employees your best brand ambassadors

The HR sections of company websites have long cited people as their most important resource. After all, it is the sum of your employees’ dedication, collaboration and hard work that yields organizational success. When employees love and believe in their work they ultimately perform better.

Sharing.jpgIn the age of social media, the impact of employee satisfaction, engagement and love for your organization is even greater, because they can share it. Employees are your best brand ambassadors. They are friends with your customers, prospects and investors, and what they say about your brand in their news feeds will have more impact than the content that comes out of your corporate pages or paid ads.

Why? Because customers trust your employees more than your organization as an entity.

This is why you should leverage the power of your employees as influencers. Content can help you do this because it gives them something to talk about.

Here’s how you do it:

Collect awesome stories. It’s not enough that employees know your company’s mission, vision and brand story. They need to know about the everyday happenings that make your brand so special. Tales of stellar customer service, community outreach, or employee excellence need to be found and told, whether it’s through an internal portal, newsletter, social media site or a combination. These stories may not always be packaged impeccably like the ones told by the marketing team, but they are real – and people gravitate towards that.

Find the best way to share stories with your employees. Discover which channels your employees prefer using and share your stories there. Do your homework. Make sure you are offering news that interests them, in a format that doesn’t make them feel like they are doing extra work. This means nixing the 5000-word PDF newsletter in favor of short snappy lists, videos, quick facts, tweet chats or photos with captions.

Empower them to use social media. Encourage your people to be active on social media and trust that they will use it for good. Provide them with social media guidelines that highlight appropriate usage. Giving your employees the freedom to take mini social media breaks during the day allows them to relax a little, keep up with the news and connect with their contacts. The latter can have a positive impact on your brand when your employees share and endorse organizational content.

Ask your employees for feedback. Ask employees to share their own work stories and provide incentives to do so. Your people are in the trenches every day and often have the best story ideas – you just have to find them. Get their input on the storytelling and sharing process as well. You can do this through formal surveys, feedback forms and focus groups or informal chats with various team members.

Involving your employees in content production and dissemination makes them feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. It allows them to share their organizational pride with their personal networks while boosting your brand’s visibility. Your organization will greatly benefit from this more organic way of spreading news.

Why your content team is in a creative funk and how to snap out of it

One of the things I love about working in PR is the creative energy. The new approaches, cool ideas and interesting stories that colleagues bring to meetings or to the water cooler are what make this business so exciting. Snap out

Sometimes though, you experience a bit of a drought. Everyone at the office is a little quieter and it seems like people are just going through the motions. The stories pitched appear tired and the proposed angles boring. Everything is just a little – blah.

Creative funks can happen for a number of reasons. Here are just a few, paired with some suggestions to snap out of them.

(1) Stuck in the routine. Sometimes the daily grind gets to us. Somewhere during the process of strategize, research, pitch, write, post, monitor, repeat, people get caught up and forget that they need to venture outside the content producing machine to find new ideas, and more importantly, to keep their sanity.

Snap out of it: organize outings or activities to get people out of the office. Whether it’s for a walk or to grab a coffee, sometimes we just need a little distraction to get the creative juices flowing.

(2) Old school PR environment. Not everyone in PR works at a Fortune 500 company or a forward-thinking agency. A lot of content teams work for non-profits, government departments and industries that have not yet caught up with best practices in content marketing. Your team members may find that they have new ideas, but the context, budget or resources won’t allow these to come to fruition.

Snap out of it: Though you can’t change your organizational culture overnight, you can try to find projects that will give your team a creative outlet. Challenge them to find alternative ways of covering usual topics or formatting their pieces. Give them opportunities to research and pitch new ideas to senior management.

(3) Lack of team work. Although we work in an extremely collaborative field, we all have those times where we isolate ourselves and forget to use one of our most valuable resources – our colleagues. We think we are being more productive, when in reality we are spinning our wheels.

Snap out of it: Plan for structured brainstorming sessions where people bring forth what they are working on. Share ideas on content, angles, formats, photos etc. and encourage discussion. Make sure all team members have the opportunity to participate and that these creative sessions don’t turn into administrative discussions.

(4) Bad content. There is nothing content marketers hate more than producing puff pieces that we know no one will look at and that will yield poor results. Often though, internal politics force us to produce this type of content. Writing boring corporate-speak articles will make any creative feel like they are losing their edge.

Snap out of it: Find the hidden story. It may be difficult, but many times you can uncover something interesting about the corporate retreat, CSR report, or pancake breakfast. Encourage your employees to talk to different people involved and find an angle that will add some substance to a corporate announcement.

(5) Results fall short. When we put a lot of effort into a story or project and it doesn’t yield the expected results, our motivation can take a hit. We begin to doubt to ourselves and this has a negative impact our creativity.

Snap out of it: The essential takeaway here is that everyone goes through this. Sometimes it hits us a little harder and affects our creative mojo. Help your team members get to the other side by productively using their ‘doubt’. Look at what did not work and why. Map out an alternative plan.

(6) Too much or not enough competition. We’ve all heard it before: moderate competition in the workplace is healthy. However, it’s not always easy to achieve a balance. Some of us work on teams where there is a great deal of ‘die-hard’ competition. This type of environment can be toxic. On the other end of the spectrum is a lack of friendly competition, which can cause complacency.

Snap out of it: Fostering friendly competition by encouraging people to aim high will yield better results and keep people motivated. Make sure your employees know that their individual work is vital to your organization’s success by helping them set goals. Nurture a collaborative culture by showing how each individual’s contribution and their combined efforts will lead to the best results. Make sure to celebrate the victories along the way!

Creativity is such a crucial part of what we do. Let’s make sure we take the time to nurture it! What does your team do to foster creativity?

The in-house client: Common challenges and how to face them

Many PR pros who don’t work in agencies are part of in-house integrated communications teams that take on agency-like structures. Research has shown that this type of structure is one of the essential characteristics of the marketing organization of the future. 

If you are part of one of these teams, it usually means you are providing advice and production services to internal client groups. 

This type of work can be a lot of fun, as it involves cross-functional collaboration in the effort to reach common organizational goals. There are however, some challenges faced by the internal account executive in managing these important stakeholder groups—especially if the internal agency configuration is new to your organization.

Here are just a few common challenges:

1. Perception that you are a service provider, not a consultant. Often, internal clients see the communications department as the place that produces brochures, writes news releases, or posts social media updates. Some internal client groups will approach you with a specific request rather than seeking advice on an all-encompassing strategy.

How to face it: Close the gap between PR strategy and tactics. Educating your internal clients about the difference between strategy and tactics is essential. Show them successful examples of objectives and research-based communications and highlight the results. This will help them understand that campaigns work better than one-offs and that your department’s expertise goes beyond writing copy and designing email headers.

2. Perception that you don’t understand their needs. You may be a skilled PR pro, but this sometimes gets overlooked if you don’t have a great deal of knowledge regarding your internal clients’ field, product, or service. Your client might not trust your advice or approach if he or she feels that you don’t grasp their needs.

How to face it: Research and constant communication. If you don’t have experience with your clients’ portfolio, do your homework. Read up on their offerings, history, competitors, previous communication strategies, and market research—the works. Also, offer to have them give you a crash course to better understand their business. It will make things easier when the roles are reversed and you are providing them with advice. Plus, it will contribute to enhanced cross-functional collaboration and help you and your team do a better job. 

3. Endless back-and-forth on decisions. The absence of billable hours in an internal shop can mean your clients will repeatedly come back to you with changes in scope, suggestions, and modifications. This hinders the overall efficiency and effectiveness of your strategy and can hamper your ability to deliver a project on time. 

How to face it: Implement a proper workflow process. A structured workflow that takes your client from the research and strategy phase to building ideas, tactical plan development, implementation, and measurement will help guide your projects and create a sense of discipline and shared ownership. Putting a workflow in place requires you to identify the steps required to bring a given project to life, as well as the requisite timelines, accountabilities, approvers, and processes. Create a master milestone charter of all the steps, and get your client to sign off on it so that he/she knows that an extra round of corrections or a last-minute add-in will compromise your deadline or incur additional costs.

Internal communications shops are forever attached to their clients, which makes establishing a healthy relationship and process essential. Continuous internal education and workshops will help cross-functional teams to better understand each other’s work. 

As PR pros we should share examples of how agencies and other organizations do things to help our internal clients understand how we can help them achieve our shared organizational goals. 

This post first appeared on PR Daily.

Making the Case for Brand Journalism

The majority of PR and marketing pros are buzzing about brand journalism. Last week I attended a workshop hosted by

Making the case for-Brand-JournalismRagan Communications’ Mark Ragan (@MarkRaganCEO) and Jim Ylisela (@jpyjr) on The Company as Media – Your role in the age of Brand Journalism & Content Curation.

Here are just some of the insights from this workshop that can help us make the case for brand journalism in our organizations.

(1) A catalyst for integration. PR and marketing teams may have “beef” with brand journalism, because both functions think they should own it. Turning your site into a storytelling vehicle that provides content your customers actually want to read and share can have an impact on conversion. Why not use this as an opportunity for PR and marketing to collaborate more closely?

(2) Taking a balanced approach yields results. You are NOT talking about yourself; you are essentially becoming a trade publisher. Tell stories about your organization’s people and its area of expertise and pair this with content curation about the industry. Content marketing efforts should not be propaganda. Many companies hire journalists to act as internal reporters and take a more ‘unbiased’ stance and tone.

(3) Why write a news release when you could write a story? So many organizations are still tied to the news release. Some that have storytelling vehicles on their websites duplicate their efforts by using both. There is no need to do this with brand journalism. You can publish a story that resembles what a journalist would write on your site and then send a targeted pitch to your media contacts.

(4) Great content + engagement = success. Nowadays we have to make sure to get people to our site, but we also need to get our site “out there” (i.e. on social media platforms, via email, etc.) If you provide your customers with content that they find useful and interesting they will actually take the time to read it, and even comment on it or share it. By becoming a go-to source of trustworthy information you also drive them through the conversion funnel.

(5) Stories with impact. Your content should make your audience’s life better. It should be relevant, useful, entertaining, consistent, transparent, and targeted towards their needs.  It should practice what Mark Ragan refers to as ‘refrigerator journalism’ – so good that you want to post it on your fridge. Therefore, it should be free of jargon and corporate speak. Keep it crisp, brief and to the point – just like what you might see in your favourite magazine.

(6) The best way to showcase your expertise. Your organization’s brand journalism site is a vehicle to share the range of expertise you have that surrounds your brand. Mark and Jim use the example of Export Development Canada’s online magazine Export Wise that provides advice for Canadian exporters. The content looks like what you might see in The Economist. A brand journalism site can also be useful to your salesforce, as it allows them to easily share stories with clients or prospects.

(7) Creates brand ambassadors. Involve your employees in your brand journalism stories – they will be your best brand ambassadors. They have great stories to tell about your organization at the operational level. Content marketing begins from the inside: engage your employees and encourage them to share.

(8) Takes a strategic approach. Effective brand journalism begins with your strategy. Take a look at your objectives, resources, key messages. What are you trying to achieve? Start with a communications audit to take stock of what you are currently doing to connect with your stakeholders and how content marketing fits in. Build a content strategy, a news desk and an editorial process. Decide on which tools to use for your main site and social media. Determine how you will measure success on your brand journalism site and trace how it leads to conversion (leads, sales, relationships, etc.).

(9) Closes the gap between media sites and corporate websites. Your site doesn’t have to be dull, transactional and text-heavy. By turning it into media site, you can still provide the information and services that your audiences need, but keep them interested along the way. This means changing how we write stories and how we share on social to ensure that they are audience-centric, must-click pieces. Turn your press releases into features, convert expert evergreen interviews into blog posts and pull good stories from research and whitepapers.

Creating a good content marketing strategy and building a vehicle to carry it through is a lot of work. It requires rethinking the way organizations have done things for years and taking on a less me-centric approach to communicating your content. The workshop I attended really highlighted how brand journalism focuses less on corporate priorities and more on the audience. Often understanding that focus on the latter will benefit the former is half the battle.