By Michael Ferrari | January 8, 2016| Content Creation, Content Marketing
Let me start by getting personal for a moment: I love content. I love it so much, in fact, that I kind of hate calling it “content,” as I think the term makes it too easy to generalize and commoditize the amazing work that comes from the writers, artists and developers of the marketing community. Make no mistake about it: content has (or at least should have) its roots deep within the creative arts.
Because content is such a creative, artistic endeavor, it’s so easy to screw it up. Yes, content should be a creative venture. But it should still be a profitable venture, too. Sometimes, that can make for a tough balancing act during the content creation process—something I’ve learned from experience over the past few years.
Leaning too far to one side of the creation/profit camp or the other, you (and by extension, your team and clients) open yourself to a host of issues that could very easily derail your entire content creation process—which could in turn derail your entire content strategy, and maybe even your marketing goals as a whole.
The following is a list of some of those derailing factors that I’ve encountered in my content creation experience, as well as the lesson I’ve learned from said derailments. Some of these may be no-brainers, some of them may not be—either way, I’ve learned from the challenges these experiences have brought upon me, and I’m hoping you can as well.
Like I mentioned, content is often a creative venture and any creative venture worth doing requires time to breathe and bloom. Because of that, it’s important to make sure you have the time needed to properly dedicate you and your team to a project. By time, I mean not only billable hours, but literally the calendar time needed to properly build and execute content.
Like everyone else in the marketing world, I’ve tried my hand at using infographics as the backbone of a content strategy. On the surface, infographics seem easy: you have some facts and copy laid out over some pretty graphics. You have a copywriter and designer on your team—this should be done in a day or two, right?
Wrong. Surprisingly, a lot goes into an infographic. For one, you don’t just need copy; you need interestingcopy—often in the form of facts or statistics. Facts and statistics require research, which requires time. Know what else requires time? Building a dozen unique vector images to accompany each point laid out in the infographic.
No matter how simplistic a content piece may be, it’s going to take time to do it in a way that stands out above the competition. Communicate with your team to get a better idea of just how much time each player needs to create their absolute best work. Once you have that time estimation, increase it by 25 percent to cover any incidents or revisions that will inevitably occur.
I listed these first two derailments next to each other for a reason: setting adequate time for a project is the first half of the equation, while setting up milestones and meetings within that timeframe is what makes it work.
I’m a firm believer that the creative mind works best when it’s unhindered by the realities surrounding it. That’s my flowery way of saying that if you want a creative to hand in their best work, you need to leave them alone and let them do what they do best.
That said, one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made was following this philosophy to a fault. By not keeping up with copywriters and designers, it’s not only easy to lose track of the project’s progress, it’s also nearly impossible to catch any errors that may occur during the content creation process. Next thing you know, the project deadline is a day away and you have 10 pages of copy on the wrong topic because the copywriter misunderstood an aspect of the project.
In a perfect world, creative minds would get to work in the kind of vacuums they need to develop the best possible work. But it’s not a perfect world and mistakes happen—in fact, they happen all the time. To prevent that, build frequent milestones and meetings into your timeframe.
This is sort of a no-brainer, but most people hate meetings, which make them easy to shrug off in a crunch. By planning milestones and scheduling meetings to discuss said milestones, you ensure that a project is still on track while there’s still time to handle any problems that may crop up.
By and large, ambition is one of the best things about working in the creative space. It’s a potent, volatile fuel that burns hot within the creative mind and forces it to push out the kind of work that transcends simple “content” and pushes it closer to being a piece of art.
Unfortunately, ambition can be every bit as dangerous as it is advantageous. I was recently reminded of this when tasked with creating—what else?—an infographic. Where others saw the opportunity to create a by-the-numbers infographic, I found the opportunity to go bigger by creating an animated infographic that would truly express the content while stimulating the imagination of its viewers.
Had I ever created an animated infographic before this? Nope! Was I going to let that stop me? Of course not! I’ve created regular infographics before; How hard could an animated one be?
So, I promised the client an animated infographic in a relatively short amount of time. What could go wrong? Spoiler alert: Everything.
Aside from taking way longer than I should have to establish a workflow and research the information needed for the copy, I also burned through an embarrassing amount of time while trying to master the basic mechanics of the animation. Even after figuring out the process, the actual implementation caused me to push back the deadline repeatedly (something that could have been avoided if I had been mindful of the first derailment).
There is no shame in having limits. In fact, recognizing and appreciating your limits—whether they’re creative or something else—is the first step to surpassing them.
With that said, it’s not really a good idea to test your limits on the client’s dime. It’s not fair to them and it puts you in a terrible position, especially if you fail. If you’re going to push yourself (and your creative team) past your limits, make sure it’s something reasonable and attainable.
By now, it’s pretty obvious just how much I view content as a creative endeavor. Marketing, of course, is a natural fit for those of us in the creative field, as it provides a lucrative way to do what we love for a living. Unfortunately, that love can sometimes cause projects to derail, especially when creativity runs out of hand and leaves the original goals and KPIs in the dust.
The fact of the matter is, the whole reason a content piece is being created in the first place is to reach some sort of goal and, ultimately, profit from reaching said goal. It may be link building, it may be opening up a new traffic channel, it may be getting more contact forms filled out—whatever the goal is, it’s the sole reason for creating a content piece.
As much as we creative types believe it’s about making artistic and stunning content, the fact remains that it’s ultimately going to be used as a marketing tool. It’s when that fact is forgotten that problems arise such as missed milestones, missed deadlines or delivering a final product that looks much different than originally planned.
Don’t let creativity run out of control. While it may be more enjoyable to let creativity reign supreme over any content creation project, it offers more opportunity to stray from the original, metric-based goal of the content in the first place. Finding that happy place between creative harmony and marketing success is really the key to any successful content marketing strategy, and striking a balance between the two is paramount.
A lot of people feel that the content creation process goes like this: A client hires you to do something and you do it for them. That process is very true to a degree, however, pedantically following that rationale is going to leave both you and the client holding a half-assed piece of content that may never perform to its full potential.
This fact bit me hard a while back. After creating what was a great content piece to use as linkbait, we handed it back to the client as planned. In order for this content to build links as it was intended to, the client needed to be involved in various promotional tactics such as posting it on their site, sharing it through their social networks, creating press releases and more. Instead, they sat on their hands (and the content) and didn’t do much of anything with it.
The content went largely unseen and the client never saw a return on the time and money spent creating it. In retrospect, this all could have been avoided if we had held the client more accountable. When a client hires you to create content, they’re entering into a partnership with you. That partnership should be dedicated to creating the best possible content and making sure it drives in the best possible results. If they’re not holding up their end of the deal, the success of the campaign could suffer for it.
The fact of the matter is, nobody knows the audience the content is meant to reach better than your client. Because of this, they can not only offer great insight on the project, but can also elevate its success in the marketplace.
Just because they’re paying you doesn’t mean they should be hands off on the project. Keep them in the loop as much as possible—from conception to execution—and make sure they’re held accountable for their milestones just as you are.
Whether you’re an independent contractor, working within an agency or part of an in-house team, there’s a lot that can go wrong in the content creation process. Ideally, most creative teams would have processes and practices in place to prevent the sort of issues listed above, but even if they do, it’s still possible to derail the content creation process by overlooking the tiniest of issues.
How do you avoid that? Once a project is done, take time to reflect on it before moving to the next one. Spend an hour brainstorming and writing down whatever thoughts about the project fill your head. Do it as a team if that helps. By taking a minute to breathe and look at the project after it’s complete, you can learn from past mistakes while preventing new ones from occurring in the future.