This post from Seth Godin (you are reading him regularly, aren’t you?) struck a cord. Having spent lots of years working at ad agencies, several months working as a freelancer, and several years in corporation/non profits in marketing communications roles, it’s easy to slide into the role of “intellectual order taker.” Tell me what you want, we’ll do it, would you like fries with that?

Not only is this approach a quick way to diminish your value to your organization or clients, it’s also a quick way to get bored and burned out on the job.

Speaking of jobs, I’m starting a new one next week. I’m moving back to higher education where I’ll be the director of marketing communications at the University of Cincinnati’s largest college. So…my posts will take on a more higher-ed spin in the coming months. Please join me for the ride!

Three reasons higher ed can win at content marketing

I spent some time on the campus of a local university yesterday talking about marketing and communications. A good hunk of my career has been spent on campus or in higher education organizations. There’s a lot of great things about working in higher ed – the energy of a college campus is amazing, and working with young people starting out in their careers is always a joy. What can be annoying is the slow pace of some higher ed professionals compared with those in the higher sector. But one area higher ed is winning is content marketing- here are three reasons why:

An alumni or university magazine is, essentially, a content marketing piece. That content needs to live beyond the 36 pages/3 times a year the magazine appears. Come back to that content to feed social media updates, development materials and recruitment pieces. Here’s how this could play out: Let’s say you write a great feature about a graduate who has gone on to be a successful actress in Hollywood. A year after the feature appears the actress gets another leading role in a TV show. If you’ve got a savvy social media strategy with an “always on” mindset, this news needs to be shared through all social media channels, but link back to the original story for context and background. An abbreviated version of the story can add some credibility to recruitment materials, and I think the fact that your fine arts program turned out a successful actress is darned sight more compelling than the usual “letter from the dean” asking for money.

The second way higher ed can win is to leverage students on campus to help produce the content. Journalism/PR students would love the chance to get a work sample, so why not assign some feature content to them? Student blogs are also a great opportunity to engage students and develop authentic content from enthusiastic undergrads.

Finally, I think universities and other higher education organizations can leverage the content already being produced by professors around campus to build a robust, compelling content calendar. I’m not suggesting colleges post the 200 page dissertation Dr. Smith did on the mating habits of the fruit fly, but if there are some fun bits of information that can be shared based on the paper. It means your marketing people or editors have to be plugged in to the academics around campus, but they already are, aren’t they?

Deus ex Structure

This is another “couldn’t have said it better myself” piece of content curation. Ann Wylie has a fantastic monthly e-newsletter that provides excellent writing tips. This month, she offers a real world example of taking a piece from sounding dry and corporate to giving the reader the information he or she needs effectively with a journalistic style lead and structure.

ImageStructure is important. Think like a reader, not like your boss. What is more important, that the company completed it’s rollout of blah-blah software, or that today you will have a new process for logging in to your computer, and here are the steps (in a handy, bulleted list, please).


Making the routine more interesting

I’m very proud to have something in this month’s PRSA Tactics about writing. I think the piece turned out well and I got some great advice from sources quoted in the article.

After I wrote the piece I was struck by a great example of making routing content more interesting. If you’ve been on a Delta flight the past few years, you’ve seen the subtle humor woven into the safety videos. The high-cheekboned, finger-waving flight attendant featured in the videos (Deltalina) has become a minor celebrity (she even has a Twitter account – @deltalina). I think this is a nice example of a brand not taking itself too seriously and having an appropriate amount of fun with a dry topic.

See the video here. And remember, smoking is nooooot allowwwed on any Delta flight!



You Get What You Pay For

I’ve ventured over to the seemingly endless array of sites offering freelance writing opportunities. I am shocked at what some organizations are offering to pay for, what I assume they hope, is “good” content. We’re talking .5 cents a word. $75 for a 700-word article. Ugh.

I wonder what $75 gets these companies. Something clever, well-thought out, well researched, quoting REAL human beings? I doubt it. More than likely $20 buys you a collection of Internet research from dubious sources. But, hey, at least you’re “content marketing.” This kind of “Content Marketing” prompted Kent Lewis to make “creating content for content’s sake” one of the 9 Marketing Strategies You Must Stop Using – Now.

I get that not everyone can do the gee-whiz stuff we see from RedBull and others. But, it’s very possible you don’t need that. What you do need are good, true stories about the great things your company offers. You need to put a face on your people. You need to share customer successes. That might be as simple as doing a Q&A with a long-time front-line employee. Or, develop a relationship with a good freelance writer who knows your business and pay them fairly. Good content takes time and research. And, that takes money.

Cut the Crap

I had a history teacher in high school (I went to an all-boys Catholic school in Cleveland) who was a bit nerdy… the poor guy would get tortured in class. When we’d get rowdy and he was close to going over the edge he would shout “cut the crap!” He’s probably in therapy now.

How does this relate to content marketing? I’ve worried for awhile that the quick growth of content marketing might be its downfall. As this excellent slide preso from Velocity points out, EVERYone is a content marketer now, but that doesn’t mean everyone is producing stuff that’s not, well… crap. Here are some tips on how to make relevant, useful, not crap-tastic content:

  • Leverage your brand. Know what you are good at, and what you aren’t. Tide should tell us how to get that stubborn stain off our sweaters, but they probably shouldn’t tell us what snow tires to buy. It might sound silly, but I’ve seen my share of social posts from brands talking about stuff that is at the fringe of what they are known for. Go back to your brand positioning statement or promise. If your blog post, social feed or CRM efforts don’t feed into and amplify what your brand is, they very likely are off the mark.
  • Tell a story. Good stories center on people. Mine your organization for the people who embody your brand and write about them. Chances are, your customers already know and love them.
  • Solve problems. Does our content solve problems or simply try to shoehorn prospects into your funnel? A few jobs ago (in the days before social media) I worked at a B2B agency where the PR function was, really, content development. We produced great looking, entertaining custom publications for our clients. These publications focused on key industry problems we uncovered after some serious research. You should do the same. You know the pain points. Help eliminate that pain.

I hope the tips above will help keep your content out of the crapper!

Content is for Everyone

Many organizations look at the amount of content required for a sustainable, effective marketing program and are concerned they don’t have the writing horsepower to pull it off. But as this post points out, the work can easily be spread out to many people, even those who are *gasp* outside of marketing/PR or corporate communications.

When I worked in the corporate communications function at a “large, multinational company” I found some of our best content – the stories that really demonstrated who we were, came from the front-line associates, call center workers and manufacturing floor. Yes, it takes someone with an editor’s eye to hone that content for mass consumption, but that’s an easier task than starting from scratch!


Shiny objects

ImageA couple of blog posts I looked at this week (see here and here) confirm what most of us who’ve followed the rise of content marketing for a long time: content marketing — whether you call it native advertising or custom publishing — is on the rise and will continue to be a big part of the discussion this year. This post offers 7 tips on setting up a content strategy for your business. I really liked this post from Eric Wittlake on finding the trends in your industry underlying the shiny object de jour this year.