No content marketer works alone. Even if people who make up a content team of one still engage with colleagues, clients, and contractors. And everyone reports to a boss.
Great, productive interactions and collaboration feel exhilarating and inspiring. But not all collaboration falls into that category.
Challenges always arise when people come together (virtually or physically) to strategize, brainstorm, create, publish, and promote content. Mistakes involving resources, content operations, and more can derail even the most promising projects.
We asked the speakers at Content Marketing World 2022 where they see the biggest problems happening on content marketing teams. Their responses should resonate with anyone who has worked with people (and that’s everyone). But they’re especially helpful for content marketers.
Managing #content teams isn’t easy. But the productivity that comes from successful collaboration make it worthwhile. Steer around common pitfalls with help from #CMWorld speakers via @AnnGynn @CMIContent @Canto. Click To Tweet
Forgetting the Golden Rule
It’s the same mistake people make managing anyone – they forget the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would do to yourself.
First, treat each other like humans. Be flexible. Be sympathetic. Constantly put yourself in their shoes. My entire team follows each other on social media and shares what’s happening in real life. (Psssst … Real life is work life. If you have to have “balance,” you should probably get another job.)
When you work by the Golden Rule, you work “nicer.” You also build fans from within so that our overarching marketing strategy of evangelism radiates from the inside out. – Kate Bradley Chernis, co-founder and CEO, Lately
Fitting people into boxes
I think this applies to managing any team. Many new managers will fit employees into a box based on the needs of a business. But what if you shifted your perspective and looked first at the needs of your employees? What makes them tick? What do they enjoy doing? What makes their work shine? Once you understand your people, it’s easy to match their skills with what the business needs. – Amy Higgins, senior director, content marketing, Twilio
Asking for everything in one role
I’ve seen so many content marketing job descriptions that are wildly unrealistic. Unless you’re a small company, it’s a mistake to expect any one content marketer to “do it all,” especially if the scope of content marketing and expectations for its impact are bigger than the scope of your resources.
Stop spreading your peanut butter too thin – it’s a recipe for burnout. Instead:
- Increase the size of the team and allow individuals to focus on the work they love/are best at (with the opportunity to learn and try new things).
- Stop doing all the things and do fewer things better. Like Drew Davis asked in his 2021 CM World keynote, “What if we spend our creative energy wisely on one outcome?” – Carmen Hill, principal strategist and writer, Chill Content
Hiring only marketers
Mistake 1: Hiring only people with marketing backgrounds. (People with diverse experiences and backgrounds make for much better content). Mistake 2: Siloes. Maximizing the collaboration between parts of the team and content mediums (blog, social, video, audio) to repurpose ideas and content into different formats is a key process to establish. – Jennifer Jordan, vice president and global head of content, Babbel
Including only content strategists and creators
Content marketing teams are too often limited to content strategists and creators only. If we see content marketing as a company mindset and a culture, then teams should include colleagues that benefit from the content and who may not describe themselves as marketers: sales professionals, product developers, CEOs, etc. The team should also include the people who facilitate successful content marketing: IT and tech, CFOs, etc.
Defining the content marketing team as a broader team helps to avoid Joe Pulizzi’s law No. 1: The Law of They Have No Clue What You’re Doing. Within the team, the implementation task force consists of a content strategist and creators who take the responsibility of bringing ideas to life. – Bert van Loon, strategist, CMFF
Looking for the same skills
One of the biggest mistakes in building and managing a content marketing team is too much focus on the same skills with the intention of producing a high volume of content. Teams should have diverse skills, diverse backgrounds, and diverse ideas and should be led by a data-driven leader focused on business results. – Bernie Borges, vice president global content marketing, iQor
Onboarding for specialization
Overspecializing is a big one. Instead of bringing on new people or agencies for every skill or channel, look for more T-shaped people (folks with broad knowledge across many content disciplines, along with one area of deep expertise).
There are times when a specialist is the right way to go, but especially for full-time hires, and especially if you’re a smaller team, you’re better off looking for utility players. – Andrea Fryrear, CEO and co-founder, AgileSherpas
Not saying no
A writing team’s bandwidth is not infinite, but many content leaders don’t have a framework or the confidence to turn down requests. This reactionary operational model may lead to burnout and, ultimately, turnover of valuable staff.
Every content marketing manager needs a process for managing and prioritizing content intake requests. This may include tying requests to broader marketing campaigns, gaps, and initiatives, defining standard pieces to be included in content bundles, and establishing metrics to determine effectiveness.
At technical B2B companies, it is highly difficult and inefficient to create quality content without consulting with a subject matter expert (SME). Support your team by evangelizing the business impact of content internally. Help clear roadblocks so your writers’ time is spent on sourcing and writing, not hounding unenthusiastic SMEs. – Wendy Covey, CEO and co-founder, TREW Marketing
Trying to do it all
The biggest mistake people make when managing a content team is thinking they can (and should) do it all, where small content marketing teams, or even one person, are expected to have expertise in copywriting, storytelling, design, demand gen, demand capture, SEO, organic social, paid social, podcasting, video marketing, blogging … the list goes on.
There is so much you can do with content marketing that it’s easy to overload your in-house team or feel limited by the available skillsets and time. But there is another option: outsourcing.
Working with skilled partners can help you achieve much more while alleviating pressure on your team. By doing this, you keep everyone operating within their zone of genius. I believe managing a high-performing content marketing team means balancing happy and engaged in-house personnel with strategic, nurtured partnerships. – Amy Woods, founder and CEO, Content 10x
Misunderstanding the editor-in-chief role
A lot of content folks graduate up into content marketing management and get frustrated about their role being so focused on project management, but that’s what the role of a good editor-in-chief is.
You need to train and set guidelines for quality, but you also need to manage the content calendar, educate others on how long types of content take to make, and spot when the team is creating two very similar assets that could be combined into one.
There is a lot of duplicative work on content marketing teams due simply to the lack of a dedicated project manager, which is the EIC’s job. – Tracey Wallace, director of content strategy, Klaviyo
Omitting quality assurance
Mistake 1: not having a quality assurance person or process. Mistake 2: not having a project manager.
As I’ve said, project management is not a nice to have for any project. It is critical for its success regarding scope, budget, and timing. When it comes to creative projects, project management is crucial to managing meetings, reviews, assets, and expectations. Project management should never be an afterthought. – Michael Weiss, vice president of consulting services and solutions, Creative Circle
Failing to build bridges
Allowing the content marketing team to become siloed would be a big mistake. It’s critical for the content team to build strong bridges to every other area of marketing.
Pair a content marketer with a product marketer and extend that to other areas of marketing, creating “pods” aligned to a single product area or persona. This supports content-driven collaboration that’s scalable and productive. – Ali Orlando Wert, director of content strategy, Qlik
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Not seeing value in integration
One big mistake that some organizations still make is not integrating the content marketing team’s efforts with those of the larger marketing department.
At best, this can result in the appearance that one group is unaware of the other’s activities. At worst, it can cost the opportunity to amplify messaging and ensure consistency. – Nancy Harhut, CCO, HBT Marketing
Always cross-train your team. In this era of the Great Resignation and COVID, it’s important to make sure that no one person is the linchpin of your team.
Your top performer may suddenly be out of the office with an illness or leave for a new job. Also, we’re all finally taking vacations and deserve some time unconnected from work. Projects can’t stop because one person is missing.
Cross-training team members to cover for each other can provide career growth opportunities. A team member may learn more about a different side of content marketing and flourish. Also, your projects will benefit from fresh perspectives. – Penny Gralewski, senior director, product and portfolio marketing, DataRobot
Possessing a team-only mindset
Overlooking individual motivations as a root cause of team performance issues. Team members can find all sorts of plausible excuses for not meeting goals. Handling them in a one-off way just addresses symptoms without changing the team dynamic.
Use content marketing tools like personas and journey maps to reflect on your internal team’s motivations for getting the work done and see if the team performance doesn’t skyrocket. – Jenny Magic, founder, Better Way to Say It
Ignoring the individual
It’s a mistake not to deeply understand the individuals on their team. As marketers, we spend a lot of time learning about our audience – building personas, finding out what motivates them, and understanding what makes them tick – all so we can create better content for them. Why wouldn’t we do the same thing with our teams? We should deeply understand them so we can manage them more effectively and support them in doing their best work? – Monica Norton, head of content marketing, Yelp
Not looking to the future
A common mistake that marketing team leads make is overlooking the team aspect. Your content marketing team is made up of individuals with unique experiences, goals, and passions.
I see content marketing leaders not helping their employees to define their career path. It’s important to understand where everyone on your team wants to go (which may or may not be into a leadership position), so you can provide the right growth opportunities.
A second mistake I see frequently is that marketing teams rarely have a good content library or information repository. Give your team, including marketing consultants, the resources they need to thrive. In way too many organizations, people are unaware of existing content that they can reuse, repurpose, or link to, leading to duplicating efforts. Similarly, templates for common deliverables like blog posts, thought leadership plans, and channel audits are a great way to streamline work.
A final mistake is when teams treat all content as lead-generation content, thinking that content must have a hard CTA that drives people into the funnel. That’s simply not how relationships are built and can undermine your content strategy. Sometimes, the best call to action is a piece of content that’s the next step in a learning journey, not in an immediate buyer’s journey. – Erika Heald, founder, lead consultant, Erika Heald Marketing Consulting
Expecting creators to be SMEs
The biggest mistake is thinking your content team can be your sole subject matter expert. Yes, they are experts, but their role is to be curators and generators that herald the brand’s voice. But they can only do so if other members of your organization proactively contribute meaningfully to the thought leadership desired by your audience. – Karen McFarlane, chief marketing officer, LetterShop
Looking only inside
From a brand perspective, one of the biggest mistakes I see is limiting content creation to the bandwidth of an internal team. No matter how niche or regulated your industry is, I promise you there are extremely talented freelance writers who can support your crew.
Prevent burnout internally by paying well for professional freelancers. This also presents your internal team with a growth opportunity they might not otherwise have at a large company.
Allow them to give feedback, edit, and manage external resources like their own micro-team, and you’ll help them branch out from a traditional content role and build their professional skill set. – Haley Collins, director of operations and content, GPO
Leaders who micromanage their teams stifle creativity. Leaders who ignore their teams create apathy.
If you lead a content marketing team, neither of these scenarios is ideal. You want to let creativity flourish on your team while assuring team members that you are there to support and guide them if needed. – Andi Robinson, global digital content marketing, Corteva Agriscience
Overlooking strategy and goals
Not understanding the actual strategy and goal driving the creation of that piece of content and then effectively communicating that to the team. If you don’t know what action you want each piece of your content to drive, you’re missing the mark. – Brian Piper, director of content strategy and assessment, University of Rochester
Not communicating your team’s mission
Mistake 1: Not having a goal for each channel. All channels must play a role. So, the one in charge of creating content for that very specific channel can always work with a challenge in mind.
Mistake 2: Your team doesn’t know what your content mission statement is. What happens then? Your team will implement dozens of informal guidelines, which means following no guidelines at all. – Cassio Politi, founder, Tracto Content Marketing
Diffusing the focus
Mistake 1: Unclear outcomes – just asking a team to create content isn’t enough. Exactly what are you trying to accomplish with the content you create?
Mistake 2: Too many outcomes – inviting your team to increase engagement, raise brand awareness, generate leads, become the industry expert, drive sales, and increase your search ranking with your content is asking too much of your team (not your content).
Define one clear outcome for your content marketing strategy and watch your team thrive. – Andrew Davis, author and keynote speaker, Monumental Shift
Expecting too much
Not getting out of their own way and thinking that one person can (and should!) do two people’s jobs. – Chris Ducker, founder, Youpreneur.com
Involving too many stakeholders
One well-intentioned inefficiency is an overly large group of client-side stakeholders, which can result in both content creation by consensus and approval paralysis.
Don’t get me wrong, we love enthusiastically engaged clients, but we also love leaders stepping up to be accountable for individual client-side teams. – Diane di Costanzo, chief content officer, Foundry 360, Dotdash Meredith
Not providing the foundation
It’s incredibly important to provide brand standards to your content marketing team. Each brand has its own point of view, voice, and do’s and don’ts. Make sure your content marketing team is intimately familiar with these brand standards to ensure your content looks and feels and sounds like your brand. – Brittany Graff, senior director of marketing, Painting with a Twist
Focusing on the little things
Mistake 1. A failure to understand the full process of developing/creating content and trying to micromanage each person and their responsibilities.
Mistake 2. Not giving your team the resources they need to be successful or the latitude to try and test new ideas. – Michael Bordieri, senior content solutions consultant, LinkedIn
Forgetting to give the tools
Failing to give their team the right templates, processes, and tech that can make them more efficient and effective at their jobs. – Paul Roetzer, CEO, Marketing AI Institute
Seeing only stars
They have good experiences with a few superstar writers, so they try to get along without content briefs and creative briefs. As a result, they cannot scale. They don’t have sources of truth, and they kill their writer morale with developmental edits that are unreasonable. – Jeff Coyle, co-founder, CSO, MarketMuse
Zigging and zagging
The big mistake I encounter with content marketing teams is not starting and following a strategic path with clear and identifiable goals. Content marketing is not easy. As a team, we need to decide what success looks and feels like before we begin a project.
Another mistake is not giving the team the resources or adequate time to be creative. Burnout is a real thing and can happen so quickly if you are not willing to prevent it or recognize it when it does happen. – Jacquie Chakirelis, chief digital strategy officer, Quest Digital/Great Lakes Publishing
Going for the wrong things
Focusing on quantity over quality. Spammy keywords or hashtags. Not getting feedback before posting content. – Tim Schmoyer, founder/CEO, Video Creators
Casting doubt with lack of information
Teams need certainty. Marketing teams struggle with creating a clear vision and a change plan for new initiatives.
Identifying influencers and who will be impacted is a key first step in getting the team to adopt new ways of working. Take a broader perspective and consider what you can take off their plate to improve team performance. – Melissa Breker, strategic business advisor, Breker Group
Telling content marketers what to create and focusing on tasks vs. outcomes can be serious errors. – Michael Brenner, CEO, Marketing Insider Group
Not writing things down
Not having a documented plan. Too often, what we do is kept in our heads and not duly noted and documented. It makes it very hard to share the plan with anyone else or for them to jump in when nothing is documented. – Meg Coffey, managing director, Coffey & Tea
Going in many directions
The biggest mistake is no clear editorial mission statement with a focus on a specific content niche. Without it, teams have no clear common goal. They might have a different understanding of the content qualities that would make the publication they contribute to the best source of information in the defined niche or who they write for.
We want them to be creative and to contribute their ideas and skills, but at the same time, the sum of all these efforts should have a single direction.
It’s like pulling a cart: If everyone pulls in their own direction, we will go nowhere. The most likely result will be inconsistent content with little audience resonance. – Igor Bielobadek, digital marketing senior manager, Deloitte
Forgetting content marketing’s roots
The biggest mistake I have seen — and made — is forgetting that content marketing is ultimately rooted in creativity. Yes, you need a strategy. Yes, you need structure. Yes, you need a keen measurement plan.
But you also need to give a team of creatives — writers, editors, photographers, illustrators, videographers, audio editors, and more — the freedom to experiment. Create a culture where thinking creatively is encouraged. Give people the freedom to have bad ideas and even fail from time to time. Because for each bad idea, there also will be a gem. And ultimately, content made by creators who feel free and love what they do will be more resonant. – Chris Blose, founder, Chris Blose Content
Discouraging creative workouts
Never strangle your content team’s creativity. Sure, sometimes boring stuff needs to be created. But if you can’t let your team flex those intuitive, creative muscles, they will move on.
That doesn’t always mean they need to write creatively. Sometimes, a new project or even a new framework can help them glow. It never hurts to ask them what they need to do their best work. It might not be what you think. – Gina Balarin, director and content queen, Verballistics
Fixing rather than teaching
- Knowledge sharing is critical. As a member of leadership, you’re privy to far more context than the people you manage. It’s critical that you share that context with your people. This can be anything from an emerging trend your salespeople are encountering on calls or a news story about your competitors. Give your people as much information as possible so they don’t miss out. Open an update channel on Slack (or whatever your chosen platform may be) and encourage people to share links and insights there. Then lead by example. Start dropping links and insights there, and your team will follow.
- Fixing instead of teaching. If one of your content writers isn’t hitting a point well enough or is missing something in terms of tone or message, don’t just rewrite it. Take a moment to pinpoint the actual issue and then let the person figure out how to fix it. If you rewrite them, they’re not going to learn and will keep making the same mistakes. Trust your people to fix their own work. They’ll do a better job than you, I promise. – Inbar Yagur, vice president of marketing, GrowthSpace
Assuming too much
The biggest mistake is assuming everyone remembers to create from an overarching goal. Producing content for social media requires us to move outside the traditional sales-driven content.
But we have to remember that we exist to complement and supplement our company’s business. It’s easy to forget that and just “play on social.” It all has to ladder up to the business goal, but in a voice and context relevant to the social audience. – Jason Falls, senior influence strategist, Cornett
Failing to work cross-functionally
Remember, content marketers may not be the right people to tee up your content for buyers within campaigns. This is where demand or growth teams need to work cross-functionally with content marketers to map the buyer journey.
Every campaign has a channel, and the content is often the destination. This mindset is crucial to getting your content marketers to think about their role in acting as the connective tissue within your organization. – Randy Frisch, chief evangelist, Uberflip
Failing to promote
One mistake would be failing to promote the content once it’s created. Public relations professionals are great at both creating content and promoting it, which is why I believe you shouldn’t silo off these two teams – they should be working together. Also, don’t overlook the role the social media team plays in this process.
Squeeze all the juice from each piece of content that’s created. That means if you write a customer success story, why not pitch it to your key industry publications? They may want to include it with a link back to the original piece on your site. Then, you can promote that on social media.
I’ve even had editors contact me about a client’s thought leadership piece or customer story they saw in another publication, asking if they can also publish a version of it. It works. – Michelle Garrett, consultant, Garrett Public Relations
Concentrating too much on numbers
They overmanage the campaign KPIs instead of managing the conversations (think conversations you want to be part of in your industry). They forget human metrics for people – joy, fun, experimentation, playfulness.
It’s a big mistake not to give teams latitude to experiment. The bigger mistake is not to remember that human metrics – humor, creativity, and joy – matter. Stop treating humor like a bandage for shitty culture and leadership. We have to stop treating it like campaigns and one-offs. It’s got to be part of your culture and how your team operates.
I see leaders often blaming marketers for bad content. If you don’t make it safe, fun, and part of the culture to fail, have fun, learn, and grow, your team won’t. Stop blaming marketers for crappy culture. If your culture sucks, so will marketing. – Kathy Klotz-Guest, founder, Keeping it Human
Thinking they know
Believing that content is simple because it looks simple. Great content should have elements that require cross-functional skills: SEO, images, writing, video, podcast, development, editing, etc. If you’re managing folks, be sure you understand what goes into their day and the duties assigned to them.
We all hate the ask for showing ROI, but it’s critical that content be aligned with sales and the messaging they need. Your team can’t just be creatives; you’ve got to understand pipeline attribution and the user journey. – Jenn Vande Zande, editor-in-chief, SAP Customer Experience
Make a better content marketing team
Think of these mistakes as fodder for self-reflection. After reading each, decide if the error happens in your organization or your team.
Then ask yourself if it’s really a mistake. You may find what doesn’t work for someone else might work for you (or vice versa).
Fix what you can and collaborate to address the rest.
The important thing is to review your content marketing team operations intentionally. And that’s never a mistake.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute