By Stephanie Conner and Allison Thomas
Without smart strategic planning, the big wins just don’t happen. Every decent coach (and content marketer) knows it’s true. You don’t make up plays on game day, and you don’t build a content plan while you’re creating content.
Now, do some teams attempt this? Of course. But very few can pull off this kind of Hail Mary pass. And even if they do, what’s the cost? Harried and disjointed marketing teams. A frenetic pace that negatively affects people’s happiness and team morale. Typically strategic players hastily throwing assignments downfield without thinking about their strategy and goals. And that’s before you get to the financial penalties — rush fees, fumbles and work that fails to align strategically add up.
Yes, we realize it’s still just the beginning of fall, but for content marketers who want to start 2019 off right, with a detailed content plan that aligns with their marketing plan, it’s time to get going.
Here’s a game plan we recommend:
Early October: Draft Your Players.
Because it’s officially the start of Q4, it’s easier to begin pulling people into planning conversations. They know the year is winding down, and they can more readily recognize the value of diving in to 2019 discussions.
In early October, your calendar should include meetings with your key stakeholders, from marketing team leaders to as high up in the business as your access will allow. Seek to ascertain:
- What are our business priorities for 2019?
- Are there any expectations for content?
- What metrics will we be judged on for 2019?
- What resources are available — or can be made available if a business case can be made? This includes the internal people you can rely on (and a full understanding of their skills and bandwidth) for content creation, as well as a budget for outsourcing.
Late October: Huddle Up.
Brainstorms can be hit or miss in terms of whether they work (and yes, we know science suggests they don’t), but you still need to understand the stories you have to tell, and you can’t do this alone. So, regardless of how you structure the information-gathering process, ensure you get input from others.
Maybe it’s off-site meetings. Maybe it’s a virtual brainstorm. Maybe it’s everyone in a room with a dry-erase marker and a whiteboard. Maybe you bring in an outsider to facilitate the conversations and ask questions.
No matter the format, keep in mind:
- Your players’ skills and strengths. Different personalities thrive in different settings, so know your team and how they’ll best be able to contribute.
- Other teams (and fans). Think beyond marketing/communications. Invite engineers, salespeople, receptionists, accountants and executives into the process.
- The kinds of plays you need to make. Have questions ready in advance. Because if you say, “What stories can we tell?” people might not have anything to say. But if you ask questions that get people to tell you what they know, they’ll feel useful and you’ll get what you need without anyone feeling pressured to be creative. Pose questions like: “Have we won any major awards this year?” or “What are everyone’s hobbies?” or “What are the most common questions we hear in the call center?”
November: Create Your Playbook.
Now is the time to take everything you’ve gathered and compile it to create a plan that aligns with your marketing plan. We’re talking about more than writing “Q3 video” in a column for video comms. Your content plan should have assignment-worthy titles and descriptions — the kind where you could give the info to a team member and they’d be able to run with it.
It should include your basic content strategy for the year and delineate the stories you plan to tell and the mediums you plan to use — month by month, week by week. And when you’re done, be sure to get buy-in and sign-offs from execs.
December: Prep Your Plays for January and February.
Remember: January content creation doesn’t start in January. It starts in December — or sooner! If you haven’t already, make writing assignments, get to work on new logos and design templates, and engage with web developers. Start getting your ducks in a row for on-time, on-strategy execution.
With a clear plan for the year and some advance preparation, you’ll have more time to immerse yourself in the content creation process rather than having to pause every day, week, month or quarter to strategize, and then rush through the creative execution. It’s a challenging exercise that takes time, but the wins make it worth it. Need to draft some help? We’ve got you covered.