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From the Trenches

Stop Listening to This Bullsh*t About Content

Yvonne Lyons | June 5, 2015
Stop Listening to This Bullsht About Content

Everyone has these weeks. Crazy things happen that make you shake your head, people put a wrench in your plans in some way or other, you hear things from clients or prospects that seem, um, preposterous, and it becomes just “one of those weeks.” So it’s Friday (and we usually post on Thursdays), so this is one of those weeks at Right Source. I’ve seen a bunch of things this week that really made me say, “That is bullshit.” (Can you put that in a post?) And so we have this blog post.

It’s common to write a blog post about a “how-to” in your industry. Maybe a “what you’re doing wrong.” But this week in particular, I have come across several instances where those just don’t apply. I’ve heard things that just aren’t true. They aren’t right. People are confused. Don’t misinterpret this as a girl who isn’t liking what she’s doing. Quite the contrary—I love what I do and where I work, but when too many nutty things happen in your content world in one week, you have to speak up. So, I’m going to set the record straight on a few content areas from this week.

PR and content marketing are the same thing. Bullshit. PR can be a great complement to a well-thought-out content marketing program, but it’s not the same thing and shouldn’t be a substitute.

This is how my week of BS started. This week I heard a prospective client say that they needed a content marketing firm to create really good content but wanted help hiring a PR agency to help place it with the media — as in, that’s the next step after you create the content. Who confused these people? While it’s true that someone has to create the content to give to the media, that content is not usually the same content that a good content marketing firm creates.

Content marketing — strategy, messaging, content creation, and distribution via your own channels and syndicated sources — if done successfully, will attract and engage your audience, generate leads, and create brand awareness. PR can bolster earned media and garner new eyes for your brand. They don’t do the same things.

You can’t find good freelance writers out there to address your subject area. Bullshit. Even jaded editors and content managers sometimes feel like they can’t find writers. I understand this. I even feel like this occasionally. Sometimes clients think it will be impossible to find a writer who knows their industry. My colleague, Bob Keaveney, offered tips for finding writers in specialized industries in his recent post. And I often use recommendations from colleagues to find new writers if I need them, but I recently spent time looking for writers in a very specialized industry on both mediabistro and on LinkedIn. If you’re telling me that you’re only finding a vanilla sea of freelance writers, maybe you just aren’t searching well. Try using LinkedIn’s fairly robust advanced people search function. Get specific and tell LinkedIn what you’re really looking for by using the Boolean operators. Are you really looking for someone who writes and edits, but who specializes in cyber security, but not IT security? You can do this on LinkedIn and narrow your search. Try this tip sheet from LinkedIn. Although it’s set up for those few people and firms using LinkedIn Recruiter, the same Boolean operators will work in the advanced search section of your LinkedIn version, as well.

There are just two types of writers. Bullshit. I might have been the one to put this idea in your head in the first place, so sorry about that. I have written several posts about the difference between journalists and content marketing writers, but I’d like to introduce you to a third type of writer: the researcher. Sometimes this writer is hiding inside the journalist or the content marketing writer, but not always.

The big difference between the journalist and the researcher is that the latter is someone who is willing to dig in and do the type of ferreting of information that is required for a grad school thesis. Content marketing is about educating, and while many journalists are good reporters, in very niche areas, especially in B2B content marketing, there is much more of the investigating and researching side of that job involved than the reporting or interviewing side. A curious, energetic, and detailed researcher is invaluable to keep content fresh and engaging, especially on complex topics.

You can execute before you plan. Bullshit. I know we say this a lot. But we do that because it’s true. So many prospective clients want to just start “doing” without creating a plan first. Danger, my friends. I have no idea how you decide what you will do, or how the “doing” will address your marketing or business goals if you don’t plan. You’re really just hoping it works, but in the end that will be really hard to measure, and if you are lucky enough to have some success, you won’t know why you had it. Make a plan, then execute.

It is possible to get really great content really fast or for pennies. Bullshit. During my bullshit week, someone requested content with a crazy short deadline and a budget that was much less than the minimum that we normally pay writers. Here’s my question: Do you need time to do your job well? Interested in being bargained down on your salary to still do the best work possible? Welcome to the world of the freelance writer. Sure, part of that comes with the job choice, but there is a level of respect that comes with the relationship you establish with the folks who write for you. Just like you need to provide them with quality information and resources so they can produce quality content, you need to offer reasonable fees and time for a project. Writing is a thinking job, not just a doing job, and that takes time. A good writer will research, write, revise, edit, review, and then send the content to you. If you want them to leave out some of those steps, go ahead and rush them, or maybe don’t pay enough. Offer people time to do good work and you will actually get really good work back. Rush them and the work feels rushed when you get it.

Your in-house writers will always deliver when they say they will. You know that’s BS. You can send all the reminders you want, but if you’re using your own staff to help get that content out on a regular basis you’re going to run into some trouble spots. I know you worked hard to get everyone to buy into this content marketing thing. And they seemed excited about it. But the fact is that writing for your blog (or whatever the assignment might be) is probably not part of the normal to-do list for these folks. And their “real work” gets in the way sometimes. And then they whiff on the content marketing assignment. And… there goes your editorial calendar. So if someone, like maybe my colleague, Will Davis, who may or may not have been scheduled to write this week’s post, doesn’t turn in that content you thought was coming, what do you do? Write the blog post at the last minute, perhaps? That can be pesky (and may or may not be what I am doing right now). What you really should have is some kind of pool of backup content that you can pull out in this situation so you don’t have to be the go-to writer. Now, if too many people whiff, you’ll run out of backup content and you’ll be right back to being the emergency writer again, but at least put the plan in place. You’ll sleep better.

Next week will be smooth sailing. I can feel it (for one thing, Will is going to write his post for sure). Need help with planning? Download our eBook, “Build Your Content Marketing Plan: A 10-Step Guide.” Need guidance on clearing the rest of the BS from your content week? Get in touch — we can help.

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About Yvonne Lyons:

Yvonne Lyons is Right Source’s vice president of creative services, overseeing content and design for all of our clients. She ensures that all creative produced at Right Source is of the highest quality and is aligned with our clients’ business strategy and goals. Yvonne received a bachelor’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University in writing and literature and has more than 20 years of experience in marketing, branding, and communications.