Working with creative writers, editors, and designers is a great way to scale content with your business. Traditionally, many companies employ a content manager who maintains the brand voice as well as a team of in-house or contract creatives who execute the vision. As more hands touch the content and represent the brand, the content manager needs to make sure that the product is consistent with the company’s goals. Use the following steps to make sure that your team members have the information they need to produce on-brand content while requiring minimal editing.
Include aspirational content examples
Start with the style guide and brand guidelines
Before any writer or designer can start producing content for your team, the creative needs to become familiar with the style and branding of your company. Graphic designers need to know how a logo should be used, what colour choices are acceptable, and what fonts are approved. Both writers and designers should be briefed on the tone, audience, and type of content you’re seeking.
A thorough style guide will include aspirational content examples; indeed as we often advise when designing a content marketing workshop, a good place to start on blog strategy is to look at other blogs that you admire. Have your team review your past content, and point out what you like and don’t like. Try to explain the strengths and weaknesses of the content. Does the colour scheme interest you? Are the sentences too choppy? Concrete feedback about why something is good will help your team understand your thought processes and ideas.
This review is crucial for making sure your creative team knows what types of content will be acceptable and what will not. If your style guide directs creatives to avoid humour, for example, you shouldn’t find any joking in a draft.
Concrete feedback about why something is good will help your team understand your thought processes and ideas
Make a detailed creative brief
We’ve always thought the creative brief is a misunderstood tool and lost art among marketers. Your creative brief sets the tone for what your writers or designers decide to do. Some people think that providing an abstract thought or two-second explanation will give teams the freedom to stretch their wings, but the lack of information actually leaves room for misinterpretation, as Southerly CEO Shelley Hoppe explains: “The results of a bad brief are at best interesting, but not fit for purpose, and at their worst both lacklustre and inappropriate.”
A poor creative brief is infuriating to a creative team as well. Team members don’t enjoy guessing what the client wants and how the client wants it. Further, teams don’t enjoy making extensive edits or redoing an entire project. While editing is a valuable part of the creative process, a successful brief can lower the probability for necessary dramatic changes.
Your creative brief should offer a big picture of the project: Why do we need to write this material? Who is the audience? What do we hope the content will give people? How will people act after experiencing our content? If your team members understand the purpose of the content and what they need to do to meet specific goals, then you and your team will be in a good place.
A successful brief can lower the probability for necessary dramatic changes
Use the project directions to answer any questions
After you review the big-picture creative brief, dive into the details with clear directions. These directions can go article by article or graphic by graphic and explain what each assignment is and how the team can execute it. Most of these instructions should include the following information:
- Expected word count or length
- Brief of what topics the article should cover
- Examples of subheads or topics
- Resource links
As a best practice, include a few examples for subheads to start, but allow writers to come up with their own ideas through research. They might think of something that you overlooked, and they can use this opportunity to learn more about the subject.
Ask newer creatives to submit outlines
When you start working with a new creative team, be ready to take a hands-on approach. If you’re working with someone who has never written or designed for the brand before, ask the creative to offer an outline with subheads and content plans before writing the first article or designing the first infographic. Point out what sections won’t work — and explain why in clear detail — so that you don’t receive a finished draft with large unusable sections.
Many graphic designers prefer to send outlines and wireframes throughout the process, because these tools give them the security and confidence of knowing they’re on the right track. If both the client and the creative team have agreed on the outline, then your creatives shouldn’t have a hard time turning the approved directions into a finished product.
If you task a creative to stick to an outline, then you need to follow this guide as well in role as manager. Don’t ask for more sections or cut irrelevant information if the material was approved in the outline. Creative briefs, outlines, and directions help all parties feel like they’re in agreement on what’s expected. You want to avoid the rising tensions that can result when one party ignores an agreement.
Creative briefs, outlines, and directions help all parties feel like they’re in agreement
Keep a resource bank for research and inspiration
With any luck, you will continue to work with your creative team for projects. To make your team more cohesive, make sure team members have access to information that will help them continue learning about your industry and company.
Consider sending a weekly update email to your creative team with news you found interesting during the week. Heidi Cohen of the Content Marketing Institute suggests that curating content can also provide information. These updates can be simple and can contain three sections: industry news that might affect the company, content that inspires you, and articles that team members might find helpful when researching their topics. When you find something interesting, save the example in a folder, then send the inspiration at the end of the week.
Your creative team members will continue to learn and adapt as they work with you. The longer you work together, the better you can become at working as a team, communicating, and creating effective content for your niche.