Managing content marketing projects can be as involved and complex as the process of creating content itself. As a practice, content marketing operations involve a lot of moving parts, and keeping teams in sync while moving forward at the same time is no easy task. Sometimes, simply hitting a deadline (any deadline … just one, single, miserable deadline) can feel like a monumental achievement, let alone scaling your publishing cadence and hitting your KPIs.
Feeling overwhelmed just reading that paragraph?
It’s okay if your answer is “yes.” There’s a solution to your content workflow woes, and it’s one that’s come to us from the world of software development. It’s called agile marketing, and even if you’re not totally sure what that term means, it’s probably something you’ve heard about before.
If you haven’t gotten started applying it to your content marketing though, now is the time to start. According to a recent CoSchedule audience survey, marketers who use agile processes were 252% more likely report success. Only 37% of marketers in the same survey report applying agile though, with 37% saying they’re unsure if they apply it right now.
That adds up to lots of wide open opportunity for forward-thinking content marketers to get in the game (potentially even before your competition). Here’s how to make getting started easy.
What’s Agile Marketing and Why Should You Care?
Agile is best thought of as a project management framework that helps teams eliminate inefficiency and produce higher quality work in less time.
It enables teams to streamline processes, workflows, and communication in a way that makes meeting deadlines and staying under budget more easily achievable. While it has its roots in the web development world, marketers have adapted its principles to meet their own needs.
Rather than relying on the “big campaign” model of creating one rigidi annual marketing plan and sticking with it, agile marketing prizes rapid iteration and adjusting tactics based on data to drive greater success. Content marketing in particular is well-suited to this approach, allowing teams to test different tactics and channels in order to optimize their approach for best results.
Understanding the Agile Process
Part of what makes agile so effective is how easy it is to understand the basics behind it. While actual implementation can be more complex, with lots of room to tailor processes to fit your own needs, its principles are clear and simple.
Start With Understanding Scrum, Sprints, and Cross-Functional Teams
Scrum is a methodology for planning projects from start to finish, and it’s an important part of agile marketing. It involves forming cross-functional teams (meaning teams made up of members with different disciplines) and bringing them together to complete projects and campaigns.
In a marketing context, this might mean bringing writers, editors, designers, developers, and analysts together (rather than moving pieces of a project between separate siloed teams). Team members fall into three categories:
- Team members: Individual contributors on the project.
- Scrum master: A leadership role overseeing the project.
- Product owner: CEO or senior stakeholder.
That team will then plan out each phase of the project in two-week increments called sprints. This requires each team member estimating how long their tasks will take to complete. If necessary, multiple sprints can be planned as necessary.
Each day throughout the sprint, the team will meet every morning for 15 minutes to discuss the following points:
- What they did yesterday: A short description of the work they carried out.
- What they’ll do today: Summarize what will be accomplished by the end of the day.
- What’s preventing them from proceeding: If there are any blockers stopping a team member from getting their work done, the scrum master will help them solve the issue.
At the end of the sprint, the team will hold another meeting called a sprint retrospective. This offers everyone an opportunity to look back at the previous two weeks and reflect on the following points:
- What went well? Celebrate your wins and highlight successes.
- What didn’t go so well? Talk openly about mistakes and failures.
- How can the team improve in the future? Share how you’ll avoid mistakes next time.
Here’s an end-to-end visualization of how this process works from start to finish.
Okay, But How Do I Actually Implement This Stuff?
By now, you understand enough about how agile works. But, actually getting your team to work this way successfully will be something else entirely.
Fortunately, you don’t have to do everything all at once in order to see the benefits of agile. Anecdotally speaking, our team at CoSchedule has found when customers do as little as hold one scrum meeting every morning (and do nothing else), it makes a massive difference in terms of everyone on their teams understanding what’s going on and improving collaboration.
Now, if you have ongoing projects you execute on a regular basis (like blog posts that aren’t directly tied to a broader campaign, for example) you might not need to go all out implementing everything detailed here (though standups and retros are great for that type of work, took).
But, for bigger projects, campaigns, and content initiatives, following this process step by step as much as possible will help you deliver better results.
Start By Prioritizing Your Projects
You probably have no shortage of ideas for content, nor broader campaigns where content plays a part. Making sure you’re making the most of your time means prioritizing the most important work first.
One way to do this is to follow what CoSchedule co-founder and CEO Garrett Moon would call the “10X marketing” framework. The idea is simple: focus on doing the work that’s most likely to drive outsized returns. Things that make your results 10 times better, rather than the marginal 10% efforts that are so easy to get bogged down with.
This isn’t exact mathematical science. It’s more important to follow the spirit of this idea than to expect your work will deliver a literal 1,000% return. Speaking from experience, this philosophy works.
However you currently plan your projects (whether that’s one calendar quarter at a time, or another method), do so following these guidelines of 10X marketing:
Next, Write a Creative Brief
Once you know what you’ll do, it’s time to figure out how you’re actually going to get it done.
The easiest way to get started is to write a creative brief. This is a concise document that outlines your project goals and requirements for completion. They don’t need to be complicated, but they should include all of the following information:
- Project Summary: Two to three sentences describing the project.
- Target Audience: Who is your project intended to reach?
- Measurable Goal: What are the KPIs this project is intended to move the needle on?
- Process: Add a list of high-level steps required to complete the work.
- Deliverables: What actually needs to be shipped or published?
- Team Members: Who needs to be involved in the project?
- Timeline: How long will it take to complete the project?
- Resources: What will the team need to finish the work (budget, tools, etc.)?
Try to keep it down to one or two pages at most. You’ll use this document to provide the team with something to reference as they work through the project, and keeping it as clear and simple as possible is best.
What it looks like isn’t super important, either. Just create a shared doc that’s easily accessible for your entire team, and keep it in your chosen cloud storage (Google Drive/Docs, Dropbox, etc.).
Share the Creative Brief in a Team Huddle Meeting
Once you have a simple creative brief, you now have a scaffolding to help your team build out the project. But, you won’t have all the details on every piece that you need.
That’s where a team huddle meeting comes in. These are collaborative meetings where you gather the team to get everyone’s input on the project, understand what they’ll need to finish their pieces, and put all the steps in the correct order.
You’ll also get time estimates so you can start mapping out a timeline for the project.
Here’s how to make yours successful (it doesn’t need to be complicated; it can literally be boiled down to a handful of bullet points):
- Create a simple slide deck: One to summarize the project, one to describe its goals, and another to list everyone’s steps and time estimates.
- Open the floor to discussion: Have a conversation with your team about which order each person’s steps should come in. This will help you put everything into a logical timeline.
- Get in front of potential roadblocks: Keep the discussion free and open enough to let the team express concerns about potential roadblocks now, before you run into them later.
That’s it. This will give you the information you need to move forward.
Plan the Project as a Sprint
The next step is to map out the project as a sprint using whatever type of software you’re using for managing projects (most likely spreadsheets or a dedicated app).
Let’s break this down in three steps:
- Start with the first step in the project. Then, set a deadline for this step a day or two longer than your team member said they’d need. Building in buffer time allows some cushion in case something comes up.
- Follow the same process for the next step. And make sure team members understand what’s needed before they hand off the project.
- Identify steps that can be completed concurrently. Can two team members be working on their pieces at the same time? Stack those tasks and save time. For example, a front end designer could be developing wireframes, while a writer does research.
By the time you’re done, you’ll be able to visualize all the deadlines and handoffs for every phase of the sprint. Generally, sprints should take two weeks to one month to complete. If you need to set up more sprints, just repeat the whole process again.
Run Retrospective Meetings to Reflect on Project Performance
Once the sprint is over (or the project is complete), hold what’s called a retrospective meeting. To reiterate, this is a meeting to discuss:
- What went well?
- What didn’t work so well?
- How does the team intend to improve in the future?
What Makes Retros Useful?
It’s easy for content marketing teams to focus all their energy on creating, to the detriment of analysis, measurement, and self-reflection.
These meetings force teams to stop, take a moment to assess how things are going, and commit to continued improvement.
Before you can see that value though, you’ll need to know how to run them. Fortunately, that much is simple.
A Simple Approach to Running Retros
To run them well, do the following:
- Block off 30 minutes at the end of each week. Make it a recurring calendar invite so it doesn’t get skipped.
- Set aside 10 minutes for each of the three points the meeting will cover. This makes sure you give equal time to everything that needs to be discussed.
- Have a consistent means of storing your notes from each meeting. It can be as simple as using shared docs (with Evernote, OneNote, Google Docs, or any other tool) with the simple headers “Bests,” “Worsts,” and “Lessons Learned.” Include the date in the title and headline on each doc to keep them organized for future reference.
That’s it. The hard part? Actually acting on your own advice and applying the insights from your team gathered in retros to your future projects.
Make Your Content Marketing Agile Now
This is a high-level introduction to agile marketing, and getting deeper into the nuts and bolts of the practice can get much more complex.
However, you now have enough information to get started with the basics, which can carry you a long way toward success. In fact, the process outlined in this post is very close to the same process used by the team at CoSchedule, and it’s one you can adapt to your own needs too.
Here’s to ditching inefficient processes, and making your content marketing more effective.