In 1977, while in college, I had a summer job in a can manufacturing plant in Chicago, loading flat sheets of steel into a machine that fabricated one-gallon paint cans. The plant had 12 manufacturing lines, each with about 1,000 moving parts, with a dedicated “maintainer” to keep things running.
The maintainer on my line was Jerry, a muscular, tattooed, laconic, no-nonsense fireplug of a man who always had a giant 4-pound wrench in his left hand and who could lift 100-pound machine parts as if they were bags of cotton. Honestly, just looking at him scared the hell out of me. A Vietnam vet, he looked so tough compared with the students and professors who surrounded me from September through May. I knew he could kick my butt in a bar fight, but I satisfied myself with the certainty that I could kick his in a calculus exam.
Man, was I wrong.
Late Friday afternoon of my first week, as our shift was about to end, Jerry spoke his first full sentence to me: “Wanna get a beer?” Thirty minutes later, we sat on stools in a local dive that served pickled habanero, hard-boiled eggs, and pints of Pabst for 50 cents.
After a few moments of small talk, Jerry revealed to me that he had dropped out of The University of Chicago School of Physics to enlist in the Army and had volunteered for three tours in Vietnam. Over the course of the night, our conversation ranged from Mark Twain’s reaction to the death of his daughter, Alexander the Great’s failed strategy in Afghanistan, and even the value of multivariate analysis and linear programming for decision support. (I didn’t bring that up. He did.)
After many beers, I had the guts to ask Jerry something I had always wanted to know: What it’s like to fight at night?
“I don’t care what anyone tells you, you’re scared every second,” he told me. “Your only chance is to form your team in a circle, and everyone takes a section of the clock, noon to 1; 1 to 2; 2 to 3. Your job is to cover your field of fire, make sure nobody breaks through. You do your job, and you count on the guy next to you to do his.”
“What if he can’t?” I asked. “You have to cover for him, right?”
After a pause, Jerry asked, “Have you ever seen two baseball players go after the same pop fly? What happens?”
“They collide,” I answered, “and drop the ball.”
“Exactly,” Jerry said. “Everybody has to play their position. If the guy next to you can’t play his, or if he’s too busy playing yours, things end badly. Hopefully everyone has the training and skills to do their jobs. Of course you cover for the man next to you if necessary, but you hope you don’t have to.”
I still reflect on this conversation all these years later, and how Jerry’s lesson applies to content marketing.
I often find that brands, publishers, and agencies who are new to content marketing suffer from unclear articulations of roles, responsibilities, and deliverables. And often, people are placed in roles because they have titles that sound right, even though their skills may be all wrong.
While every company is different, the following may help you to understand how to define roles and responsibilities in your organization:
Who Owns The Strategy?
Does the business strategist, the brand strategist, or the content strategist own the strategy? Actually, it’s a partnership of the three.
The business strategist determines how content marketing supports your overall business goals. The brand strategist articulates the central message of your content experiences so that they reinforce everything good about your brand while dispelling the bad. The content strategist determines what content will be created or leveraged, when, and by whom in support of your brand and business strategies.
Who Owns The Messaging Platform?
Does the brand strategist own the messaging platform, or does the content strategist? Or maybe it’s the creative team?
The brand strategist owns the messaging platform, the content strategist owns the mission statement for your content—and it should tie into your messaging platform. Your creative teams are responsible to conceive ideas and create content that fulfills the mission while reinforcing the messaging platform.
Who Owns The Creation Of The Content Strategy?
This is critical. The content strategist owns content strategy and is the steward of your mission. Although there’s cross-discipline collaboration to pull it all together, don’t make the mistake of believing that anyone with “strategy” in a title can fulfill this role.
And don’t assume that the same content strategist who worked on your corporate website has the skills to help your company think and act like a publisher or transform your brand into a media company. Get someone with a media or publishing background that has handled the creation of strategy for hundreds or thousands of interconnected pieces of content in a high-throughput environment.
Who Creates Content?
There are no hard and fast rules on this one. The answer depends on where each content experience falls within the purchase journey.
Emotional content meant to invite consumer attention and generate awareness is often assigned to more conceptual creators. Creative teams with radio and television or film backgrounds thrive in this environment.
Rational content meant to lead consumers down the funnel and enable them to make informed purchase decisions is often assigned to creators with more technical or journalistic backgrounds.
None of this is to say that journalists aren’t conceptual and conceptual people can’t be journalists. There are many creators who cross those lines easily and often.
Who Manages Creative Teams And Approves Content?
Again, there are no hard and fast rules here.
Conceptual creative directors are often best at managing the creation of awareness-oriented content. For more rational content—especially large volumes of high-throughput content—a managing editor to oversee the work of writers and designers with publishing backgrounds works well.
What If The Creative Director And Managing Editor Disagree?
It happens, but not as often as you’d think provided your creative directors and managing editors work closely together, and provided you have a clearly articulated content strategy.
In those rare cases where they disagree, it helps to have your brand and content strategists weigh in.
Who Owns Ideation?
Of course, good ideas can come from anyone, but structure will help you survive as your content needs proliferate.
In most large enterprises, UX teams and content strategists work together to identify the various customer journeys. But things get complicated quickly. Many large enterprises include multibillion dollar business units, each with multiple sub brands selling multiple products in multiple countries using multiple languages and localization strategies.
As a result, there are usually numerous “customer journeys,” with each journey requiring highly conceptual and emotional content to build awareness. These experiences are often best conceived and executed by your more conceptual teams.
You will also need tons of rational content to guide prospects through their decision making. Rational content is often best created by those with journalistic backgrounds. Again, it’s good to be open to the thought that ideas can come from anywhere. But over the long term, asking conceptual people to develop rational executions will bore them, and asking rational people to develop emotional experiences will frustrate them.
The bigger your brand, the more people you employ, and the more siloed your business, the greater the likelihood of confusion over roles, responsibilities, and deliverables.
None of this is insurmountable. And there are no hard and fast rules about who owns what. But make it a point to clearly articulate roles, responsibilities, and deliverables at the start of every project. Otherwise, in an effort to be as helpful as possible, everyone will try to do everything, and balls will get dropped.