What every marketer, product manager, web owner and CEO currently craves is commercially advantageous fame, via the deployment of killer content.

If you’re getting into content production on a serious scale you need systems, hierarchy and good old-fashioned editorial quality control.

Remember the bit at the beginning of Fame where the dance teacher snarls: “Fame costs. And right here’s where you start paying for it – in sweat”?

Marketers, product managers, web owners and CEOs are looking for fame via content. This could be:

  • Content which converts customers,  whether it’s crafted ecommerce copy fixes, or long tail content marketing.
  • Content which gets sucked into search engines and emerges, triumphantly relevant, at the top of organic search rankings.
  • Content which builds long-term brand loyalty and relationships (what The Gap calls ‘bonding’).
  • Content you can own, repackage and pour forth across all platforms.
  • Content which gets commented on, tagged, retweeted, repurposed and, in the case of copy, perhaps even printed on paper.

Yet many people expect this content to appear, sweat-free, without embracing any of the rigour, processes and pain associated with traditional publishing.

Many of the digital marketers I meet, miserably inform me that they are expected to magic this content out of a combination of product managers, marketing assistants, internal stakeholders and web managers, all of whom had a full-time job before responsibility for supplying high-quality content got dumped in their laps.

How short-sighted of us not to look to traditional publishing and learn from its structure and systems.

How misguided of us to assume our organisations will be transformed into publishing houses, simply by purchasing a clever CMS.

How risky to assume that becoming a content publisher won’t also require internal restructuring, training and a sophisticated editorial strategy to follow.

My very first job was in a big B2B publishing house and I remember well the strict hierarchy and constant and lively negotiation between those in charge of achieving commercial objectives and those responsible for editorial standards.

You could say perhaps that one stood for sales and the other for user experience. The publisher’s job was to arbitrate between the two.

In my opinion, many companies claiming that content production is central to their marketing plans don’t have in place anything like the editorial control I saw (and felt) every day in that job and in every publishing job I’ve had since, from trade press to tabloid, broadsheet to brochures.

Most of all I rarely meet anyone performing the role of an actual publisher, with all the skill and seniority that implies.

If you are really going to get into content production on a serious scale and you expect it to show a return on investment for your company, then I’d argue it’s worth the sweat to put proper publishing processes and editorial hierarchy in place.

How do I start acting like a publisher?

To kick off, I’d try answering these three questions:

What’s the plan?

Ideally you’d have an integrated content/editorial/publishing strategy that everyone is aware of and buys into. You should know the exact purpose of each landing page, blog post, video, tweet and email and have measurements in place to check what worked.

Who’s in charge?

Once, when working as a reporter on a local paper, the news editor took an article I’d printed out to show him, scrunched it up and literally threw it back in my face. That was his way of saying “do it again, it’s not good enough”.

What process and controls do you have in place for commissioning, publishing and checking the quality of your content, and are they effective?

What does good content look like for us?

The most frustrating thing for a content creator is an unclear brief. If you want to improve the quality of your content, then you must be able to demonstrate what good quality content looks like for your organisation.

It’s not helpful to show Red Bull TV to a roomful of insurance product managers as an example of great content.

Follow the Blue Peter principle of ‘here’s one I made earlier’ and circulate user-centred, usable examples of exactly what you want your content contributors to aim at. Support this with guidelines and training.

Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your suggestions of other questions to ask if you’re thinking like a publisher. Please add your comments below.

Catherine Toole

Published 26 June, 2012 by Catherine Toole

Catherine Toole is Founder and Managing Director of Sticky Content, and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (4)


Paul Keers

Just several of the reasons why companies may be well advised to employ a content marketing agency!

about 6 years ago

Ben Acheson

Ben Acheson, Digital Marketing Manager at BenAcheson.com

So many brands still have literally no budget ring-fenced for generating content - which is ridiculous:


Online marketing is the best opportunity for ROI from your marketing budget.

Content is the foundation of online marketing.

If you're not investing in content then your strategy has no foundation.

If you have no content strategy then you have nothing to promote. Your social media channels are empty and dull. There's nothing search engines are likely to rank well on your site over the long-term. What exactly are you seeding? How are you engaging your audience? How are you demonstrating you passion and credentials?

Excellent article Catherine. In my humble opinion Econsultancy is the best source of digital marketing thought leadership in the world.

about 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Catherine,

Thanks for a great post, and a most timely one. There is quite rightly a focus from e-commerce websites on using content marketing to drive KPIs. However, the difference between 'good' content and 'content for content's sake' is huge.

You're right to advise people to think like an Editor when planning a content program. Furthermore, online content editors need to understand the implications of SEO, online PR and social media - a content program requires different types of content that can be used to satisfy the various demands of online audiences.

I like your 3 questions - useful way to frame the discussion to get people thinking before acting. If you don't have a plan, the chances of producing brilliant content are diminished.


about 6 years ago


Sarah Evans

Having one person or a small team in charge of creating content is an excellent idea as otherwise, no one will know what's being published. I've heard people say that you should get the whole company involved in creating content but this will never work unless there's a plan in place. Also, some people might not have anything to say or might not get be sold on the importance of content marketing. This is why it's so important to have one publisher or a small team who take control of producing content.

Thanks for the interesting post.

about 6 years ago

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