Partners in Content

Greetings from seat 9F.

I’m smack dab in the middle of my annual Master Class Tour. It’s one of my favorite times of year because I get to pressure test lots of new thinking and share what we’ve learned over the last year. I also get to talk with content marketers all over the country and hear what’s working and what’s not.

At our San Francisco event, I talked with a director of content at a manufacturing company about a challenge he has. (How awesome is it that there are now manufacturing companies with directors of content?) His team had developed a content plan around targeting a particular persona in their industry and built an entire department around subject matter expertise for this audience.

But the manufacturing company acquired a business that targeted a different kind of customer. The content director was asked to create a new content strategy for a persona for whom their staff had no expertise. They had tried to hire a consultant and freelancers to fill the gap, but they didn’t know if these efforts were hitting the mark. He asked me what they could do to jumpstart this new program.

I suggested two possibilities. “One option,” I said, “is to partner with some of the folks in the acquired company. For example, they might create guest posts in the early days to supplement your own writing as you learn about this new audience.” The other option I suggested was to partner with thought leaders in the space, inviting them to provide content and asking people at the acquired company to identify those leaders.

“We’re not very good at that partnering thing,” he said.

That answer took me by surprise. But it rang true. If we’re honest, I bet that most of us would admit we’re not particularly good at creating and maintaining partnerships. For partnerships to succeed, we have to give as much as – or more than – we get.

Unfortunately we humans don’t operate that way. Take marriage for instance. As my wife of 26 years will tell you, being married can be like having a best friend who doesn’t remember what you say.

In all seriousness, all the successful content strategies I’ve seen have included successful partnerships, both internal and external. I’m talking about partners who, like spouses on their best days, make each other better.

Unfortunately, according to a 2014 CMO Council report, despite the fact that 85% of their marketing respondents looked at partnerships and alliances as essential or important to their work, strategic alliances fail at a rate of about 60%. The current rate of failure for first marriages is substantially lower: about 30%. So you’re more likely to fail in a business partnership than in your first marriage.

In the coming years, as we marketers look to lead our teams’ content strategies – which will inevitably include influencer marketing, account-based marketing, and content marketing — we need to develop our skills at creating enduring partnerships.

As John F. Kennedy might have said were he a marketer, “Ask not what your content partners can do for you. Ask what you can do for your content partners.”

How about it? What could you do for your content partners today?

It’s your story. Tell it well.

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