Given that you’re reading this, you’ve probably already seen one of the countless articles written about creating a content marketing strategy. Make an editorial calendar, monitor engagement, source ideas from sales and relationship managers, blah blah blah. (If this stuff is new to you, though, take a look here.)
But becoming a rock star of planning marketing campaigns isn’t quite as easy as simply following those prescribed steps. There’s a lot more to it. As Tom Hanks’s character in the movie A League of Their Own said, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
An obvious component of an effective strategy is quality content. But who actually supplies it? Of course, asset managers are replete with erudite subject matter experts (SMEs), some of whom are willing to share their wisdom in a style akin to War and Peace. While those folks can be an open spigot of invaluable content, what about those who are reluctant to participate?
Over the past year and a half in my role as Director of North America for Copylab Inc. – and certainly during almost 15 years of working in-house for a large asset manager – I have often been asked questions like this:
John, we have some amazingly smart and talented people at our firm. They participate in other forms of marketing like video and media interviews, but for some reason, we can’t get them to put anything on paper to be published. How do we convince these people to start contributing?
If only we could tap into their brains and pull out all the good stuff that exemplifies the firm’s unique vision and value-add proposition. After all, aren’t we as marketing professionals tasked to help with that? So here are a few techniques to help those scaredy cats transfer their thoughts to the mighty pen/iPad/laptop to deliver quality content:
1. Start off short, sweet and with support
Someone who’s hesitant to commit any words to print will certainly balk at the request to compose a lengthy white paper. To be honest, it’s intimidating for a lot of us who write them regularly! So how about starting with a blog post or a quick-hit one-pager? Let’s face it – SMEs have limited time as well as responsibilities far beyond content creation. Equally important is that they don’t feel alone in this process. That’s where marketing comes in: to provide help and guidance to make it as painless as possible.
2. Go ahead – go out on a limb
Many SMEs view publishing their work as indelibly recording their thoughts and… oh my gosh… what if they’re WRONG?! In their minds, they may believe that one bad call will ruin their career. Once I sat in a long-tenured portfolio manager’s office after a thesis of his proved incorrect, causing his fund to underperform for the quarter. He pulled a bottle of whiskey from his bottom drawer, took a drink (not offering me one!), put his head in his hands with tears in his eyes and said, “My career is ruined. One quarter and my career is ruined.” Did it ruin his career? Hardly. Performance picked up substantially after that, and he retired to an island before age 50.
Say the SME is dead wrong. She said oil was going to $160/barrel, and it collapsed below $40. Swing and a miss. So what? Consider how often economists incorrectly forecast, well, pretty much everything. There’s a reason the Financial Times titled an article on the subject: “An astonishing record – of complete failure.” I doubt anyone will call the SME and ask, “How do you still have a job? You’ve brought shame upon yourself and your family!”
That said, why not produce a follow-up piece acknowledging the incorrect call, explain the market factors that may have contributed to it and discuss the lessons learned? Honesty and transparency go a long way in our industry, certainly in today’s environment, and this approach can make the SME seem more approachable and dispel the perception that some of them are like unicorns.
Ultimately, the cost of being wrong now and again is practically nil. It’s no different than security selection. How many investors have a batting average of 1.000? Even the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, occasionally blows a call. Meanwhile, the benefit of being right – even once – could be a tremendous boost for your company as a pioneer of thought leadership. In an industry of risk/reward, those seem like good odds.
3. Focus on substance, not style
I’ve seen many SMEs waste precious time attempting to craft a voice that they THINK investment managers should sound like. They might understand that writing isn’t their greatest strength, so they expend more energy worrying about form and style than the actual content. No wonder some don’t even try.
In fact, I often encourage stymied SMEs to actively avoid any traditional structure. Remember in middle and high school when the only acceptable structure of a paper was thesis -> several body paragraphs -> conclusion? I’m sorry to tell you, Mrs. Alford, that method is antiquated. Writing in an authentic voice is far more effective at capturing ideas, synthesizing original thought, and creating a more comprehensive thesis.
Engaging content needs to grab the reader and not let go. Some topics may be inherently dense, but the marketing team is responsible for making sure the content is still compelling and captivating. One way the SME can help in that process is by writing in a way that comes most naturally. The piece will eventually go through rounds of edits so that it adheres to the firm’s style guide and general voice. Like the musician Beck writing a song, let it flow. The marketing experts will take it from there.
4. Shake it up
Sometimes the SME isn’t reluctant in the same way as the aforementioned cases, but they still can’t be bothered to participate. And with each unsuccessful attempt comes one of those terrifically awkward pleas.
Ok, let’s shake things up. They may not readily admit it, but the SME may think the process is onerous. Maybe he doesn’t want to be interviewed. Or maybe he’d prefer an interview instead of writing an initial draft himself. You’ve been working hard to make the process as easy as possible, so what gives?
Think of his behavior as a bad habit that’s been reinforced over time. While many steps to change a bad habit don’t necessarily apply here, a change in one’s environment has proven to be among the most effective ways to instigate change. (Although, imagine if we could convince some of these SMEs to visualize themselves changing!)
Be nimble. Test things out. Try having them work with other people, use different methods and pose alternative questions to draw out their ideas. While content creation may be out of the SME’s wheel house, it also isn’t as difficult as you think to transform their thinking and perception of. A different approach may just be the lift they need to start a flooding your team with content!
These are just a few methods I’ve used successfully with reluctant SMEs, but there are certainly many others. Sometimes it just boils down to personalities, so if you STILL can’t get buy-in, the heads of relationship management and business development may be able to light a fire.
At the end of the day, the marketing team and the collateral we produce are meant to support and enhance new business development and client retention. There’s too much happening in the industry and markets to let SMEs slide by without contributing to your content initiatives. It’s what sets your firm apart from the rest! It’s more critical now than ever for everyone in your firm to participate.
Have you found other ways to catalyze participation from difficult contributors? I want to hear your ideas. We’re passionate about this stuff, and boy, do we love to talk about it.