I specialize in content-driven websites for adventure brands. This ranges from travel and tourism clients (Travel Oregon, National Geographic, Pinehurst Resort, Visit Santa Barbara, etc.) to adventure outfitters (The North Face, KEEN Footwear). What this means is creating platforms for these brands to publish content on an ongoing basis. So the question often comes up of “who is going to create this content?”
Why do adventure brands even need a content strategy? I discuss this in depth in our “Stories that Sell: Content Strategy for Adventure Brands” post, but in summary the main difference between adventure brands and “regular” brands are adventure brands sell experiences. Travel and tourism clients need to sell the experiences that people will have at their destination; product companies need to sell the experience that people will have when using their product.
This question is asked both by our team and our clients. When we ask it, it’s in regards to content strategy and site design – setting expectations on what content will change or be added on a regular basis, how to create design solutions for all of the different types of content, the familiarity of client stakeholders with web design and publishing – which all play a part in site architecture and the overall concept and design of a site. But when our clients ask this question, it is usually because they understand the ramifications of ongoing content publishing. Who on their staff is going to have the time to create all the content for the concept and publishing initiatives we’ve set out to achieve?
This usually leads to the question if we can do it. A better question could be should we do it. To answer that question, we frequently say no. It’s not that we think we can’t – we’ve partnered with a variety of copywriters over the years and have a great pool of talent to pull from. But we feel ongoing content creation should be in the hands of our clients. And for many of our adventure brand clients, we suggest instead of hiring a copywriter, they should hire a journalist. (What do I consider a journalist? Someone who has experience researching stories and writing stories on a daily or weekly basis. Could this be a blogger? Potentially, if they have the experience in doing research. But I’ve found the best journalists have a journalism background: they probably went to school or have an education in journalism.) I have (at least) three reasons why they should.
Having an on-staff journalist (either full-time or part-time) means they’re going to be embedded with your team. They’ll get to hear about ongoing marketing initiatives, business objectives, and learn the rhythm of the organization. Being embedded also means they’re a resource that can be utilized at practically any point to create new content around events, new attractions, and anything else that benefits from a quick response time. Journalists should be familiar with the concept of working on tight deadlines, resulting in publishing timely content. At its root, being embedded means building a relationship – between journalist and staff, between journalist and subject matter (product, location, etc.), and between journalist and communications vehicle/publishing platform.
2. Sniffing Out Stories
Stories don’t often just show up on the doorstep (or inbox), ready to copy, paste, and publish. Finding the right stories is a large part of an ongoing content strategy. Someone who has experience in sniffing out stories helps keep the content pipeline flowing, knowing what might be going on to cover and discovering new stories that hadn’t been considered before. This also means being able to task someone with writing about a particular subject and trusting they can research and create the story… the good stories aren’t always on the surface, and a journalist can dig out the nuggets. A couple years ago, our client Pinehurst Resort hired someone with a journalism background to head up social media and content creation. This was a fantastic addition because he was constantly going around the resort sniffing out stories. And when the U.S. Open came to Pinehurst, they were uniquely positioned by having a journalist on-staff to give a behind-the-scenes look of the Open.
3. Content Strategy Isn’t a “One-and-Done” Approach
Content strategy for content-driven websites is about the longview, not short-term marketing campaigns that come and go. Content driven websites require ongoing publishing… this can mean daily, weekly, or monthly, depending on the content strategy, but it does mean continually publishing to achieve the defined strategy.
Hire a copywriter for your marketing campaign – bring in a copywriter who can achieve the specifics of the campaign, and once they’re done, they’re done. Hire a journalist to write stories that are part of an ongoing content strategy, continually crafting and nurturing the stories that will help communicate your brand.
What about hiring outside sources to create content?
Is hiring a journalist the only way an adventure brand can be successful in creating content? Not at all… we’ve seen other success stories as well.
In the travel and tourism industry, hiring experienced freelance travel writers allows a brand to tell different stories from different points of view, and hire the writers who are most adept at creating these diverse stories. Travel Oregon has been very successful in implementing this strategy, bringing on writers who have different viewpoints and tones of voice to be targeted to different audiences. This strategy also supplements an in-house content team to create diversity, breadth, and taps into alternative story sources. The key to this approach is having a the role of an editor within an organization, someone who can help assign, curate, and guide the overall editorial direction of content creation.
Ambassador and Athlete Authors
Having “feet on the ground” can provide stories that the staff in a central office might not have access to or be aware of. The North Face has an extensive network of athletes that contribute fantastic stories of their experiences, and the athlete-written stories provide an authentic voice to the experiences they’re having in relation to the brand.
In most of my experiences, agencies can provide a good basis for creating initial content for a website. But if an agency isn’t located in the same place as the client, there aren’t the “on the ground” opportunities for continual content strategy. I’ve seen quarterly seasonal content creation be successful, but for ongoing content creation, budgets are probably better spent bringing someone on staff than paying for an agency’s overhead to have a writer who isn’t embedded with your organization. Are there exceptions? Sure. (Since I work at an agency it’s somewhat contradictory that I would say don’t hire us to create your ongoing content needs. But hey, life is full of contradictions.)
We focus on the creation of platforms to share stories for clients who understand the need for content creation and want to invest their time and effort into populating these sites. That’s where we see ourselves providing the most value. Other agencies might have a different approach. But in having reviewed a number of travel and tourism sites, as well as a number of product/outfitter sites, the most successful ongoing content strategies I’ve seen have been through on-staff journalists, freelance writers, and/or ambassador and athlete authors.
The Bottom Line
Content strategy and content creation is an increasingly important aspect of brands who want to communicate experiences. We’ve seen success through the addition of on-staff people skilled at creating content, and often these people have journalism backgrounds. But even if you don’t hire a journalist, understand that having a strategy and plan around ongoing content creation is incredibly important, and you’ll need to figure out who is going to create all that content to differentiate your brand from your competition.