Earlier this month, I laced up my sneakers and hit the road with 11 teammates to run the Ragnar Relay from Madison, Wisconsin, to Chicago, Illinois, covering 196 miles in just more than 34 hours.
As I've written previously, I think you can find a lesson in just about any scenario, and the Ragnar was no exception. Here are seven takeaways that relate to content marketing that crossed my mind before crossing the finish line.
1. Start With a Training Plan
One does not simply walk into Mordor; similarly, one does not typically up and run any type of race without some training. The same preparation is required to execute effective content marketing.
Successful content is born out of a well-planned strategy. Map out your future content through an editorial calendar and note the key milestones for your projects. Having a goal in sight will keep you and your team focused on the task at hand. But remember, if you’re not seeing results you want with your content, take a step back and review your plans and processes. You may find that a piece puzzle is just not working.
2. Coordination is Key
Twelve people in two vans running three legs each across 36 exchange points requires a lot of coordination. We held several meetings before race day to sync up on logistics and calculated our pacing time and handoffs to make the experience as smooth as possible.
In the same vein, content marketing has many moving parts that need to be synchronized in order to properly execute. To ensure your execution is not hindered by workflow barriers, assign roles for each project.
Identify one person to act as the primary lead and have him or her develop a work-back plan with critical checkpoints to connect and inform the other stakeholders: the contributors, reviewers, and approvers. Spreadsheets are an easy way to organize workflows, but as your content marketing program grows, you may need to consider investing in a tool to improve organization and help you manage the steps of your program.
3. Rally Around the Team and Community
A relay race calls for trust and teamwork – runners must have faith that their team will be waiting at the next stop, ready to receive the baton. The running community is very strong, so we felt supported beyond our own team. The race organized social communities to connect teams and foster that trust and camaraderie.
Within content marketing, have confidence that your team members can deliver their pieces on time and meet quality standards. Set clear expectations up front and develop standards for new contributors. If enlisting new bloggers, for example, provide guidelines on tone/voice and style so they have a framework to reference.
When you feel like you’ve developed tunnel vision or can’t see the end in sight, turn to your community for inspiration. Scan social media to see what topics influencers are talking about. Talk to your sales, support, or products teams to get a fresh perspective and new feedback.
4. You Can’t Prepare for Everything
We took to this challenge armed with race guides, packing checklists, and maps. We prepared as much as we could, but we couldn’t control everything. In the days leading up to the event, a runner got injured; we had to think on our feet (quite literally) and make it work, having a few runners take extra legs.
Sometimes things don’t turn out as planned. Last-minute roadblocks may come up that impact your deliverables – this could be anything from internal hold-ups on approval to external factors such as influential breaking news.
Sometimes the hiccups may be minor and you have a solid plan and process in place so the impact is minimal. Other times, you may need to revisit your message or deadlines to adjust for these unexpected changes.
5. Every Role in the Process is Valuable
There were so many people involved in this event besides just the runners. Our drivers made sure we got to all our checkpoints. Volunteers corralled runners and provided water.
Stations were set up to take care of injuries. Local organizations provided food and in some cases, sleep arrangements and hot showers. The runners may have been the focus, but the event could not have happened without all those involved.
Just because someone doesn’t have "content marketing" in their title, doesn’t mean they won’t provide valuable perspective. Tap into other team members who are subject matter experts and are eager to contribute.
Not everyone’s a writer so find an output the person feels comfortable with - maybe that’s an interview or a webinar. Don’t forget to acknowledge your contributors - from the person who provided research or a set of reviewing eyes to the designers involved. Show your appreciation and it will pay off with future projects.
6. Enjoy the Ride
At the end of the day, Ragnar was about the experience – the journey, rather than the destination. Content marketing is the same.
Don’t get too focused on the final content type. It shouldn’t matter too much if the delivery mechanism is a blog post, infographic, report, or video; what matters is the story being told. Have confidence in the story, and it will deliver.
7. Finish Strong
Each runner had three legs to run so it was key for everyone to pace themselves and make sure they had enough fuel left in the tank to finish. On the content side, it’s common to fall into the trap of putting a lot of time and effort into content creation, but don’t forget to save some energy to take a piece across the finish line.
Promotion and distribution are big parts of the equation. And of course, the race isn’t really over when you cross the finish line. Be sure to continually evaluate your content to understand how it’s performing, if it’s hitting your metric benchmarks, and if it needs updating.