11 Ways to Align Editorial Strategy with Sales and Marketing

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One of the biggest challenges for Brian Cuthbert, group vice president, Diversified Communications, is that less than 5% of his audience—finance professionals—are actual decision-makers.

"So we have to convince the users to convince their boss. And we have to understand enough to be able to market to the person in the trenches and those bosses."

The best way that he has found to do this is provide great content and break down the silos between editorial, sales and marketing. In an excellent session at SIPA Annual 2017 last month, Aligning Editorial Strategy with Sales and Marketing, Cuthbert outlined a strategy that has significantly increased renewal rates and grown event attendance five- or six-fold. (Members can access recordings and slides of all the SIPA Annual sessions here.)

"Editorial knows the marketplace best. Marketing know the best segmentation and performance of the lists. Sales is in touch with the customers," he said. "The reality is each knows pieces in a different way. But when editorial, marketing and sales are working in unison and are customer-focused, we're a stronger organization."

Here is some of what works best for Diversified:

1. Emphasize content. "Content is still king to me," Cuthbert said. "We need to have content that [customers] can trust and can save them time and money, especially when it's compliance related and IRS-specific like ours is. We have to be right."

2. Leverage that content. "Editorial should be telling sales, "Here's what we're hearing—a big trend in xyz," Cuthbert said. Then sales can be consultative. Similarly, editorial can tell marketing that they are hearing about Blockchain and artificial intelligence, and marketing can be more on point in their messaging and determine the best social angles. Marketing should also see value in running new copy past editorial and sales. "I haven't found a way to do [all this] when everyone lives in a silo."

3. Define success. Editorial might say, I produce 20,000 words of copy every month. Sales may be hitting their quota. Marketing might be getting the right messaging out. "But it should be a single thing," Cuthbert said. Set a top-down vision and continually enforce it. "You have to push back. You can't let things linger. Get people in the same room and talk it out" if need be.

4. Ensure communication. There are weekly meetings between the three departments. "We're trying to help financial operations people do their job better. I need sales to give editorial actionable [information] so they can sound as intelligent as possible to our customers," said Cuthbert. "I want sales to talk in an open way about what's working and what isn't. What were customers asking for that we couldn't serve?"

5. Have editors talk to customers. "I need editors doing some different things than they used to," Cuthbert said. Editors are required to talk to five renewals—"we're really excited you're back"—five new leads—"what are your content needs?"—and five cancelled members—"what can we do better?"—every month! "We've picked up 3% of cancelled members by doing this," Cuthbert said. "If I can save 5-10 members a month, that's thousands of dollars."

6. Ask editors to speak at industry events. "It's a non-starter for me," Cuthbert said. They know marketplace trends, benchmarks, metrics. "They've got to get out. It's an incredible branding and business development opportunity." He said when meeting the customer there, editorial can take a card to pass along to sales but then engage in conversation. "Interview them, do a story on them, create content. Then pass those leads over to sales. We're finding really strong conversions on that."

7. Be out ahead of what's going on. "Editorial needs to be the ones knowing what's going to happen," Cuthbert said, "and understanding the needs of your audience before they even do. What's the IRS coming down with? What are the changes going on with new laws? I need [the customer] not to have to go search it and [find] someone else has better content than us. We have to be the voice of authority."

8. Be transparent. Cuthbert wants editorial to understand that there is a budget and KPIs that need to be met. "I don't want to shield our editorial team from financials. Everyone should know where our potential is and feel a part of that success."

9. Understand that how we sold yesterday is not how we sell today. Cuthbert has one sales team selling membership, certification and event attendance. Then another selling exhibit space sponsorship, webinars and white papers. (They don't sell online advertising anymore.) "Editorial doesn't get involved in that at all," he said. "There is a separate customer content team."

10. Put editorial on a compensation plan that rewards success. If you're building a shared success model, then putting them in a silo" makes no sense, Cuthbert said. He suggested putting 5-10% of their salary "on risk." Think differently. What can reinforce that idea of success to your editor? 

11. Do what works best for your customers. Ask the Experts is one of their biggest subscriber benefits so they pay it lots of attention. "We are here for the customer," Cuthbert said. "We need to make the customer experience as effective as possible so they will come back to us." To accomplish this they must work together. There are egos to deal with but you must "back your concept at all times. If you give in, it's over. So far, every aspect of our business is growing."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…