How Affinity Empowered an Independent Content Team

Most content operate as a sub-function beneath demand or product. Here's how Affinity's independent team does things differently.

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Affinity’s content team was overloaded with requests. Internal marketing and sales leaders needed a massive amount of content to drive their programs, and were pulling the content team in different directions, requesting a never-ending amount of marketing collateral, emails, blogs, and video scripts.

Although the content team was technically an independent department reporting to the VP of Marketing (as opposed to reporting to either the product marketing or demand generation sub-functions), they felt more like a factory, not a strategic playmaker.

That all changed when Hannah Cameron joined as Director of Content Marketing.

With support from her VP and other marketing leaders, Hannah overhauled the team’s mindset and operations. With the respect, autonomy, and empowerment she was given at Affinity, Hannah changed how others viewed Affinity's content marketing team, and how they saw themselves.

In this article, you’ll learn how Hannah:

  • Secured executive support and reaffirmed the content team’s independence
  • Launched a new work request process
  • Masterminded a new training program designed to alleviate the pressure on content

Reassert independence and secure support

In many marketing organizations, content operates as a sub-function—usually under demand generation or product marketing. It’s an order-taking function or shared service. But that’s starting to change. There’s a new generation of independent content teams emerging.

“If you don’t  have strong leadership at the top, you might get swallowed up by all the other teams."

Independent teams are standalone departments. They sit alongside, rather than under, demand generation, product marketing, and marketing operations. Affinity’s content team is one of them. However, for content leaders, breaking from years of order-taking tradition isn’t easy.

“If you don’t  have strong leadership at the top, you might get swallowed up by all the other teams,” says Hannah. “Then you end up doing their work, and executing their vision”

Affinity recruited Hannah to be that strong content voice. If someone tries to circumvent her team’s process or push for an unreasonable timeline, she has the support and confidence to say, “No.”

But leaders don’t operate in isolation. To maintain independence and autonomy, content leaders require firm executive support. While Hannah enjoys a supportive relationship with Affinity’s VP of Marketing, Paul Ross, she acknowledges that others aren’t so lucky. To those who find themselves without an executive ally, Hannah provides a simple piece of advice: seek support elsewhere.

“If you don't have buy-in from your VP, you have to secure buy-in from someone with a senior title,” she says. “Some people say titles don't matter, but they do. Find someone who believes in content. Find an ally who can advocate for you.”

For example, a VP of Demand is an effective alternative sponsor. They have access to valuable performance data. If they can help show the impact of content on demand gen OKRs, and therefore revenue, it’ll help justify a team’s work and value.

Make it easier to work cross-functionally

During her first few weeks, Hannah noticed that her team kept falling behind on projects. When she dug deeper, she discovered the reason: informal requests. Other Affinity employees were side-Slacking and privately emailing people on the content team to request blogs, eBooks, deck updates, and scripts.

“I realized my team members were seeing requests from senior people and felt like they couldn’t say no,” Hannah says. “They were trying to fit everything in—but there wasn’t enough time in the day.”

Ad-hoc, informal requests were unsustainable, so Hannah created a Slack channel to serve as a public in-take request form.

Affinity's new content request form.

The form is lightweight, with just a handful of fields: title, team, format, priority, launch date, goals, and examples. The goals section is free text, but everything else is a drop-down. The simplicity is by design.

Change management, even for something as simple as a request form, is tough. Hannah intentionally kept her requirements minimal. She wanted a frictionless request experience to reduce the likelihood of a stakeholder getting frustrated and going rogue.

“At many companies design and content typically get left until the end of campaign planning."

Hannah’s team follows every request with a Slack huddle. It’s a quick 10-minute conversation covering the reader's journey, CTA expectations, content goals, and expectations. After their huddle, Hannah’s content team updates the request as either accepted or rejected. If accepted, they slot the request into their content planning board and assign an estimated due date for the first

Her new approach is working. Stakeholders default to the form, rather than Slack DMs or emails. Better yet, they’re learning what Hannah’s team needs. They bring more information, fuller briefs, and better examples.

While a robust intake form helped the content team influence ad-hoc asset requests, it didn’t allow them input into campaigns, which go through a separate kickoff process. Here, Hannah found herself battling the remnants of the old order-taking environment.

“At many companies design and content typically get left until the end of campaign planning,” Hannah says. “The powers that be call meetings without content or design because they think of us as support.”

One of Hannah’s next moves was to insert herself into every single campaign meeting. Having a content leader present from the ideation phase changed the dynamic of the entire process. For example, before her involvement, stakeholders requested blogs regardless of the campaign goals or content. Hannah knew there were many more content formats available, each with their unique strengths and weaknesses.

“I’m listening to what they're putting out,” she says. “Is it a product update? Is it a new campaign for demand? Based on what they want to do and their goals, I will make recommendations on types of content.”

With this input, Affinity’s output should start to diversify. Instead of every campaign resulting in a blog, some will become email nurture campaigns and others reports, infographics, YouTube videos, and more. Some campaigns don’t even require a new asset. With content involved early in the process, Hannah can highlight opportunities to recycle existing content.

Operate as a center of excellence

Over the past few years, internal content demands have ballooned—not just at Affinity but at most B2B companies. Demand wants lead-gen assets. Event organizers need promotional content. Sales leaders want thought leadership. The list goes on.

The reality is, content teams rarely—if ever—have the capacity to own every piece of writing. To rightsize her team’s workload, Hannah audited Affinity’s internal content requirements. She realized that marketing, specifically the demand generation and product marketing departments, requested far more content than any other business unit.

“Demand has hundreds of emails and landing pages,” she says. “Product has product updates, product emails, internal messaging, customer case studies, and anything customer-focused.”

Her goal was to make those departments self-sufficient content producers. Not only would that allow demand and product to operate more autonomously, but it would also free up her own team’s capacity.

"Teams that gatekeep the writing of content, do nothing for their organizations."

First, Hannah began respectfully pushing back on requests. Demand generation and product marketing were both significantly larger than the content team. The product team’s customer marketer could take over customer stories, Hannah reasoned. Demand generation managers could handle email writing. But she didn’t simply cut ties and leave her colleagues to manage on their own. Hannah envisioned her team as a center of excellence—training, coaching, and guiding others in the art of writing.

That’s where her new editorial guide came in. Hannah put together a short tutorial on Affinity’s content standards, focusing almost exclusively on actionable advice.

“You don’t need three pages about how your brand speaks like Tony Stark,” she says. “Get through the tone of voice quickly and focus on the actionable section. How do you spell important company terms? Do you capitalize certain titles? Is there an Oxford Comma? People who aren’t writers need the basics.”

With the guide in place, Hannah felt confident passing content responsibilities over to demand generation and product marketing. Although she’s still working to coach both teams, the guide has created a level of consistency across Affinity’s output. When someone sends an email or drafts a customer story, Hannah knows that it’ll sound like Affinity.

“I understood that we couldn’t write everything,” Hannah says. “But if we prepare others as best we can, they'll stick as close to the brand as possible. Teams that gatekeep the writing of content, do nothing for their organizations. Writing is such a small part of what content marketing does. Empower others, and focus on your larger goals.

Empower your content team

Hannah inherited a team slipping back into an order-taking role. The team’s autonomy, impact, and position as a strategic partner were all on the line.

"We advocate for content at all levels."

She acted swiftly and confidently, redefining their place in Affinity’s organization. She formalized cross-functional collaboration, nixed side-Slack backchannels, and inserted herself into the early stages of campaign planning. She also acknowledged that her content team couldn’t own everything and reimagined their role as a center for excellence. While the transformation is ongoing, Affinity is already enjoying the benefits.

“We’re the content experts,” she explains. “We advocate for content at all levels. We’ve already breathed life back into the blog. We’ve provided editorial guidelines for the whole company. We set our own goals, execute our own projects, and feel proud of our work. That’s all new for our independent team.”

David is a former craft beer journalist turned writer and digital strategist. He now helps ambitious technology brands tell narrative-driven stories.

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