Plan Your 2018 Content Without Sucking All the Creativity Out of It

An image of a blackboard with charts, graphs, lines, and plans written on it.

We’re four days into 2018 -- have you completed your comprehensive content plan for the year yet?

It’s the bane of many of a communicators’ job -- the dreaded content calendar. The reason? Because some are expected to take it too far and plot out every message, thought, and experience too far in advance.

For anyone in the writing industry, the idea of scheduling creativity can be counterproductive. True, in corporate communications, you’re likely not writing Shakespeare’s sonnets, but you want to be proud of what you write and that’s best done when you’re passionate and inspired to write.

On the other hand, as the old adage states, “fail to plan, then plan to fail.” And if you don’t have at least a semblance of a content plan in place, then things will get lost -- or you’ll be scrambling at the last minute.

So, back to what I started with -- we’re four days into 2018. Have you completed your content plan? If you’ve answered, no, don’t worry -- but here are some things that can help you strike a balance between rigid, creativity-draining over-scheduling and having no plan at all.

Break it Down into Quarters

Planning out a full year can be daunting. But breaking your content plan into quarters can be more effective. If your calendar starts on January 1st, you may be a little behind the eight-ball already as it would have been best to plan and start executing content three months ago.

Ideally, you want to be able to hit the ground running each quarter. And that means knowing what your focus is going to be and starting the legwork of researching and creating content in advance.

You want to work with your sales and marketing teams to align a communication strategy with what those departments are focusing on. And it’s much better to do that in advance than to try to rush to meet requirements starting the first day of a new quarter.

Identify Key Touchpoints

There are likely significant dates or times in your business that will require some sort of content support. It could be a relevant blog, it may be a speech, or it might be white papers, prepared statements, or online marketing copy. The calendar doesn’t change very much from year to year, so you can identify those dates in advance and start planning how you want to address them.

Something as simple as an annual year-in-review message from your CEO would be a great example. You know you’re going to do it and you know you’re going to need content -- so why not start gathering it now instead of waiting until the last minute and scrambling?

Whether it’s “awareness months,” corporate campaigns, events you support, or any other regularly scheduled event or activity, you can start preparing content so that when it comes to crunch time, you have more information upon which you can draw.

Keep Good Notes

I enjoy the stress of writing something at the last minute. I’ll admit that it’s a super-geeky adrenaline rush that I developed back in the days of running back to my office after a hockey game, having to write and file 500 words in 10 minutes. It’s served me well to this date and I’m blessed to be a pretty fast writer.

But I also have grown to appreciate that our memories aren’t always what we want them to be. For all the content I’ve written over the years, I’ve also forgotten a fair bit of potential content because I didn’t strike while the iron was hot.

I do a lot of writing in my head. Whether it’s walking to work thinking about a blog post or structuring an article as I’m completing an interview, a lot of the legwork isn’t done as I’m typing or writing, but rather it’s formulated in my head -- and then it just spills out in text.

Inspiration can strike anywhere. You may have a thought that is worth exploring or a point you’d like to make, but if you don’t jot it down somewhere, it can be gone in an instant -- or at least the next time you’re distracted.

Over the years, I’ve used pretty much everything around me to write on -- scrap paper, torn coffee cups, my own hand… Now I put most of my thoughts down on my phone in a Notes folder. That way, when I’m in a place where I can write, I can just reference my bullet points and formulate a complete post.

This works well for that time-specific content. Keeping a folder somewhere of key messages, successes, dates, or events makes it easier to reference when you need it.

Get Help

There’s nothing wrong with asking for a little help now and again. If you’re writing a blog or a newsletter and you’ve found the well has run dry, ask your colleagues for ideas. Talk to your customer service team and find out what issues they’re facing on a regular basis and use that as the foundation for messaging that solves those problems.

If there’s a big sales focus in Q3, sit down with the sales team and ask what they want to focus on, what compelling sales messages they want to hit, and if there are any items that they absolutely need included or excluded.

Balanced Creativity

We can be selfish and say, “I’m only going to write what I want, when I feel inspired,” but that’s not really effective is it? Nor is it a good way to keep your job.

But by having a rough outline of what you need to do, the topics you need to focus on, and using that time wisely to prepare the foundations of your content in advance, you free up resources that allow you to prepare content that you’re proud of. Instead of stressing about deadlines and fumbling around for context, you’ve built that foundation already and can focus your energies on creating content that’s compelling, dynamic, and meets the needs of its intended audience.

Too much planning can stifle creativity, but not enough can be just as damaging. Finding that happy medium can help you balance creativity with productivity and get you results.

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