Look at you – you’ve been promoted to lead the content marketing team.
You’ve got this.
You could run an SEO audit blindfolded.
You can do keyword research in your sleep.
You’ve definitely got the chops.
BUT I can tell you from experience – everything changes when you go from an individual contributor to leading the team. It’s a whole new ballgame.
When I was asked to lead a team for the first time, I definitely did not realize just how different things would be.
But here’s some good news – leadership is not something you are born with or without. Thankfully for me and probably for you too, leadership can be developed.
6 Mindset Shifts for Emerging Content Leaders
Here are 6 things that will change when you become a content marketing leader and what you can do to prepare:
- The leader answers the tough questions
- The leader manages the budget
- The leader develops the team
- The leader forms the strategy
- 5. The leader oversees the execution of the strategy
- The leader sets goals and defines success
1. The leader answers the tough questions
All eyes are on you.
You’ve presented some encouraging data that shows rankings and traffic are improving. You believe the value of this should be crystal clear to everyone.
Then the CEO looks at you and says “but what is the ROI on this?” Your first instinct may be annoyance or anxiety but it’s a fair question to ask a team leader.
When asked a tough question, don’t become a porcupine, chameleon, or opossum
The porcupine: Porcupines are prickly – rude and maybe even belittling. Porcupines believe that if they make it very unpleasant to ask them questions, they will stop getting difficult questions.
The chameleon: Chameleon’s try to blend in. Is there another department you can pass the responsibility to?
The opossum: You collapse and play dead. You dive straight into a series of apologies.
Maybe you can relate to one of these? Unfortunately, these tendencies can ruin a career. If your instinct is to become a porcupine, chameleon, or opossum, here’s what to do next time you are asked a difficult question.
Start with the company goals
Always connect your work to the company’s top goals and initiatives. Understanding these is a prereq to leading any team in a good organization.
Think like an owner
Every dollar spent on content marketing is an investment. You aren’t paying for a writer because you need a writer. Paying a content writer is an investment. Every dollar you spend should return more dollars.
Cut the jargon
Don’t use jargon like a ninja uses a smoke bomb – to hide yourself. Using jargon may make you feel like Einstein but it makes you sound like this:
Be intellectually honest
Something is always going up and to the right. But you’ve got to be honest about the overall value of your work. If you can’t verbalize this value, you will lose trust, your budget, and your leadership role. Be willing to admit when something is not working.
Vanity metrics are lame
No one cares if impressions are up by 20% if you don’t provide additional context. How is this stat connected to a business result? Stop reporting on vanity metrics or metrics that aren’t actionable and understandable.
Learn to tell a compelling story
Presentation skills definitely help in leadership roles. And I’m not talking about adding flare to your Powerpoint presentations (although you should get decent at that too). Here are a couple tools that will help you present well.
So, next time you face a tough question, cut the jargon and the vanity metrics. Connect your work to company goals and initiatives in a clear way and be 100% honest.
For more tips like this, read How Marketers Can Earn Credibility.
2. The leader manages the budget
The dollars are now under your control. Here’s how to maximize your marketing budget:
Stretch your dollars
Just because you have money in your budget, doesn’t mean you should spend it.
Look for opportunities to save money. Cut software you aren’t using. Negotiate advertising costs. Cut the fluff.
For a list of money-saving ideas, read my guide to maximizing your budget in 2023.
But keep in mind, you get what you pay for
If you are working with freelancers and agencies, it’s probably not the time to negotiate.
Cheaper writers aren’t as good. Cheaper agencies aren’t as good.
A great agency may be willing to cut their price, but they will have to cut their investment in your project as well.
This means a less experienced project team and fewer hours dedicated to working on your project.
Don’t always fight for more budget
If you are always arm wrestling for more budget, that’s a sign that you aren’t thinking like a business owner. You are thinking like a marketer. You’ve become a cliché.
Keep in mind, company leaders want to invest in what is working. If you can clearly prove that your work drives revenue, you’ll never have another budget debate again.
Track every dollar you spend as you spend it. Make sure your team does as well
You need to know where every dollar is going at all times. Don’t try to keep this information in your head. It’s like a waiter trying to remember the order for a table of 30 in their head. It leaves way too much room for error.
3. The leader develops the team
Building culture and developing your team is your most important role as the leader.
And when I say culture, I’m not talking about go-karting, ping pong, and snacks. All that is great, but it isn’t culture.
So many leaders try to make their team “fun” to create chemistry.
But it isn’t “fun” that creates chemistry.
Alignment creates chemistry. Create alignment by making the company mission and values the foundation of the team.
This may sound very cheesy, but it is what will create a dynamic team where everyone buys in.
Here’s where to start ➡️ Talk about the company mission and values in team stand-ups, in coaching moments, and in performance reviews.
If you have a team member or two that won’t buy-in, that’s ok. It’s better for that person and for the team if they find somewhere they can buy-in.
Coach your team with “Constant, Gentle Pressure”
The idea of coaching might make you want to vomit.
You’d rather “hire good people and get out of their way.”
After all, that’s the advice you read on LinkedIn. But that’s just fear talking. If you want to see your team members grow and build better careers, you’ll have to develop the courage to coach them.
Danny Meyer is the founder of Shake Shack and writer of Setting The Table. In setting the table Danny teaches his coaching philosophy – Constant, Gentle Pressure.
Here’s how Constant, Gentle Pressure works:
Constant: Your coaching isn’t reserved for yearly reviews. You coach consistently – day in and day out.
Gentle: Your coaching is kind and empathetic. Coaching is an opportunity to show that you care for your team and their development.
Pressure: On any good team there is pressure to excel, to win, to achieve. Apply pressure or have a lackluster team.
Remove “constant” and give your team whiplash. Remove “gentle” and become a big jerk. Remove “pressure” and lower the expectations and outcomes.
If your team members aren’t coachable, then they are refusing to get better. You don’t want to work with team members with that mindset.
Build culture and develop team members and you’ll have a team that stays motivated and gets better daily.
For more tips on developing marketing teams, read my guide on marketing leadership.
4. The leader forms the strategy
The strategy is now under your purview. Here’s how to develop a great strategy that delivers:
Understand company initiatives and goals
I hope this never happens to you… You are standing in front of a room of executives and you are grinning ear to ear.
Of course you’re happy – everything is going so great.
But then in a sudden, heartbreaking twist you realize the executives are not impressed. They don’t care about the metrics you are presenting.
You think to yourself, “what the heck happened?” A lack of alignment happened.
To prevent this situation, make sure you understand what the top company execs are trying to accomplish and only set team goals that contribute to those initiatives.
Don’t start with tactics, start with outcomes
Although it’s common practice, never build a strategy on marketing tactics.
That’s letting the tail wag the dog. Instead, start with desired outcomes. Then use those to create team goals. Then create individual goals for team members that contribute to the team goals.
Then and only then, it’s time to brainstorm tactics.
Encourage everyone to participate
Your team probably has some introverts, some extroverts, and some please-never-call-on-me-to-talk-troverts.
Your challenge is to create the kind of environment where everyone shares ideas and contributes to the strategy.
5. The leader oversees the execution of the strategy
Even if you are doing everything else well, the team will fail without A+ execution.
In fact, it would be far better to execute mediocre ideas with excellence than to execute amazing ideas poorly. Here’s how to lead a team to execute with excellence.
Invite everyone into the vision
Once the strategy is formed, cast an exciting vision for the team.
Start by describing what the world will look like once the strategy is successfully executed. What will that mean for the team and their careers? And what would failure look like? The distance between success and failure, that is what is at stake.
If you are trying to get the team to execute efficiently and with urgency and passion, the team needs to understand what is at stake. One they understand what is at stake, invite them to take action.
Think back to the last heist movie you watched.
There was a moment when the leader shared the nearly impossible heist plan to steal the art, artifact, or money with the rest of the group. After describing the plan, the leader looks around the room and asks, “So, you in?”
One by one the team pledges their commitment.
Your team needs this moment to increase their buy-in.
Share the stakes and ask them if they are in. Give them an action to take if they are in.
This might be sending you an email or writing “I’m in” on a sticky note. It doesn’t matter.
It may seem silly, but this moment of commitment increases buy-in and energy around the goal.
Just because it feels like micromanaging, doesn’t mean it is
Your LinkedIn feed has conditioned you to think that almost anything you do to coach your team is micromanagement and it is wrong. I disagree wholeheartedly.
The truth – your work is not done after your inspiring speech (even if the meeting was electric). You’ll need to coach the team daily with constant, gentle pressure.
6. The leader sets goals and defines success
Only the leader of the team can answer the question “what is a win?” And if you’re the leader, you should answer that question based on what is a win for the company. Once you’ve defined the win, here’s how to lead your team to victory:
Create compelling scoreboards
Whether you keep score in Google sheets, visualize progress on an impressive Geckoboard, or get crafty and make a printed scoreboard, the important thing is that you have a scoreboard.
This scoreboard should be updated at least weekly and should be dead simple.
With just a quick glance, the scoreboard should answer the question – are we winning or losing?
Recommend reading: The 4 Disciplines of Execution.
Celebrate small wins along the way
As you make progress towards your big important team goals, celebrate the small wins along the way.
These small wins, or as I call them “trail markers,” confirm that you are on the right path and heading towards accomplishing your goals.
And that is worth a little fanfare.
Recently I put a handful of small goals on a big bingo board in our office. Every time we put a bingo sticker up, we play music and celebrate.
It’s a fun moment for the team and it inspires us to keep running in the right direction.
Recognize, Appreciate, and Encourage your team
Lee Cockerell is the retired EVP of Walt Disney World Operations.
One of my favorite Lee quotes is “Recognition, appreciation and encouragement are the free fuels which power human performance and we all always have a full tank to give to others. Burn lots of it everyday.”
And have you heard of the “Recognition Gap”?
According to a study by Carolyn Wiley, “More than 80 percent of supervisors claim they frequently express appreciation to their subordinates, while less than 20 percent of the employees report that their supervisors express appreciation more than occasionally.”
As the leader of the content team, work to close that gap.
A final pro tip – Only recognize what you want to see replicated.
It will be nearly impossible to lead a successful content marketing team if you are failing in any one of the 6 areas covered in this article.
As you can probably tell, a lot of these learnings came from my own failures. I hope this article saves you some time, money, and disappointment.
The truth is – leading a content marketing team might be one of the most fun and creative jobs in the world of marketing. Go nail it – you’ve got this.