Every day, consider your marketing career mindset. You can plan all you want, but at some point, you need to get to work, create something your audience will love, and launch it. You’ll probably make mistakes and face roadblocks along the way. But whatever goal you have for your marketing strategy, getting and staying organized will help you on your path to success.
Today, we’re talking to Kelly Napoli, who is the content marketing coordinator at Obermiller Nelson Engineering (ONE). Learn how to collaborate with subject matter experts (SMEs), importance of taking risks with your marketing, and why starting is more important than anything else.
Jordan: Hey Kelly, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
Kelly: You’re welcome. I’m happy to be here. Happy to be asked. This is is pretty cool.
Jordan: I’m just super excited about this conversation. I know you’re been working with CoSchedule for a little bit. It’s going to be fun to pick your brain in some of these stuff. With that, let’s get this started. Could you tell me a little bit about Obermiller Nelson Engineering and maybe some of that you do there.
Kelly: Sure, absolutely. Technically, I work for the parent company of Obermiller Nelson Engineering—we call it ONE for short—because of that, I also work for ICS Consulting and ICS Tax. ONE is headquartered in Fargo, ICS is headquartered in Minneapolis. We’ve got 12 offices across the upper midwest and then we’ve got one in the Philadelphia area. But I work remotely from Cape Girardeau, Missouri as our content marketing coordinator–that’s my official title. I’m in-charge of coordinating all of the content marketing. I develop and create content and all the corresponding graphics, images, campaigns. I maintain our content calendar, leader, social media efforts, and do some website maintenance. I also develop and create some other literature for our companies like brochures, and flyers, and stuff like that.
Jordan: That is a lot.
Kelly: It sure is.
Jordan: Of those projects, what kind of ones would you say have been most successful for you guys?
Kelly: That is a tough question. I have listed out some of the stuff and to be quite honest, we have not had a person that’s been in an active content marketing in recent years. This is a new position and it’s one that I was lucky enough to have it be created for last September. We’ve only been concentrating on this for six, seven, eight months–however long that’s been. Since we’re just starting out, we’re kind of trying a little bit of everything to see what works and what doesn’t. So far, we’ve put white paper article about why we do what we do, some controversial pieces that had some directly helpful information.
We’re still kind of trying to find out voice and are in the processing of developing and defining our personas that we’re writing for. As far as what projects I’ve had the most success with, the one that we had the most traffic on was an article about Why Good Referendums Fail. Our ICS consulting division, they do a lot of K12 referendum planning–helping school districts plan for a long range plans and voting stuff. That one, it’s kind of a hot item for some people. Voting yes or voting no one, whether they want their taxes to increase and by how much, what are the schools going to do if they pass this referendum.
That piece—Why Good Referendums Fail—was kind of a risk for us because obviously, we’ve got a vested interest in them passing but at the same time, the people that are voting for them, they want it to be a good plan. All of the information that was in the article, I worked with one of our managing partners, Arif Quraishi, he helped me just kind of walk through that process of what are some good things, what are some bad things, just walking me through like what would make a good one fail. Because it happens a lot.
Actually, in the Spring of 2017, they had a 60% fail rate of a bunch of their referendums that went up, which is really, really high. Most of the time they pass, so they went through and they just analyzed all the stuff that they did and what went well, what went wrong, and we wrote an article about it, and then they must’ve done some good things because in the Fall they had a really high passing rate. They went back up for a vote on a bunch of them and almost of them passed last Fall. It was pretty cool. It was really interesting to hear what all goes into that process. It’s kind of a long answer to that question but that was one of our most successful pieces.
Jordan: That’s a perfect answer. Just to pick on that just a little bit, I think that’s an interesting topic because you have mentioned working with possibly what marketers would call subject-matter expert, I’d love to hear your perspective on that. What does your process look like or what tips might you have for marketers who may not be the expert at the topic that they’re covering? How can they do it really well?
Kelly: That’s a good question. I am still working on that. We’ve been refining this process for the last several months. It’s like you said,I’m not a subject-matter expert in a lot of the topics that we write on. I work with our engineers, I work with our business development team, I work with our tax specialists, because I’m not an engineer, I’m not a tax professional, I don’t help school districts come up with building plans, I just don’t. What I’ve been doing and it’s been working pretty well, it started at the beginning of last Fall, we went through this process of I would call, I had a list of maybe 25 different people within our company that I knew were business development people or engineers—someone that’s on the frontline of, I don’t want to say sales because everybody’s in sales, you could make that argument, but they’re not really in the sales position, they’re just in that relationship with the client position.
I wanted to pick their brain to figure out what our clients or potential clients would find interesting. We went through that process, it probably took me around two months to get back in touch with everybody and compile all the ideas that they had and then put this plan together for 2018. Now what I’ve been doing is I’ve got their name, obviously their contact information, and their idea that they had. It’s all put together in a plan, it’s broken up by division so we have a nice blend, and I reach out to whoever my subject-matter expert is or my content partner, if you will. Reach out to them, set-up an interview, and I just do it either over Skype or over Teams, we use Microsoft 365 at our company for that kind of stuff. I usually just record it and I have lots of questions for them ahead of the time. I will send them out to them so they can have the chance to think through them especially if it’s on a controversial topic. I want to give them a chance to prepare for that answer. I interview them then I go back and transcribe the interview and write an article based off of that. It’s been working pretty well. It’s great for me because, like I said, I’m not that subject-matter expert. There’s no way that I would be able to write an article about what the new tax bill will mean for business owners across the US–there’s no way I could write about that, or why certain boilers are better than others, ethylene glycol versus propylene glycol, that was an article we did in January. Working with that content partner has been huge.
We’ve been growing our marketing team in the last few months too which has been awesome. I can work with them. I self edit but there’s only so much you can do so I’ve been working with our marketing team to just refine the articles and then I will send it back to that content partner, have them look it over, make sure that not only is it well-written and there’s no typos and stuff like that, but also that the content is accurate. Then just go through the rest of process of designing the graphics, getting them uploaded to the blog, and social promotion, etc, etc. But that first part of it, having them involved in the writing has been huge.
I don’t know about other people’s businesses but in ours, if I were to ask them to write an article, it would never happen. It’s been really beneficial for me to just give them a call, set-up 15-20 minutes to pick their brain—it just works a lot better and a lot smoother to have them have a conversation with me versus asking them to write something.
Jordan: I think that’s a really smart idea because there’s this quip lately that marketers need to think and act like journalists. It’s almost like you’re approaching that for content marketing standpoint.
Kelly: Absolutely. I would agree with that 100%.
Jordan: Nice. Kelly, something else I wanted to ask you is, you’ve mentioned a couple of times this is a relatively new position for you, what lessons learned have you had along the way of implementing content marketing within this organization? I think that’s super interesting and especially because you were talking 2017. This stuff works, we know it works, and some people are maybe on the edge of like, “Ahh, 2018. It’s too late to do this.” But I would love to hear your perspective on some of the lessons learned along the way and how you’ve done this successfully.
Kelly: Sure. I know one thing for me that’s been a big lesson learned has been to—once you’ve got a plan in place, you can spend hours and hours and hours putting together a plan, but somebody’s got to implement it otherwise nothing gets done. For me, one thing that I just have to remember is that, “Okay, you can only spend so much time adjusting your Excel spreadsheet and making sure all your tasks line up in CoSchedule and all of that stuff.” At some point, you have to stop with the planning and just get to work. Schedule that interview, transcribe that interview. That’s the one I really stumble on because it’s somewhat tedious process but at the same time, if you can transcribe the interview and write the first round of your article in the same day when your brain is still in that space, I guess, I think that’s been really helpful for me. Especially on those pieces that are very technical. You just have to get to work. It’s not too late to get something done but it’s important to have some kind of plan in place. But if you’re wanting to just get something off the ground, don’t spend so much time planning, just set something up and execute it. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, you learned something. That’s been the biggest thing for me. I have to buckle down and do it. Sometimes I tend to procrastinate which is never a good thing.
Jordan: I think that is amazing advice. You can spend so much time planning but at some point, you need to plan the work and then work the plan.
Kelly: Exactly. Yup.
Jordan: It’s amazing. Thank you for that. I was going to ask you too. You have mentioned stuff about personas, I’d love to pick your brain on that. How has that been helpful for you guys?
Kelly: It will be helpful once it’s done. We are in the process of defining that. We’ve had so many conversations about our target market. I think the persona is marketing’s biggest buzzword for your target market. It’s just another word for the same thing in my opinion. I think one thing that’s really important with writing in general, not necessarily just content marketing, but writing is knowing your audience. If you don’t know your audience, you don’t know who you’re talking to, how do you know how to speak to them.
Honestly, it’s been kind of a struggle because I know that’s one thing that even just on our social media pages and on our blog pieces that we’ve been putting out, it’s so so important to know who you’re talking to. Especially for our industry, with it being so technical, some of our client understand all of the information on like the engineering side, and some of them don’t. We have to decide who are we talking to, what level of knowledge did they have, what can we provide for them that’s going to be actually beneficial for them, and what are we going to provide them that lets them know that we’re the subject-matter expert while at the same time, not giving away our little secret sauce. Walking that line has been interesting, to say the least. It’s kind of a tough one to walk.
Jordan: Yeah, I can bet on that too. Sometimes, what we do at CoSchedule is we give away the secret sauce, and I think that might be harder to sell in an organization. Have you had success in coming up with a way to tell a full story without maybe getting under people’s skin with the organization?
Kelly: I would say yes and no. The piece called Why Good Referendums Fail, that was our biggest secret sauce giveaway. I know CoSchedule gives away their secret sauce because I am on that blog all the time–all the time I am on there. It’s actually really, really helpful for me. Kudos to you guys for doing an awesome job with your blog. That one article was probably the, like I said, that was our most successful piece. We had so much traffic on that. All of the quotes that we pull out from there, all the social messages, they got a lot more traffic than some of our other ones had. I don’t know if you could say that we’ve had success with it or not but we are working towards it.
Jordan: I think that goes back to one of your points earlier where once in a while it’s okay to send out a test, take a risk, and see what happens too. I still think that’s awesome advice.
Kelly: Especially if it’s, like for us, it’s our first year doing anything. I know going into 2018, I had to just mentally prepare myself for, “You know what, I’m going to make mistakes. Guaranteed, I will. “ Because not having done anything, there’s no baseline. For us, this year has been about creating that baseline. It’s the nature to be is–if you don’t start, you’re going to be wondering what you did or what you could have done. But if you do something, whether or not it succeeds, you’re still going to learn regardless of that.
Jordan: Wow. That‘s definitely a pull quote for this episode. It’s amazing advice. To kind of pivot a little bit but to poke at something else that you mentioned earlier, you said you have 12 locations that you work remote. I think that is a common thing for teams these days. I was wondering if you might have some tips around that. How do you collaborate with a remote team? What tips do you have for efficient collaboration–that sort of thing?
Kelly: Just to kind of expand on that, I’m in Missouri, our marketing director is in Fargo, and then we’ve got people in Minneapolis as well. Our marketing team is spread out. My biggest tip for working remotely or working in a different office that someone else that you’re having to collaborate with is utilizing the tools that you have. The phone is great but if you can video chat, that’s 100% the best way. It’s second best to in-person only, in my opinion. It’s kind of awkward at first. There’s no way around it.
The first few times that you’re video calling someone, is just going to feel weird. But I feel like the more you do it—just like anything else—the more you do it, the easier it gets. There’s something to be said for being able to see someone’s facial expressions and read their body language. All of my interviews that I do with people, they’re spread out everywhere too so having that video is key.
As far as collaborating on documents and stuff, like I mentioned earlier, we use Office 365 and so we can share stuff within our team, I guess, so that you don’t have five different versions of the same document. While we’re refining, like in my case it’d be article, while we’re refining articles we have that working document, we’d track changes, and all that stuff then using that with CoSchedule is nice too because once it gets finished, we upload the document there.
What we’ve been trying to do in the last several months as a marketing team has been keeping out of email as much as possible. Just because email gets so bogged down and there’s a time and a place for everything. When you’re going back and forth and when you have to send six different messages, email is not the most efficient way to communicate.
With CoSchedule, you can advance through the process, and that way if you’ve got somebody working on a document, and you know that you’re waiting for their updates but you don’t want them to have to send you the newer version via email, they’re just going to save it from wherever they are working on it, and then in CoSchedule they can just send you a message like, “Hey, we’re ready for the next round of edits.”It’s just nice to be able to advance through the process and still have a living document that we can work from. Cloud storage, use CoSchedule video chat.
Jordan: That is awesome. Awesome advice. Kelly, it just sounds like with all the projects that you’re working on, I know you listed just tons of them earlier, on top of collaborating with a team, I bet you have some really great tips for how you stay organized personally as a content marketer. I was wondering if you could share some of those with us.
Kelly: Sure. I have this prepared because organization is key. Quite honestly for us, we’ve tried different marketing calendars in the past. We’ve tried oodles of them. We tried Teams. We tried Microsoft Planner. I had a whiteboard–a huge whiteboard of four-month calendar so that I could use that in my office at one point. You got to find what works for you for organization. For us that’s been CoSchedule. It’s been a game changer to have as a team.
For me, my biggest advice for people that are listening that are already CoSchedule users is you pay for the software, use it. If you look at everything from a bird’s eye view, it’s going to be so overwhelming but that’s part of the planning process. You look at the bird’s eye view, you see everything that you’ve got to get done, and then you get to work planning it out. The nice thing with CoSchedule is you have the dashboard view. Some of our team members like to look at the calendar view, I like the dashboard view because then I can see, “Okay, I know I’ve got all these irons in the fire that’s sitting in the back of my brain. But for today, I have these five tasks or six tasks that need to be accomplished.” If you can just focus in on what you need to get done in that given day, it’s a lot less overwhelming.
That’s one thing—focus on the task at hand which is a lot easier said than done a lot of the time but utilize CoSchedule. It’s an awesome tool. Whether you’re using that or an Excel spreadsheet or whatever, utilize the tools that you have to stay organized is a big thing.
For us, another thing that’s been really great has been those task templates. We’re a B2B company and because each division is so specialized, like I said, I have to rely on those subject-matter experts, and so for me to be able to have the task template that has who I’m talking to, when it needs to be done, all of that is already automatically in that task template. I can just apply it and then adjust a couple of things here and there, and then those tasks are in my dashboard. I don’t have to worry about what’s happening two weeks from now. I can just focus on this week, this day, what I need to get done. I don’t know if that answers your question or not.
Jordan: Oh, absolutely.
Kelly: Use the task templates, that’s how I stay organized.
Jordan: That’s awesome. Along with that, I was kind of thinking about this as you were talking was, it sounds like you’ve got multiple projects going on simultaneously. I know you’re even working with multiple divisions of the business. I was wondering if you might have some advice for that. How do you stay organized during situations like that where you’re managing multiple projects?
Kelly: I think, there again, it comes down to the tasks templates. I also use an Excel spreadsheet to help plan out the content. When we first started CoSchedule, we had three different calendars for our three different divisions. We got to the point where it’s like, “No, this isn’t working. It doesn’t work.” So then we had Jamie combine it for us–it’s been great. Now we can use the save views to adjust between different companies but you still can go back and look at everything as a whole too which has been great.
Keep being organized with all the different divisions. My Excel spreadsheet has all the different content regardless of the division in there. We’re working in getting to the point where we’re got four new posts coming out per month, that’s going to be a stretch, we’re not there yet. I’m at the two per month, working on transitioning to three per month at this point, but once you’ve got your plan in place—for me, once I have my plan in place in Excel—ones recorder, I’ll go into CoSchedule and upload each piece of content. I’ll give it a guestimate on when I think we should publish it.
Once you get it uploaded, I apply the task template, and all the tasks are in there. They have a due date next to them. I think there was a CoSchedule blog post on workflow or something , so I applied that and then adjusted it for what we needed. Now that I have the template, it’s just like what I’ve said before, you upload that content, the tasks are already there, and then you can focus on what you have that day. Whether it’s set up and interview for this piece of content, or transcribe the interview for this piece of content, or design the social graphics for this piece of content–all of that tasks gets automatically put into your tasks per day per piece of content.
For me, I don’t like looking at the calendar for my day planning. I also use a regular, just handwritten planner too. I need to have my tasks in multiple places for me to stay focused. Otherwise, I’ll get lost. I think it’s even more critical when you have lots of different projects happening. That there, again, utilize the software that you have. In our case, it’s CoSchedule. Get it in there, use the task templates, and then work from the tasks that you have due. If you can stay on top of the tasks that you have due, everything else is just going to fall into place.
Jordan: I think that’s awesome advice. Kelly, I just want to ask you about this because you have mentioned that you’re at two blog posts now per month. You want to up it to four, what’s your take on that?
Kelly: By the end of the year, yeah.
Jordan: Yeah, by the end of the year. Why are you looking at increasing that publishing keyed answer? What’s your thought process there?
Kelly: We have three different divisions and then we also want to do something with thought leadership. If I am working up to four blog posts per month that ends up being one blog post per company. It doesn’t really end up being that much per company but we wanted to have something that was consistent. We have a team of five. We call ourselves “Fab Five”—our marketing team. We wanted to do something that was consistent especially now that we have the manpower to be more productive. We wanted to be able to publish something on a more regular basis.
In a perfect world, if we could get to at least once per month, that would be awesome. We post one for engineering team, one for consulting team, one for our tax team, and then one on this thought leadership–if you will. That was more at the request of some of our company leaders and just to kind of communicate the why behind what we do. I think everybody on our staff, maybe not everybody, but at least the leadership team has at least heard of the Start with Why by Simon Sinek. I can’t remember what the actual title of the book is called but we wanted to be able to communicate our why and so we put an article together for that.
We’ve got another one that we’re working on right now, from transitioning from that small company to a larger organization—just some topics that our leaders wanted to write about, to publish not only just internally to our own team but also to our clients, and potential clients just so that they know where we’re at as a company, and just to open up to our clients and our potential clients online versus just in person to maybe help start a relationship with people that want to learn our company and who we are versus just our qualifications.
Four month would be really once a month per division. That’s why we want to increase it.
Jordan: That’s perfect. It sounds like you’re after the right thing. Publishing content to produce results, to influence certain perceptions–makes a lot of sense to me. Kelly, just one last question to kind of wrap this up.
Jordan: Because we’re talking a lot about organization. You’re doing an amazing with marketing management in general. If I were a new marketer, because you’re going through this, you just came up with this experience over the past few months, what’s your best advice for a marketer who’s looking to get organized at chaos behind marketing management, where would you recommend that they should focus first?
Kelly: That’s a good question. Honestly—and this is going to sound so cheesy—because we’re doing a CoSchedule podcast but turn to CoSchedule, learn from our mistakes, we tried so many different calendars, like I said. You need to find some software to help you stay organized. If you’re working by yourself I think Excel would maybe work okay, so that you can see everything but if you want to eventually be ready to add to your marketing team, you need to have something that has the capability to have more than one person working in it.
We love CoSchedule. We love being able to have different people in there uploading different things. It’s not just about the organization, it’s about the workflow. How you’re going from start to finish on this big projects. Just get CoSchedule, I’ll just say that. Seriously, I mean it.
Jordan: That’s awesome advice. I appreciate that so much. Kelly, thanks for letting me pick your brain. For those of you who are listening, I had written down some questions for Kelly beforehand. I didn’t even ask half of them. I just picked her brain today. Kelly, you are amazing on this episode, thank you so much.
Kelly: yeah, thanks so much for having me.
Nathan is the head of marketing at CoSchedule. With the help of an awesome team, he’s helped CoSchedule attract more than 65 million marketers, convert 10 million email subscribers, and support 300,000 software users. Nathan has 15 years of proven corporate and startup marketing experience and continues to venture off the beaten path.When he’s not marketing, you’ll catch Nathan canoeing in the Boundary Waters or training for his next ultra marathon. Connect with Nathan on LinkedIn.