For more than a decade, my job was to curate and create content for a trade media company’s print and digital communications. After more than a decade, I left my job to pursue other job prospects. Since then, I have been reviewed 10 years of issues of the print publication that I used to create.
Here are 10 things I learned from reviewing it.
- I made content king. Once I felt comfortable enough in my position to try new things with content, I have pushed for original, exclusive and Canadian content. It was one of the few tools, as an editor, to differentiate my company from their competitors, and offer a competitive/sales advantage. This trend was embraced by competitors, and my company led in the amount of published content that featured original, exclusive and Canadian content.
- Content can drive sales. Content that more closely reflects the audience of an advertiser will be more appealing to an advertiser—leading to increased ad sales. But, content is also a great way to sell product. Several times in my career, people have reported me that someone purchased a machine, because they read my story about it. These stories, which featured machine features and application information, served as customer testimonials, and non-paid content is more impactful and trusted than paid content (advertising). Now I write these stories for equipment manufacturers and dealers, so they can increase exposure while decreasing advertising costs.
- I like to explore new ideas. The world of heavy equipment may seem small to someone not in the heavy equipment industry but it is large and diverse to anyone who is willing to explore it. I have written more than 250,000 words oh heavy equipment, and the amount of information I don’t know could fill books. I explored heavy equipment—from construction to mining to forestry to landscaping to trucking to utilities and more—and there is always more to explore.
- Some of my content just sucked. Today, people are being applauded for not being afraid to fail. Well, I used to work alone with near complete control over content. There was little training or potential for internal collaboration. How could I not fail? And some of those failures translated into bad content. I learned from it, and am a better communications professional, because of it.
- Evidence of continuous self-improvement. Continuous self-improvement is an ambition of mine, and by reviewing 10 years of content, I can see evidence for it in my content. My content improved as I better learned my audience and the industries in which they operate. A couple times each year, I would announce to my family that I had created the best issue in my career. My last best issue was in March 2017, and I left that position in June, because there was not enough support for further improvement and content development.
- The influence of sales on content is not always bad. Advertisers were 2x-5x more likely to be featured in the publication. It wasn’t that contrived, but we had good relationships with our advertisers. It often happened like this: our Sales Manager would sit down with a client and ask him which machines he wanted featured in his ad that issue. When he found out a machine they had featured in a previous ad had been sold, he would tell me about it. I was always eager to document a specific application of a machine and to take pictures of it in action.
- The economy can influence content. I have written about economic issues, but that is not what I am getting at. In 2009-2010, the company’s number of advertisers seriously decreased. In response, I cut article lengths and streamlined content. Content had to be even more strategic than before and advertisers had more clout. Out were the 1200-word features—in were the 800-word customer testimonials. It wasn’t until the recovery and the greater use of digital reporting that this changed.
- Some content gets harder to write. I was a little unsettled when I wrote my first obituary. Six months on the job—it was my first time writing an obituary, and I wanted to be respectful. I only knew of the deceased, and writing the obituary was fairly easy. Nine years later, I know a lot of people in the industry well, and attended an industry event, where I was expecting to see a work colleague/friend. When I arrived, I asked for him—only to be told that he had died earlier that morning on the job site. That was a difficult obituary to write.
- The digital influence on print is not over. When I began my career, digital communications had no effect on my day-to-day work. Like other trade publications, we had a web site that got updated every few months. By the end of my career, we had experimented with many forms of digital communications. The print publication changed as the influence of digital mediums increased, and print publications will change more as the two mediums redefine their boundaries.
- Life without an editorial calendar is awesome. I used to create and curate content based on a schedule that I created 6-18 months in advance. Now I pursue content as I please or as it trends.