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Content Marketing: How to fill writing skills gaps

We know we need content marketing, but we don't always have the skills necessary to produce it consistently and at high enough quality to engage and convert. This seems to be a problem for entrepreneurs and small business owners as well as larger companies with dedicated marketing teams.

According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), one-quarter of B2B and one-fifth of B2C marketers have identified skills gaps on their teams. Across the board, one-fifth of marketers have made becoming stronger writers a priority for this year.*

Writing--from identifying topics to researching to putting the words together and organizing them--is more than knowing the rules of spelling, punctuation, usage and grammar. Even professionals who write well enough for business may not have the higher-level skills for writing to inform and influence.

Depending on your needs and your resources, there are several ways to address your specific content marketing writing skills gap. You can hire staff or freelancers to meet the unmet needs, or invest in training and learning opportunities. For this post, let's focus on the latter.

Content-marketing-writing-keyboard-mugContent Marketing Writing Skills  Development

There are three kinds of content marketing writing training to invest in:

1. Custom In-House Writing Training

  • Pro: Expressly focused on the unique skills you need to develop
  • Con: Higher price point than general options

Quantify your team's specific needs or use a consultant to identify them, and create a program tailor-made to tune-up or train those capabilities. This kind of training is often provided as a full- or half-day session or a monthly series of workshops introducing replicable strategies and techniques that produce results. Look for consultants who work with you from identification through service provision, of course, but you get better results from a consultant who provides follow-up and assessment services. Mastery comes from repeated attempts and small corrections in-process, so avoid a one-shot training devoid of follow-on assistance. Bonus points if your consultant allows some on-call services for assistance between visits.

“We believe that writing skills are at the core of good communication. We felt it was important to invest in developing these skills through customized writing skills workshops," explains Josée Rheault, vice president of external relations and operations for Assuris. "The workshops provided our team the skills to write complex ideas in concise and simple language. It also allowed us to develop a consistent writing style across our organization.”

2. External Writing Training

  • Pro: Cost-effective way to address diverse needs
  • Con: Not personalized and not always available when you need it

If you don't have the resources to invest in custom training, consider in-person and online workshops, seminars and courses offered by trusted sources like IABC, PRSA, AMA, CMI and Marketing Profs. Some trade groups, like the Insurance & Financial Communicators Association, offer professional development opportunities like webinars and conference sessions tailored to the needs of writers in the industry. Verify that the offering is at the right level (beginner, experienced, etc.) and check reviews to ensure it delivers as promised. Look for presenters with solid reputations for imparting wisdom, not pitching business. It's also important to evaluate post-event options like recordings of sessions and availability of assets so attendees have resources to refer to later and share with the team.

"As a writer in a busy corporate communications department, I like to continually raise the bar on my skills and learn best practices from my peers across the industry," says Ralph Chaump Jr., internal communications specialist with Guardian Life. "As part of my professional development planning, I make sure to attend one or two industry conferences every year so I can learn from my colleagues about what they're doing to create buzz and connect with their desired audiences. Attending a conference or a workshop session is a cost-effective method to network with others and expand your knowledge. The exchange of ideas sparks creativity and enables me to return to the office energized about trying new things."

3. Writing Coaching

  • Pro: Intense and personalized instruction yields faster and better results
  • Con: Higher price point than most external or group options

Writing coaching is another option, especially for high-value employees taking on new responsibilities or transitioning to entirely new roles. A coach works closely with clients to analyze existing skills and create a plan for developing the new skills. Sessions focus on real writing tasks in real-time, so the learning and feedback are frequent and immediate. The most effective coaches provide direct and actionable insights and strategies through a combination of live sessions, on-call trouble-shooting and regular progress reports.

Linda Shelton, internal communications manager for Tufts Medical Center and Floating Hospital for Children, worked with a writing coach to build upon her skills as a news reporter and write more effectively for marketing and general communications. "Working with my writing coach, I learned how to ask the right questions before I start writing to be sure everyone agrees about the purpose and outcome," she notes. "I also learned how to use more persuasive language and reach emotions so the writing is memorable, yet still easy to understand."

Using one or a combination of these options creates a professional development plan that addresses the content marketing writing skills gaps holding you back.

* All CMI data from the 2016 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets & Trends (North America) or 2016 B2C Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets & Trends (North America)

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