As content marketing investments are on the increase, with ANA’s projection of a 42% increase by 2022,  many businesses are reconsidering their organizational frameworks. However, the content frameworks, which we’ve relied on for the last five years aren’t strong enough to support the next five years of increased investments and appetite to scale.

It’s no surprise then that organizations are re-evaluating their existing frameworks, processes and team structures to better support the content needs of the future. Many businesses are opting for a more centralized team for their content marketing efforts, one that is more internal than external. The more centralized approach, the eponymous “Chief Content Officer”, allows for greater control, consistency, efficiency and shared best practices across the organization around both strategy and execution. 

The content landscape is changing, and organizations that adapt their content structures and processes successfully will emerge as content leaders in the future. Wondering what changes your organization needs and the most efficient way to implement them? Let’s explore three main aspects of content organization in this article:

  1. What is the current state of play around content organizations 
  2. What is the right way to think about internal vs external resources
  3. How to work out what is right for your business

The Current State of Play

Content teams started to emerge in Corporate America over 10 years ago. These teams were tactical and fragmented across business structures, typically connected to a channel like the website, CRM, social media or corporate communications. These individual content teams were often seen competing for investment and career progression. The agency ecosystem mirrored these marketing silos, reflecting the content buying process. Both created a lack of “audience-first and integrated” thinking. 

Source: Altimeter

This model leads to inconsistent messaging, duplication of effort, weak customer experience and a diluted brand impression. Most importantly, the crucial insights that can be garnered from content experiences aren’t shared across the organization due to these siloed efforts. 

Now, 10 years later, there are thousands of marketers with content in their job titles, and enterprise content teams have emerged. Some of these are in their second generation of development. And while that’s incredible, if you’ve read Organizing for Content: Models to Incorporate Content Strategy and Content Marketing in the Enterprise (a study based on interviews with 78 practitioners, content services providers, and domain experts), you’ll understand how important it is to ‘correctly incorporate’ content strategy and marketing in your enterprise to be successful. 

Internal vs External Resources

According to the landmark 2018 ANA report, The Continued Rise of the In-House Agency, in-house agency penetration is rising (in-house agencies, sometimes also referred to as content studios, provide the benefits of cost efficiencies, speed, institutional knowledge, and in many cases, strong creative too).

  • 78% of ANA members worked with an in-house agency in 2018, versus 58% in 2013 and 42% in 2008.
  • For 90% of respondents, the workload of their in-house agency has increased in the past year, of which 65% say that the workload has increased “a lot”.

Interestingly, ANA’s 2020 update reported a division of labor between the internal and external teams, with internal teams leading on strategy, technology and measurement, and agency partners playing a more important role in development, production and distribution.

The pandemic allowed us to pause, and encouraged a reconsideration of the right balance between internal and external resources. For content measurement, most companies look within. The highest performing content enterprises keep measurement at the core of content strategy. There is no reliance on agency partners.

Beth Traglia, Sr. Director at Farmers Insurance, shares, “My highest performing teams are those that lean into the content math. It up-levels their thinking to be more strategic. My advice to all content practitioners is to get access to your measurement accounts. It’s a game-changer.”

In the short term, it remains easier to hire an external partner, than to build, train, and retain a high performing content team. But when companies aim to consistently develop content that is on-brand and delivers high value, investing in an internal team seems to be the preferred choice.

Not to mention, these resource options can be used exclusively or in combination. The ANA recently reported on Ally’s use of both external and internal resources to build out teams with subject matter experts. While external agency partners focused on big picture “bedrock items,” internal SMEs at Ally take on the daily grind of tactical executions related to paid search, content development, and user experience initiatives. Over time, Ally has established an editorial expertise that allows the brand to create content quickly, capturing cultural moments as they happen. This has been especially helpful in 2020, a year where brands and consumers have experienced rapid unpredicted change.

Organizational Approach for Your Content Enterprise

The emergence of a more centralized content enterprise is driven by the desire to raise standards and improve efficiencies. The main opportunity is to elevate the role of content strategy and original content development, and for content to sit alongside the customer experience and brand teams. Content strategy is moving from being siloed to integrated.

Content organizational structures are being formed at a time of great disruption for the marketing department.  The rise of channel complexity, audience fragmentation, and marketing technology are compelling marketing teams to integrate content into their very core. Content is now a consistent touchpoint, throughout the customer journey and across all channels. Let’s learn about some of the most popular  organizational models:

The Federal Model

In the age-old Federal Model, content is distributed across the business, and exists separately in different channels and geographies. This begs the question, why would it ever be considered? For one of two reasons—if the needs of each content team are vast, and so the efficiencies of a central team aren’t too clear, or if the complexity around the audience or product is too high and hence, the content team needs to be at the front line of the customer experience.

Content as a Business Model

On the other end of the spectrum sits “Content as a Business” model, which considers all departments as its internal clients. The content it creates is so good that it can be monetized to advertisers, so it’s like a business in its own right. Think Walmart and Walgreens. The challenge here is that its internal clients may begin to feel less important as all the thinking and execution is performed by the “Content as a Business” team. Also, if performance dips, other departments may want to build out their own content capabilities.

David Granger, Head of Content, Philip Morris International explains, “The benefits of in-house production and content control need to be balanced with several considerations. Firstly, the output has to remember who the audience is. One colleague I worked with in a previous life complained that some content was produced for “an audience of one”—essentially the management. They may have been brilliant at business acumen, but weren’t always the most savvy when it came to digital and social content (and as soon as the word content is uttered, let alone produced, everyone is a homegrown expert). And anyone who has tried to create by committee will know the pitfalls. Owning the means of production and distribution is great, but fans can see through overtly corporate messaging.”

The Hub and Spoke Model

That then leads us to the hybrid “Hub and Spoke” model, which is distributed yet centralized. This model seeks to get the best of both worlds, efficiency and best practices from the hub, and sensitivity and accountability for the business from the spoke. 

The nuances for this model can vary as the hub can take a variety of approaches, from setting down policies and processes, to being responsible for innovation and content development. It recognizes that the role of the hub can change over time, as confidence and competency build up and brands see the benefits of working with a central team. And this flexibility makes it more successful than other models. 

Which Model is Best Suited for Your Business? 

We’ll share insider tips on identifying the right content organization structure for your organization in our next piece, which will be live on our blog on April 28. And to get you inputs from experts at BlackRock, Philip Morris, Citizens Bank, and Farmers Insurance, we’re hosting a hands-on workshop, The Future-Proof Content Enterprise, on May 13. You don’t want to miss out on this: register now.