December 17, 2012 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
Content managers with new clients have a difficult task ahead of them: they must simultaneously produce excellent first articles while also getting to know the client well enough to craft pleasing prose. There are few clients who are willing to sit back and take questionnaires, answer questions, and wait patiently for a week or more before the first pitch of ideas.
Luckily, there are clear steps a content manager must take to get to know new clients well enough to pitch initial ideas within 24 hours of learning the client’s company name. Here are the steps content managers should take before brainstorming for the first round of articles for a new client.
Get all of the available information possible from accounting and sales. They might know the exact size of the content order per month, or that the client hates frequent emails: any information is useful. Never assume that the client’s company is one way or another; instead, plan to conduct research.
Try a general Google of the client’s company first, searching the titles through the third page, and then search specific phrases such as “[Company] helpful/scam/alert/awesome/new.” Frequently content managers will discover dirt about the client’s company that should be noted, so that it’s avoided in articles. For example, if a company recently had a recall due to bad wiring, then the content should not mention or allude to wiring or recalls whatsoever.
Also make notes of company wins and new products that are coming out: this information will show the client you’re interested and doing your homework, and it will help during brainstorming. The final thing that should be noted are any questions that arise as a result of this research.
Find out which social sites the client’s company is using for marketing and promotions. Read their profiles thoroughly, and pay attention to the tone of their posts. Make note of the customer/consumer interaction with the client, and try to figure out the relationship the client has built with their audience. This information will help you to produce content that will engage the existing audience.
Here is a list of the sites you should check first:
This list may depend upon the client’s industry, which you should consider. Add to your list industry-niche blogs and networking sites that your client might like.
Take the time to thoroughly peruse the client’s company site. Make mental note of where content will be published, their style, and the tone of their previous articles. Make a list of their past titles so that they’re not repeated. Create a brand guide for the company from empirical evidence that you can compare to their actual brand guide: if there are discrepancies, ask questions.
While you’re on the company website, learn the faces of the client, and anyone else on the content team. It’s a good idea to attach a face to the name so that calls will feel more personal. Try to learn a few things about the client that are unrelated to the project in order to build rapport with him or her.
Figure out what the client’s main competitors are doing well and what they’re blundering currently. Review their content production schedule and publishing strategy for ideas on how to compete with them. Make a list of titles the competitors have done so that your titles don’t ever (accidentally) read as rip-offs. Lastly, make a mental note of their styles, so that you don’t inadvertently mimic them.
When you begin contacting the client, try not to be overwhelming. Ask specific, well-researched questions that are open-ended. Send initial rounds of ideas as ‘feelers’ to discover what he or she likes and dislikes. Ask the client what he or she likes and dislikes about the competitors and their style. Lastly, determine a firm schedule that you can definitely stick to for the foreseeable future: the client’s impression of your team is entirely dependent on what’s delivered and if it’s on time.
Perhaps the most valuable feedback you’ll receive from the client is to the initial batch of finished articles or infographics. Pay careful attention to the reactions, and make notes of which writers were most pleasing to the client. Investigate the articles they disliked for similarities, whether they’re writers, styles, or topics. Take all of this information and use it to revise your view of the client’s company for future projects.
Getting to know a new client is a continuous process that requires attention and respect. If a firm foundation is built early in the relationship, then the communication will be clear, and enjoyable.
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