It’s About Time: Six Tried-and-True Ways to Extract Content From Your SMEs

Content creation is one of those tasks organizational leaders must do but rarely find the time for.

Time is our scarcest resource. We’re all guilty of shelving work that isn’t a top priority, and that is precisely what makes extracting content ideas from executives and internal experts a major challenge for nearly every marketing department.

Business leaders work 9.7 hours per weekday, on average, and conduct business on 79% of weekend days and 70% of vacation days, on average, according to research by Harvard Business School. As much as 72% of their work time is spent in meetings and 32% of their meetings last an hour (38% are even longer).

In light of that, it’s difficult for CMOs and corporate content teams to extract knowledge from internal experts, even when they value your efforts—and it’s nearly impossible when they don’t!

For years, I watched internal marketing teams struggle to develop high-quality, original content specific to their organization, written by their leaders and targeted for their customers. CMOs and content teams often resort to begging (“I’ll take you to lunch!”) or threats (“Our customers are desperate for direction!”) to publish even a single blog post.

The result of such coercion looks something like this: The CEO, product manager, or EVP-level employee burns the midnight oil after they put their “real work” to rest, only to arrive at the CMO’s desk in the morning with pages and pages of incoherent, stream-of-consciousness prose.

Sound familiar?

With so much technology at our fingertips and better communication and transparency than ever, our marketing teams can and should do better. We can find a way to produce regular streams of high-quality content authored by internal-expert sources.

Here are six tried-and-true ways to extract content from your executives and internal experts.

1. Abstract Day

Depending on the size of your organization and the amount of content you need to generate, Abstract Day is one of the most effective methods at extracting content from your subject-matter experts (SMEs).

Think of it as speed dating. Pick a day and schedule internal experts every 30 minutes. During their time slot, the experts come to a conference room—or jump onto a running Zoom meeting—to present a content idea they have or to make themselves available for an interview about their latest project, client issue/challenge, an industry first, or other relevant news item. During the conversation, gather the expert’s best-practices, a timely hook, and any other information you need to eventually write the post or article. Repeat monthly, bi-annually, annually—whatever frequency makes best sense for your needs.

Tip: The Abstract Day method is most successful when the result (the article abstract, blog, whitepaper) is emailed to the executive for approval prior to publishing. Give the SME full rights to make edits (via revision tracking, of course, so you can see them). Let SMEs know that ahead of time, when they sign up for Abstract Day, so there’s no apprehension.

2. Adaptive Reuse

Take a PowerPoint from an SME’s sales or client presentation. Turn it into a post or article. Again, always send your content to the expert for approval. Ask for edits via revision tracking, and publish.

3. Already Scheduled Calls

Chances are that your internal experts and executive team move from call to call all day with clients, potential clients, or even news or trade media. Jump on a call, or go with them to a presentation/sale where they’re likely presenting their best client-facing content, and capture it!

4. Research

Have a topic in mind? Do the necessary background research. Find out what your competitors have to say on the topic and send your SME a list of five pointed questions that highlight your organization’s take, best-practices, or unique tips. Schedule a call with the appropriate SME for just 15 minutes, then write the piece of content.

5. The Voice Note

For that exec or expert who can’t be bothered by you or your team for even 15 minutes, suggest the voice note. (This idea comes from my friend John Bonini, director of marketing at Databox and author of the Some Good Content blog.) Send your SMEs an email with the same five pointed questions from Item No. 4 and ask that they record their answers while they’re on the train or in their car on the way to or from the office. Voila! You’ve got their original ideas—in their own words.

6. Writing Workshop Lunch & Learn

For adventurous executives who want to write their own content but aren’t sure how, or if they need more direction, offer a 30-minute writing workshop and food (the latter is critical!).

Have your freelance writers or internal content team give a crash course (use visuals to keep them awake) on how to write trade magazine articles or blog posts. Outline how 2021 content differs from a college paper (the last time many of them wrote something), and get them started on an outline for the post/article around their idea.

Present examples of content your firm has published in the last year or two; outline each one’s success and ROI.

Tip: I find the writing workshop most successful when it’s followed up with a 15-30-minute session in which the expert can share an outline with you or your team before the writing begins. That avoids having to painfully redirect executives after they’ve already put the time in to write—or you’re stuck with publishing something that makes you cringe.

* * *

Like everything else in life, the tactics outlined in this article require time to take flight. Eventually, your executives and SMEs will get used to having the marketing team on calls, and they’ll remember Abstract Day fondly from the publicity it gave them the last time around.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll eventually “teach” the leadership team to think like a marketer.

OK, fine. That’s a little ambitious.

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