Are you an honest content marketer?

An enviable skill for any creative maverick to possess is the ability to objectively assess strengths and weaknesses.

In regards to content marketing, this has lead me to believe that a candid “content audit” can be an illuminating process for any marketer.

You’re probably sick of seeing David Ogilvy musings in my essays, but I promise this one is good and will be the last one for a while.

It’s from a letter he sent to his staff at Ogilvy & Mather, later to be released in The Unpublished David Ogilvy:

The following is a memo that struck terror into the hearts of the agency’s eleven copywriters, written when David decided, on the departure of Jud Irish, to become Chief Copy himself:

August 15, 1959

In my new role as Copy Chief, it will be necessary for me to know more about the talents of our copywriters than I now know.

Will you please let me see — in proof or layout form — the six best advertisements (print or broadcast) that you have produced since joining Ogilvy, Benson & Mather, and the three best that you had produced in your previous incarnations — if any.

I would like to have these on my desk before tomorrow evening.


Cuts deep and likely causes a damp brow, as I’m sure he intended.

If you’re unaware, Ogilvy valued his employees dearly but was a hard-driver. He was also a fine example of someone who made the maker-manager transition but never lost his cunning; in fact, he would personally write advertisements every once in a while simply to prove it.

What I’m advocating here, however, is not for the boss to bring down the hammer and have the content marketing team scramble.

Rather, I’m asking you if you think you’d be brave enough to make this assessment yourself. Could you be that candid about your work?

We’ll do it live

It wouldn’t be fair of me to ask that question and then not, as the zen-like Bill O’Riley once said, “Do it live.”

Because content marketers have our little obsession with multiples of 5, I’ll use that number instead — I have to list what I believe are my 5 best pieces of content for Help Scout.

Then I’ll quickly justify why (I did a longer justifcation in an internal document for myself).

This may not sound all that intimidating, but when you’re forced to pick “the best” out of your entire archives for a certain project, disregarding favoritism and focusing on merit, things can get uncomfortably honest.

First, I tried to define what makes a great Help Scout article, given what I’ve learned. Helping customers succeed with email support has generally been the biggest win topic-wise, but affinity explorations still matter.

Given these considerations, here’s my list…

  1. The Frugal Wow: How Small Gestures Create Lasting Loyalty — I was shocked that this did over 600 tweets. This post was one of the first to come to mind, simply because it captured a bread-and-butter element of support: often, a great experience is made through a little extra effort.
  2. The Lost Art of Candor in the Workplace — One of my most widely read essays in terms of syndication, and my favorite one on culture; a topic we value dearly. I was proud of the arguments made here, and thought I gave an important topic a fair shake, given a world that values back-patting and conflict workarounds.
  3. Don’t Let Tone Ruin Your Support Interactions — Likely the best piece in my contribution to our “tone” series, beginning with the essay on useful support phrases. From reader comments, this piece seemed to really capture some unique thinking on applying better tone when talking to customers.
  4. The Psychology of Color in Marketing & Branding — Probably in the top 3 for most popular pieces I’ve written. My favorite thing about this essay is that it’s a good example of a contrarian argument, which is an essay style I enjoy. This put us in front of people we would have never reached otherwise (the entire point of “affinity” writing).
  5. 10 Remarkable Customer Service Stories — This is squarely our best performing resource. Re-reading it, my current style would have probably resulted in this piece being written better, but overall this was an incredibly well received visual piece that’s been ruthlessly copied everywhere, heh.

I tried to keep these descriptions somewhat short publicly — as aforementioned I’ve done an internal evaluation on these articles that goes into more detail about where I see the Help Scout blog heading next.

The reason I don’t include it here is because your evaluation could look drastically different, depending on your goals.

Where are you lacking?

Frankly, no assessment is complete without identifying where you suck.

Because I decided to internally evaluate my best work, I thought it best to engage in some #CandorInTheWorkplace by asking my team to list their least favorite piece of writing from me.

I wanted gut reactions too; the first thing to come to mind. The less you think about it, the more honest it will be.

Here’s the email/message I sent out:

Hey, two quick questions if you don’t mind:

1.) Your LEAST favorite article from me (gut response).
2.) A few sentences explaining why.

I expect you to be necessarily honest. 🙂

I’m using these responses to evaluate where my writing could use improvement.


That’s it!

If you do this, you’ll have to remember that as a writer it’s your job to filter the feedback as necessary — just because someone says they don’t like something doesn’t mean they are right.

Your team is probably a lot like mine as well: they won’t want to be too harsh. Try to encourage blunt honesty if you send a similar message.

Here’s a brief summary of the responses I received (our team page, for reference).

  • Nick Francis, CEO: Nick felt that my early article on team building, while interesting, was too long and meandering — with so many points being made, it was hard to walk away with a single actionable item.
  • Ivana Flodr, VP Marketing: Ivana felt my essay on coining unique concepts suffered from an author assumption; that the reader would know what the Pomodoro Technique was (she didn’t). Also, she felt the takeaway was somewhat flat.
  • Becca Van Nederynen, UX Research: Becca also listed the Pomodoro article, saying she had no idea what I was referencing. She felt the takeaway was too light for a single article (interesting point, especially when compared to Nick and Paul’s feedback).
  • Paul Jun, Marketing: Paul had a somewhat surprising pick (to me) in he chose an older essay on customer complaints. He argued that the article felt too long to walk away with actionable takeaways in one sitting; this somewhat mirrors Nick’s comment.

I wanted to get feedback from one of our support folks, Justin, but he played the nice guy role and copped out. 😉

All-in-all, plenty of good stuff to chew on; their responses obviously being a bit longer than what I’ve shared here.

Being reminded that I shouldn’t make assumptions about what the reader knows–a point Steven Pinker actually highlights in the delightful new book The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century–made this a worthwhile endeavor in itself.


About the author: Gregory Ciotti is a marketer and (embarrassingly infrequent) writer. Previously, he led content marketing on Shopify’s growth team and was executive editor on the communications team.