7 ways to boost your content commissioning
If you’re feeling stuck as to how to commission content that’s relevant and timely, try out some of these routes to develop your themes and find the right authors or creators
One of the most common frustrations I hear from clients is not knowing how to commission. They have the big, broad ideas but don’t know how to distill them into subjects that are relevant and timely and build out their content offer.
I recently ran a session with my students on the MA Publishing course at London College of Communication on list-building in publishing, and it reminded me that so many of the principles of book commissioning apply across the board for content commissioning: developing themes, finding the right authors or creators, nurturing unknown voices
There are a multitude of ways in which you can do this, but here are seven routes that have always served me well in my career as a commissioner.
Your own company’s employees are often the best place to start when trying to recruit new content advocates because they’re already familiar with your ways of working.
They won’t have time - no one ever has time - so you will need to sniff around their work to find interesting nuggets you could develop.
They will tell you they’re not a writer - everyone does - so ensure that you have a brief style guide for them to follow and can reassure them on the editorial and publishing process.
In previous in-house roles I have run weekly editorial meetings to formalise the sniffing-out process. These were open forums at which anyone could present an idea, and we worked together to decide the best format in which to publish it.
2. Google Alerts
Whatever area you work in, you’ll benefit from setting up targeted Google Alerts around your themes. Set them to come into your inbox at the same time each morning and take ten minutes to review. This only works if you set it as a task, rather than something you skim through.
If someone is speaking at an event then they are already articulating viewpoints and areas of research, as well as being interested in raising their own profile. In effect, they’re bought into the benefits of what you’re promoting by offering them a platform. Utilising this will be easier than starting from scratch with someone completely untested.
Set yourself a realistic target of how many events each week or month you would like to attend, as well as an achievable target for an outcome. For example, I choose to attend two events per month and aim to make one new contact in person, relevant to my sector, each time.
Beware of anything that sounds like a sales pitch or is from anyone who describes themselves as a ‘motivational speaker’ and/or ‘visionary’. It’s usually self-aggrandising nonsense.
4. Reality TV
If you are working for a commercial B2C organisation with a target group of 16-24-year-old women, then you’re shooting yourself in the foot by proudly saying that you never watch reality TV. Your career as a commissioner has no room for you to be a snob.
5. Social media
Beware the huge social media stars with massive followings and instead take a leaf out of the book of savvy brands who know that a smaller following - say, 5,000 - can mean better engagement from the audience.
Translate this to content commissioning and you’re engaging the audience much lower down in the content funnel, meaning a much better chance for a decent ROI.
6. Google search data
Much like in book publishing commissioning editors maximise their most popular subjects and titles, if you are running an online platform you have access, via Google Search Console, to the information on what users are searching for when your site shows up in search results.
As well as showing you specific items of content you could produce to encourage them to click through, this might give you an idea of products or services you could offer, too.
7. The small corners for unknowns
We all only have finite time and energy, but skim some off the top of your commissioning stash to seek out the up-and-coming industry professionals that you can nurture and offer a platform to.
Who’s been publishing an interesting university newspaper? Who’s just set up a podcast that’s targeting a new niche? Who’s writing a great blog for a startup?
Remember to set up a content calendar so you can commission pieces in advance. I introduced content calendars in my piece on how to master the fundamentals of content strategy.
If you want to dive more deeply into this area, read Gill Davies’s brilliant and very funny guide to Book Commissioning and Acquisition*. And if you want to hear more about content funnels, I run a workshop on that.
*This is an affiliate link. This means that I make a small percentage of the revenue if you click through and makes a purchase, but at no extra cost to you.