How to Run an Enterprise Content Marketing Operation (According to Leaders Who Do)

Content marketing at small companies is like riding a bike — you jump on and start pedaling. If you pedal long and hard enough, you'll eventually get where you need to be. Content at large companies is more like captaining a cruise ship. You have a destination, but you have guests to serve along the way. You need navigational instruments, a few nice restaurants, a good band, and probably a water slide or two for the kids.

The Challenges and Opportunities of Enterprise Content Marketing

As we wrote in 2019 Content Trends Gleaned From 160+ Sales Calls, small companies often outperform large ones when it comes to traffic. Individual content creators at a startup can generate more pageviews per capita than their counterparts who follow an enterprise content marketing strategy.

If you don't look closely enough, it appears large content teams are less than the sum of their parts. Upon closer examination, nothing could be further from the truth.

A Quick Comparison of Enterprise-Level and Startup Content Marketing

The fundamentals of content marketing remain the same regardless of company size, but there are notable differences in how teams operate at startups versus enterprises:

  • Impact: Content often has an outsized impact on a startup's business and faces intense pressure to succeed quickly. Enterprises typically have more customer acquisition channels, giving content teams more runway and budget to take on ambitious content marketing campaigns.
  • Agility: Startup content teams are usually lean, consisting of one or just a few people, supported by contractors. Enterprise teams are larger and need more management, processes, and software to keep things running smoothly.
  • Objectives: Startups often focus their content efforts solely on traffic and lead generation, while enterprise content may be used to support overall brand awareness and multiple lines of business across the organization.
  • Horizon: Startup content teams can move fast but rarely invest in content projects that take more than a month or so to complete. Enterprises can tackle bigger initiatives, but these require more content planning, resources, and budget.
  • Operations: Most content production at startups is done in-house, giving marketers exposure to a wide range of content formats like social media posts, white papers, and infographics. Enterprises are more likely to outsource specialized work to agencies and contractors.

Startup content marketingEnterprise content marketing
Content can have an outsized impact on the business.The business has diversified customer acquisition channels.
Lots of pressure on content to succeed quickly.More runway and budget to take on ambitious projects.
Content management operation is very lean, often just 1-2 people plus contractors.Larger teams create the need for more management, content plans, processes, and software.
Content is focused solely on rankings, traffic, and lead generation.Content may be used to support overall brand awareness and teams across the org.
Content supports a single line of business.Content may be asked to support multiple lines of business.
The primary task of a content team is content creation and distribution.Large blogs and legacy content necessitate ancillary projects like content audits, custom analytics solutions, and reporting.
Teams can move fast but don't often invest time in the types of content projects that take more than a month to finish.Big projects are possible but require long-term planning, resourcing, and budgeting.
Most content creation is done in-house, so content marketers get experience doing different kinds of work (LinkedIn, webinars, video content, podcasts, thought leadership).Hire contractors or marketing agencies to take on unique content formats and specialized work.

To dig into these differences, I talked to content heavyweights with experience at large companies: Sean Blanda (Crossbeam, Invision, Behance), Andy Claremont (Glide, GoDaddy), Sonja Jacob (athenahealth, Meta, AppDynamics, Drift), Megan Morreale (Reddit, Taboola), and Ty Magnin (Animalz, UiPath, Appcues).

Thanks to them — and my own experience at QuickBooks — you'll get a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities content teams face at large companies. It's easy to assume enterprise organizations are all red tape and bureaucracy, but Sean, Andy, Sonja, and Ty have a different story to tell.

Develop an Enterprise Content Strategy (and Document It!)

Business strategy must inform content strategy. This is true for startups, too, but their missions tend to be clearer than enterprises, so they break down less often.

"Don't ask for the tactic. Ask for the strategy, then work backward to the tactics."

— Sean Blanda, VP Content at Crossbeam

Enterprise business strategy is a complex, moving target. A marketing organization is likely made up of several teams, each with their own specialties (product marketing, paid, SEO, social, brand, etc.). Without a clear edict from leadership, it's difficult to know which projects can have the highest impact.

All the people we spoke with for this article emphasized the importance of a clear mission. Sean pointed out that once you understand that mission, it becomes the constraint that catalyzes creativity. "Don't ask for the tactic. Ask for the strategy, then work backward to the tactics. The creativity comes from being boxed in ... when someone tells you the end goal, and you have to figure out how to get there."

One other challenge is the potential for layers of hierarchy between a CMO and their content team. But this isn't always a bad thing. Andy points out that being three layers removed from senior management means he is rarely putting out fires. Instead, he has time and space to consider how to best use his team's time. He explained, "The lead time is just so much longer in the enterprise. There's a little more freedom to just kind of step back, take a breath, and spread things out. No one is breathing down your neck."

All content teams — regardless of company size — should document content strategy. This exercise gives your team and your boss an easy way to show the rest of the company what you're working on. It also forces you to consider how well you understand the business strategy. If you find that it feels vague, ask for clarity from your boss, their boss, or their boss's boss.

Master the Management of Content Creation Agencies and Contractors

Managing agencies and contractors is a highly under-appreciated skill, but it's hugely important for content teams at large companies. This is because:

  • Finding a budget for agencies is much easier than adding headcount.
  • Vendors enable one employee to manage a huge amount of work.

"I've learned that I have to drive deeper relationships with the contractors and agencies I work with."

— Sonja Jacob, Director of Content Marketing athenahealth

Entrepreneur and investor Auren Hoffman writes, "Fortune 500 companies have increased the number of vendors they have by 10x in the last 10 years. But during the last ten years, most of them increased headcount by less than 15%." He goes on to say, "Not only is vendor management and selection the most important skill … it is also the skill least likely to appear when you poll business people about 'what is the most important skill?'"

Build Long-Term Relationships with Vendors

Sonja carefully selects her contractors and builds long-term relationships that benefit both parties. "I've learned that I have to drive deeper relationships with the contractors and agencies I work with," she says.

Treating contractors like partners rather than outsourced vendors means they can work with more context. This, in turn, means Sonja spends less time explaining, preparing, editing, revising, and correcting their work. And, as Ty told us, building strong relationships with vendors is crucial for ensuring outsourced content aligns with your brand's messaging and style. The longer you work together, the more intimately they understand your preferences and priorities, leading to better results.

Establish Content Governance to Improve Your Workflows

Establishing content governance is a crucial part of any enterprise content strategy. By setting standards and guidelines for content workflows, you can streamline your content creation process, minimize back-and-forth with contractors, and ensure consistency across all your content.

Start by documenting your current processes, identifying pain points, and brainstorming solutions. Involve your team and key stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page and bought into the new way of working. The goal is to create a system that helps your team deliver each piece of content more efficiently and effectively.

Sonja has seen firsthand the impact of even small process improvements. She created a template for her freelance writers that answers common questions and collects the metadata needed for publishing. This simple change has led to better, more efficient work from her team of contractors.

Change Your Mindset from Tactics to Strategy

Evolving from someone who creates content to someone who manages vendors that create content is a giant leap. When content marketers make this transition, it's often challenging to let go of something you know well (writing and promoting content) to do something that feels very uncomfortable (vetting contractors and giving them the tools to succeed).

"To truly increase your value, you need to understand what drives the company's long-term growth and focus maniacally on that."

— Sean Blanda, VP Content at Crossbeam

This is just the type of soft skill that is a near-requirement for content folks at large companies, but it's also a great way to elevate your career.

Sean wrote in a 2019 blog post, "To truly increase your value, you need to understand what drives the company's long-term growth and focus maniacally on that. This means elevating your mental frameworks from tactics (i.e., 'I must publish three articles a week') to strategy (i.e., 'I must find a way to help our events team sell more tickets')."

Move at the Same Speed as Startups

Enterprise companies have a reputation for moving slowly. If you're used to working in the startup world, it's hard to imagine that making decisions, approving budgets, or planning for next year can take weeks or months.

Sonja spent years at startups like Drift, Docsend, and Mattermark. When she felt ready for change, she decided to try content roles at larger companies. Before joining athenahealth, she held jobs at AppDyamics and Meta, where she had tens of thousands of coworkers, a ton of upward mobility, and resources to tackle all kinds of cool projects.

Startups are in her DNA, though, and she was used to working fast. "In moving to a larger company, I noticed that projects can take a lot longer, mostly because you're going through layers of reviews. Coming from startups, I'm just accustomed to moving at a different speed. And ultimately, it's an advantage if you can move faster and get stuff done. People appreciate it."

Keeping your team lean and quick could be the secret to avoiding bureaucracy and red tape. Andy explained that his small team acts in the same way a content team would operate at a startup. He says, "We're a handful of people with a WordPress site."

Sean also stresses the importance of "getting stuff done." "If you're a content leader, I cannot overstate the benefit of just shipping stuff, wading through bureaucracy, and releasing something that is on brand that your team can be proud of."

Serve the Entire Org and Your Own Initiatives

Content teams are increasingly asked to support other teams. The partner marketing team wants a case study, the sales team needs a new one-pager, the demand gen folks are eager to publish a new ebook, and so on. (We've discussed this trend at length here.)

On one hand, this makes it harder for a content team to achieve their KPIs. If your team is tasked with growing traffic or other metrics, it's hard to do that and help other teams. On the other hand, taking on such tasks elevates the role of a content team within the company.

Ty says, "Content in an enterprise needs to do two things. It needs to support the rest of the organization because every team wants some amount of content. But content teams can and should also act as a proactive strategic entity like demand-gen, brand, and product marketing with some of its own initiatives."

Balancing these two roles—supporting other teams and driving your own strategic initiatives—is critical for content teams to maximize their impact and value within enterprise organizations. If your team is known for helping other teams achieve their goals, asking for additional budget or people gets easier.

At Invision, Sean and his then-colleague Kristin Hillery split the content team to address this challenge. One team worked like an internal agency, using content to support the work of other teams. The other team focused on publishing on the blog and growing organic traffic. This allowed them to create processes for each team and measure how each was doing.

Sonja's experience at AppDynamics was similar. "I have my own traffic goals, plus our team supports the rest of our 75-person marketing team as well as marketing product releases," she says. She notes that it's easy to see the value of the work but hard to always tie it to KPIs.

Build Systems to Handle New Content Requests

My content team at QuickBooks was inundated with requests from other teams. We couldn't say "yes" to all of them, but we couldn't say "no" either.

We created a simple intake form for content requests and reviewed them in our weekly meeting. We then set aside a percentage of time we could dedicate to supporting other teams and made our bosses aware of the work we tackled each week, month, and quarter.

Interestingly, our intake process reduced the number of requests we got — some requests were half-baked ideas, and our intake form forced folks to consider whether their projects were important or not.

At UiPath, Ty and his team also received seemingly endless requests on their journey from $43M to $1B+ in ARR. Their solution was a tiered operating model to prioritize requests from across the organization based on their importance and impact.

The tiered system worked as follows:

  • Tier 1: The most strategic content projects. Produced in-house by the content team.
  • Tier 2: Important but less critical projects. Outsourced to agencies but still managed by the content team.
  • Tier 3: Lower-priority projects. Handled by the requesting team, with guidance and oversight from the content team.

To objectively assign tiers, Ty's team created a content calculator that scored each request based on three measures:

  • Value to the business
  • Value to the customer
  • Feasibility

They used the scores from this calculator to build data-driven content calendars, which they reviewed with stakeholders to get buy-in on ideas and their prioritization.

Measure Attribution with More Sophistication than First- or Last-Click

Another challenge enterprise content marketing teams face when supporting multiple departments and objectives is attribution and reporting. Megan says, "You usually end up with a first-click or last-click attribution model because it's the easiest to maintain."

But those models can lead you astray by assigning all credit to the first or last content asset on the buyer's journey. For example, with last-click attribution, teams create tons of bottom-of-the-funnel content that's too salesy.

Content teams must work closely with their analytics and leadership teams to overcome this challenge. More sophisticated attribution models can accurately capture the value of content across the entire customer journey, but creating such a setup may require investing in new tools, processes, or even dedicated team members.

Take on Non-Writing Content Projects (These Can Move the Needle)

Content teams at startups spend the vast majority of their time creating content. In contrast, teams at large companies deal with many non-writing content projects that move the needle as much as—or more than—creating more content.

Here are just a few examples of projects I took on in my one year at QuickBooks:

  • Consolidating multiple articles that covered the same topic
  • Migrating legacy content to a new subfolder
  • Auditing old content for quality and accuracy
  • Pruning old content (and nearly doubling traffic)
  • Creating training videos for our team of contractors
  • Working with the legal team to create a disclaimer (this replaced one-off reviews of our articles)
  • Hiring an agency to help us build interactive tools
  • Working with the UX team to add better navigation to the content hub

I didn't spend much time writing content, but I took on some really interesting projects that proved to be a great use of time. Each of these projects either increased traffic or saved our team time. Startups don't often need to undertake projects like this, but large companies benefit from them all the time. A content team should always consider if content creation is the best use of time.

One other non-writing task all enterprise content marketing teams should embrace is creating processes for every workflow — extensive documentation about how to do something, where to find what, who to go to for questions, and so on. This gives your managers visibility into the work and makes onboarding new employees, agencies, and contractors easier.

Recognize Content Marketing's Evolving Role in The Enterprise

An enterprise content team's responsibilities go beyond production. Content leaders operating at this scale must focus on building relationships, aligning content strategy with business objectives, and ensuring their teams support the needs of the entire organization.

"The content leader's role in an enterprise is more about coordinating and communicating priorities than shipping things quickly."

— Ty Magnin, CEO at Animalz and former Director of Content at UiPath

Ty emphasizes the importance of coordination and communication in enterprise content leadership. "Over-communication and coordination with stakeholders is crucial," Ty says. "The content leader's role in an enterprise is more about coordinating and communicating priorities than shipping things quickly."

This statement contrasts with Sean's earlier advice about shipping content quickly, but it highlights the delicate balance enterprise content leaders must strike between being agile and aligning with many stakeholders.

Megan sees content marketing as a standalone department evolving, especially within enterprise organizations. She predicts that while content marketing skills will remain relevant, future roles will be distributed across other teams, such as growth, product marketing, and brand.

"Digital marketing is so ingrained in everything that a marketing organization does," Megan says. "It just makes more sense to have standalone functions for all of the things that used to fall under this content marketing umbrella."

Enjoy the Cruise Ship Called Enterprise Content Marketing

Content marketing at large companies is its own beast—endlessly exciting and rich with opportunity but also full of unique challenges. From managing agencies and contractors to supporting broad organizational goals, enterprise content teams must navigate a complex landscape that extends far beyond simply creating and distributing high-quality content.

The specifics of such challenges vary from one enterprise to another. What all content leaders in large organizations need to get right is the same: building processes and a team that can deliver on content fundamentals at scale — understanding your target audience, aligning strategy with business objectives, and creating content that informs, engages, and drives conversions.

Editor's note: Jimmy Daly originally wrote this article in October 2019. Court Bishop and Tim Metz updated and expanded the piece in May 2024.