In this series, I am interviewing some of the most amazing bloggers and content creators, and digging into their preferences and processes so that we can all learn from their example.
Today’s interview is with an extremely impressive writer and content marketer, Melanie Deziel. Melanie is the Chief Content Officer at StoryFuel as well as author, speaker, consultant, parent, professor… the list goes on and on.
Melanie is brilliant and extraordinarily helpful, and I can’t wait to share her insights with you, so let’s dive in.
What’s your poison? Blog or Video or Podcast? Why?
While it’s not fair to call myself a blogger, given how infrequently my own personal blog is updated, I’ve been a writer as long as I can remember. I spend most of my time focusing on helping others with their content, so I sometimes choose to let my own fall to the wayside a bit. But writing will always be my first content language, and written content will always be what I create most easily and joyfully.
What has been your most successful piece of content, and why? (Include link please!)
I can tell you that the piece of content of which I’m most proud is my book, The Content Fuel Framework: How to Generate Unlimited Story Ideas, which came out early 2020. This was my biggest writing project to date, and required the most of my creative energy and thought to produce. Since I put so much of my time, heart, soul and expertise into it, it’s definitely my favorite piece of content too. (Not to mention, I wrote the book while I was pregnant, which created its own set of challenges and a very pressing deadline!)
How do you streamline your content creation process for efficiency and excellence?
I’m big on systems. (If you read the aforementioned book, you’ll see that.) Having a system makes everything easier, faster, and more efficient. Content brainstorms can suck up a lot of time if you’re just thinking in a million different directions. So here’s what I do:
First, I think about the focus, or the message. What do I want to say, or to share? What do I need to communicate to my audience (or my client’s audience)?
Once I’m clear on what my content will focus on, I ask “what’s the best way to bring this story to life?” This is where I think through the various formats that might serve this story well, and decide if this content piece is a blog, a video, an infographic, or something else. (Or multiple somethings!)
Next, I like to think about sources: Where can I find more information that will help with this story? Who is a trusted expert on this topic? What examples help underscore the point, and what organizations collect data that may illustrate the theme?
I usually start my creation with a brain dump, collecting all the ideas, thoughts, and bits that might be helpful.
Then I review that brain dump, editing, expanding, reorganizing and identifying any gaps that need to be filled with some intentional research and exploration. This creates an detailed outline, of sorts, that can be built upon.
Then I do into the real focused creation work, moving section by section, to turn that outline into a “finished” piece, whatever that ultimately looks like.
And whenever possible, I like to end by having someone else’s eyes take a look at the piece. We all need an editor. Even editors.
Where do you get your ideas for content?
One of the things that’s really important to me as a creator is the understanding that to achieve diverse outputs, you need diverse inputs. That is to say, that if you’re doing the same thing every day, reading the same things, listening to the same things, seeing the same things… it’s hard to come up with new ideas.
So for the health of my ideas—and especially when I may be feeling stuck or stagnant, creatively—I try to ensure a steady supply of new inputs. Watch movies and YouTube videos you wouldn’t normally. Read books that aren’t your usual genre choice. Listen to new podcasts, music you haven’t heard before, and unexpected audiobooks. Read articles and blogs from new sources. Try new food, walk new routes, whatever you can to mix things up and find something new for your brain to synthesize.
To do this, you probably have to intentionally go beyond the algorithm. Our favorite platforms and systems are really good at giving us more of what we like, and not always great at giving us different things we didn’t know we needed. So talk to people and get fully non-robotic humans to make recommendations based on their gut and feelings, versus data and trends.
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How do you, how do we put it… make money off this stuff?
The mission of my company, StoryFuel, is to help marketers and creators tell better stories. We do that in a few different revenue-generating ways:
Historically, we’ve focused most of our time and attention (and therefore generated most revenue from) speaking and consulting.
The speaking bucket includes keynotes at big conferences, speaking at private client events, doing workshops and trainings inside organizations, facilitating meetings, delivering webinars and virtual seminars, and more. I’ve done this kind of work for companies like Google, Linkedin and Vanguard, and have spoken at industry-leading events like SXSW, Content Marketing World, Social Media Marketing World, Inbound and more.
The consulting bucket includes primarily strategic work, helping brands discover their content voice, hire and structure a content team, package and price new content products, and helping brands to create, revise, optimize and audit their content strategy and processes. A lot of this work is under NDA, but our clients have included insurance companies, TV networks, major retailers, media properties, tech companies and more.
Now that I’ve published a book, that enters the revenue mix as well, both through my cut of individual book sales on platforms like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but also through bulk sales for entire organizations, teams, groups, departments, event attendees, and more.
I also run a 12-week small group video mastermind called the Brand Storyteller Mastermind for individual creators and marketers. I do 1:1 video coaching via “Content Strategy Super Sessions,” and I bring in some occasional affiliate revenue from events I speak at, products I use and recommend, etc. I also sell posters and printable worksheets on my website, and have taught as an adjunct professor a few semesters here and there, too.
What would you say has been a defining moment in your career as a content creator?
Back in 2014, I was working at the New York Times, as the first editor of branded content, helping to build out T Brand Studio (the branded content team) and serve our brand clients along their quest to tell compelling stories on our properties, that our audience would love.
I had the privilege to work with the team from Netflix’s Orange is the New Black (and their agencies) what became one of the most widely known pieces of native advertising/branded content in the industry.
“Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work” was a long form investigative piece exploring what it was really like to be a woman in prison. I got to use my degrees in journalism to report the heck out of the piece; I spent 40+ hours interviewing current and former inmates, prison employees, prison reform workers, sociologists, psychologists and more, plus countless hours researching, writing, editing and more). It included a 3-part mini-documentary, infographics, audio clips, illustrations, photos and more.
That piece won us a number of industry awards (OMMA, Best Native Ad Execution & Digiday’s Best Brand Video), was widely praised in the industry press, and ultimately performed in the top 2% of all content published on nytimes.com that year. It was definitely one of the best things I’ve created, and one of the most rewarding, too.
Your experience at the Times is fascinating and I know for many, such a role is aspirational. How did you land that gig?
I had been working at Huffington Post for nearly a year, building out their branded content team, when The Times announced that they were starting their own branded content team. As a former journalist, working at The Times would be a dream, and when a member of the hiring team reached out to me on Linkedin based on my experience, I was elated. The rest of the process was fairly typical—application, interview, background checks, etc.—but one big lesson I took from it is to make sure my Linkedin profile is always updated, or the perfect opportunity for you may never find you!
When it comes to content creation over the next year, what are your plans and intentions?
This is a wonderful question, isn’t it? I’d be lying if I said I had a clear picture of what the next few weeks, months and year look like. At the moment, we’re all exploring what our new working environment looks like, as we’re shifting to a digital-first world and working from home for who knows how long.
I have begun experimenting more with video and live video, which I hope to continue. I’ve been hopping on Facebook and Instagram Live more often these days, and even testing out some recurring Zoom hangouts with larger groups of content folks, to see how we can create “face-to-face” connecting in these strange times.
I know that I miss writing regularly already, and I’m hoping to find a way to bring more writing into my routine, as I figure out how to “work from home” with a baby to care for, too. Who knows, maybe another book will come from this time at home. (HAH. Why do authors do this to themselves? How soon we forget how horrible the book-writing process is…)
Who is your favorite content creator and why?
Hands down, Ann Handley. Her book, Everybody Writes, is one of my favorite to recommend and gift to other creators, and her newsletter is a recurring source of light in my inbox.
What’s the one takeaway you want to impart on someone who, let’s say, is a blogging n00b. 🙂
If you put your audience at the center of all you do—and avoid the temptation to write the things that you alone want to read—you’ll be so much better off, and so will your audience.
#CoolContentCreators Interview Series
- How Andy Crestodina Excels At Content Creation
- How Chris Brogan Never Runs Out Of Content Ideas
- How Jenn Herman Built Her Authority and Reputation With Content
- How Guy Kawasaki Fuels A Successful Podcast With Content
- How Jay Baer Spins Ideas Into Blog Posts, Speeches and Books
- How Ann Handley Consistently Writes With Confidence
- How Melanie Deziel Builds Successful Content Systems
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