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If you could recreate any scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” what would you choose? Would you want to visit an art museum, take in a baseball game, or walk in a parade? That was the inquiry that the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture posed for a giveaway. The prize: a trip to the city. As one of Foursquare’s first content partners, Sarah Best won a multitude of awards for this kind of work with the social networking service, which helps you discover businesses around you.
After networking with people who managed social media, email, and digital in other cities in the United States, including Austin, Los Angeles, and Portland, Sarah transitioned from her work with the Windy City and started her own agency in 2014 with the experiences that she collected.
“People in those cities are still really good friends of mine, and so that’s how I was able to shift into strategy later in my career,” she says. “As an agency, we have had the good fortune in the last 4 years to work with over 100 companies and organizations.”
Now as CEO and Chief Strategist of Sarah Best Strategy, a digital agency that focuses on email, social, and search based in Madison, Wisconsin, Sarah is trying to rethink what it means to be a digital agency. “We not only provide the typical services that you would find, like email management and Google-optimized blog writing, but we also will help build strong teams,” she says.
Lend a hand (or 2)
“We’re really trying to be innovative about how we think about what companies and organizations really need,” Sarah says. That can entail filling in if someone’s on maternity leave—or taking care of other temporary wishes.
“That’s part of where my philosophy comes from, of being a workflow geek and trying to solve problems. We all know we can give someone a really gigantic strategy document, but if they can’t actually put it in place, it doesn’t actually help anyone.” Not only do they advise employees about how to manage their time, they also encourage people who wouldn’t normally be in the same meeting to coalesce.
“The way that we teach people to plan content is to get a whole bunch of people—such as CEOs who own the vision, marketing communications professionals who translate that into strategy, customer service and sales people, who are on the front lines with clients—in the same room. We focus on the 10,000-foot view. If you get too bogged down in the execution details when you’re planning, it makes it very hard for other people to participate in the planning process,” Sarah says. So if you focus on content buckets—or your overarching goals and campaigns—you can get everyone on the same page about your vision for digital marketing.
“It’s really different from business to business, but this gives everyone a chance to leverage their perspectives in smart content planning, and it also promotes collaboration between departments, too.”
Letting people see what’s coming down the pipeline can also really help teams look for cross-promotional opportunities, particularly if several departments are trying to coordinate on one social media channel.
Develop a framework
Sarah Best Strategy works with companies big and small to develop time-efficient processes. That means blueprinting content in one sitting, which makes it much more possible to follow through on that plan. Sarah’s team likes to introduce a Feel, Think, Do framework during these sessions to create a balance of content that inspires awareness and loyalty, decision-making, and action.
They also encourage people to plan across channels. “For example,” Sarah says, “if you have a Google-optimized blog post that’s really well set up to do well on Google search, you can take that and make it one of the articles in your newsletter—and then you can also take it and make a few social media posts out of it.”
“For the bandwidth-strapped nonprofits, planning always saves us time,” she adds. “For the large companies, it keeps everyone on the same page about what’s coming up, and everyone can access the plan. There’s some transparency there, and we can start to set some expectations about when we need to hear about things so that we’re not constantly putting out fires. That way we can actually better see what’s coming up farther in the future.”
That includes cloud-based spreadsheets so that people can look at them anytime. Planning also allows for materials to be more readily available for conferences or events, which allows employees to build on a plan from the preceding year instead of completely starting from scratch.
Build your brand
It’s music to Sarah’s ears when a company she’s worked with contacts her after the team has left and says they had a successful planning meeting. “I really get excited when people tell me that our work has made their lives easier,” she says.
“Ideally you would see an impact on the bottom line, because you’ll be better at cross-promoting. You’ll be more consistent, and we know that consistency promotes good branding too, because branding is all about clarity, consistency, and repetition.”
3 ways to increase efficiency in your company
If your marketing or other efforts feel disjointed, sometimes a little planning can go a long way. Here Sarah Best, CEO and Chief Strategist of Sarah Best Strategy, explains a few roadblocks that people who come to her agency encounter—and how to get around them.
Have a clear vision.
“If you don’t have a vision for where you wanna get to, it’s really hard to prioritize your money and your time. For example, one of the Nature Conservancy’s objectives is to transport people into this field, along with the scientific research that’s happening. If that’s your vision, then you need to prioritize things like photography and Facebook Live and things like that. For organizations that don’t have enough money, having a vision can help prioritize what you’re spending the money on.”
Figure out everyone’s superpowers.
“Brown bag lunches lift everyone up. A frequent part of my job is figuring out everyone’s superpower on the team—and then trying to match them up with the people who are struggling with that particular skill…[A brown bag lunch] doesn’t cost anything, unless you’re providing lunch, and you can have people share what they shine at, which I think is really powerful.”
Measure your ROI.
“The things that I suggest for that are having templates for their reports so they’re getting consistent data from everyone, and also tracking less at first and then tracking more over time. Because, again, if we just implement, ‘You have to report on these 8 things every month,’ that can be a real struggle. But if you work up to that, it can be really good, because you get in the habit of tracking some metrics.”