The O’Keeffe Writing Playlist

We’re sharing our best writing tips as well as our writing playlist. Find your new favorite writing music!

Ask any writer what they write to, and you’re more than likely to get a very specific answer. From jazz to techno to classics of the 1960’s, all of us have that specific playlist that helps us write. In honor of all of the writers out there, we’re sharing a few writing tips as well as our team writing playlist that help us create that perfect piece of content.

Writing Tips

Don’t be afraid to exercise the madness of your methods.

Whether it’s earplugs, a specific huddle room, or a coffee ritual, lean into the method that helps you write your best content. Often a change of environment can reignite your writing voice, and the O’Keeffe tribe is fond of shifting to a local coffee shop or bar with strong wifi to finish a day. Pro tip: if you’re an open office like we are, over the ear headphones paired with earplugs can be your saving grace. You may look crazy, but at least you’ll be productive.

Read it aloud to edit.

This one harks back to my writing center days (shout out to the Xavier University Writing Center!). Reading your content out loud helps you catch missing words, awkward phrasing, or other strange constructions that your brain misses when you’re just reading.

Discover your writing style.

There are two primary methods of attacking a writing project: creating an outline or diving straight in. Often in a business context, you’re going to lean into the outline method because of the depth of the topic, but sometimes the best blogs come from a keyword and some dedicated creating writing time.

Find an editor.

No writer can edit their own work. It’s nearly impossible to gain the kind of distance from a piece of content that’s needed in order to effectively edit it. Even a nonwriter is better than no editor at all, and I’ve found that often someone who isn’t close to a project is more able to spot confusing sections or incomplete information.

Writing Playlist

Our writing playlist reflects music that we all write to, but it also reflects who we are as a tribe. Dan added some jazz standards, Lisa offered techno, Jocelyn gave us a grab bag, Rob had a mix of rock classics, Dale offered the country, and I included the jazz classics. We’re a bit of a mix ourselves, but somehow it works to form a strong collective. Hopefully you’ll find some new favorites, but please don’t judge us. We make no claims about how it works as a playlist overall.

Listened to our music selections and want to learn more about the people behind the tribe? Let’s connect!

Creating the Best Content Development Strategy

Creating a content development strategy is one of the easiest ways to get the most out of your content marketing efforts. Here’s how to create one.

Creating a content development strategy is one of the easiest ways to get the most out of your content marketing efforts, but it’s also one of the most easily overlooked. When you’re focused on getting the next thing done on your to-do list, taking the time to evaluate what you’re doing and why isn’t at the top of your priorities. Whether you’re blogging to support your sales team, or you’re building a brand from the ground up, these seven tricks will help you create a content development strategy flexible enough to grow with your objectives.

Align Your Goals

Seems simple, right? But nailing down both your departmental goals as well as your overall business objectives is huge. Sometimes lead generation isn’t the answer; sometimes you need greater awareness or reduced customer attrition. Knowing both what you need to focus on and what’s keeping your boss’s boss up at night is the key to create a strategic content marketing program.

Understanding business objectives is one of the first things we focus on with our clients. It’s one of the reasons why our proposals include a large discovery section and only an idea of the work we might do together. Until you know where you need to go, it’s tough to find a way to get there. I can give you best practices until the cows come home and then leave again, but the best strategy is going to be rooted in your goals.

Find Your Hidden Resources

This was always one of my favorite stupid human tricks when I worked client side. I used to worm my way into the hearts of IT and make friends with my sales team. I’d badger my product managers and stalk my account leads. I’d bake for my customer reps and push my way into meetings of kinds. I was That Marketer.

When you remove all of the business gibberish, we tell stories. It doesn’t matter if you’re in marketing, PR, or HR. We’re all here telling a story about the organization for whom we work. Those stories can come from surprising places. Think about who talks to your clients, customers, or prospects daily. Who knows their pain points? Who answers questions day-in and day-out? Find those people and pick their brains (gently). Save their words, learn their language, and connect that to your strategy. Infuse the data-driven side of your content strategy with the very human side of those stories.

Set Your Pace

Think about the last big project that you never finished. Maybe it’s the deck in your backyard you meant to update or that sewing project you started a year ago but never quite got to. You were so motivated when you first started, but life took over, and it fell to the bottom of your list. It happens. And that project stares at you like a lost puppy, just begging to be completed.

Content development strategies are big projects that live on the fringes of our daily work. My to-do list is primary evidence of this. What’s the one thing that just never gets finished? Content. Blogs, social media, downloadables, case studies… all of it cycles through my email until it’s completed, and I need to start the next one. On our agile board, those post-its are the matriarchs of my time: they sit there, staring at me, daring me to ever move them to complete. And unlike most significant projects, they don’t have an endpoint. Wouldn’t it be great if they did? Write two blogs this week, done for life! SEO completed. Take that content marketing! 

The worst part is that you may feel like you’re failing if you don’t set a giant goal driven by 72 statistics and a pace that would set the world on fire. It would be utterly fantastic if we all had time in the day to match that kind of speed- or if we had a large team and a budget to rival that big sports stadium downtown. If we had leadership that understands the six-month lead time between content production and results, O’Keeffe would probably be out of business if that were the case. Content production farms – it’s the future!

The reality is that the best pace for your content development is the one you can stick to. Maybe you’ll be able to post five days a week in the future and maybe you won’t. Perhaps you can only really do one blog per month, but that blog is going to be well-researched and aligned with your goals. That’s okay. Quality is so much better than quantity, and a consistent pace matters more than bursts of content with a sad desert in between.

The real answer is that something is better than nothing- and a regular, well-done something is the best of all.

Get Inspired

I’ll admit it: sometimes I stare at my keyword research and my eyes glaze over. Blah blah, SEO, blah blah, gated content, blah, blah lead gen. Research the keywords, write the content, post the content, optimize the content, track the content, share the content. It’s kind of sad, eh? We find this amazing thing, this content marketing thing, and somehow us former English kids who were told we’d end up living in a box proselytizing about poetry, are somehow paid for writing for a living, and we get annoyed with it.

We get paid to write. Isn’t that the most fantastic thing? I remember the first time someone offered me a job as a copywriter (shout out to Chris for plucking me out of project management). It blew my mind. And we’re all like that here at O’Keeffe. We all have these stories of finding our way in communications and realizing that this was the thing we wanted to do with our lives. Book nerds, media nerds, hunting down the most exciting tales and finding a way to get paid for it.

You have to find the truth of what you’re writing. Go beyond your audience, beyond your research, beyond best practices. Whom are you writing for and what do they care about? Why does it matter?

Write It Down

I know what I’m doing, you say. I’ve got a spreadsheet, and I’ve sent emails. In the business world, that’s about the same as a blood contract. And yet documenting your content development strategy matters. There’s a massive difference between thinking you know your plan and working out the details in ink. Outline who your brand is, whom you want to talk to, and what they care about. Detail why it matters. Create a nice little one-pager (or three-pager, we don’t judge here) and save it.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve created a content marketing strategy for a client and then six months later, some yahoo from accounting is confused about why we’re spending so much time blogging. This is why, my dear yahoo. Because these are our goals, this is our strategy, and this is why it matters.

Here’s our favorite template: Content Marketing Strategy Template

Determine KPIs

Ah, those famous key performance indicators, drivers of some of the most inane business conversations that I have had the displeasure of having. But we need them. They’re the bumpers to our terrible bowling, the speeding tickets to our lead foot, and the fences to our furry squirrel hunters. When you can go anywhere and do anything, you don’t have a sense of where you need to be. (Didn’t think I could get all esoteric on KPIs, did you?)

KPIs are the corn starch to your sauce: they hold it all together. And laddering your KPIs into your business strategy is the best way to understand how your glorious content development strategy is performing. You need a dash of common sense and some patience to make this work because the fact is that you can track anything and you might end up tracking everything. 

Cut through the noise and figure out what matters to your bottom line.

Analyze and Test

So you went through all of this, and you’ve got a strategy, and it’s full of KPIs, and you’re making that sweet, sweet content happen. You’re done, right? Incorrect, my amigo. Now is the fun part! It’s time to start playing with your strategy and testing what works better. Generally speaking, you’re going to stick to that A/B test (in other words, change one thing and see if said change makes things better or worse- “things” being KPIs) because multivariate testing always makes me want to call my old stats professor from grad school. If you’re very enthusiastic about this part, you can even test for statistical significance if your sample size if hard enough. And if you’re frowning right about now, you can squint at your results of less than 100 and say very sagely, “this isn’t large enough to be statistically significant, but that’s an interesting result.”

What’s Next

So that’s all I’ve got — your seven tricks to creating the best content development strategy. If you’d like a free analysis of your current strategy, let us know. We enjoy answering questions, and we know sometimes your budget isn’t quite there to hire an agency yet.

Improv With the Tribe

The O’Keeffe tribe attended an improv workshop. Here’s what we learned.

Last week, the O’Keeffe team nervously trudged over to Rebel Pilgrim for an improv workshop hosted by Joe Boyd himself. Most of the group went in blind save for our fearless leader, Dan O’Keeffe (who is both a PR mastermind and an actor), and myself (a former theater kid hailing from California, land of mime workshops and bad productions of Othello set in space). Lisa also professes some theater background, and we bonded over our introduction to the National Thespian Society back in high school. Which is to say that about half the team had some idea of what was about to happen and the other half was willing to trust me on all of this.

I say nervously because I actually hate improv. It’s a personal thing. It’s like jumping off a cliff, and the only way to not die is to shut off your brain and fervently ignore anything past the fourth wall. I also desperately seek approval which means that I was willing to volunteer as long as someone patted me on the head afterward (It me, amirite?).

Thanks to the kind tutelage of Joe, the tribe was soon off and running on a series of energy exercises and mind reading. We had a fantastic time, and Rebel Pilgrim is the kind of relaxed, nonchalant but utterly genius company that you can’t help but love.

Like the marketing nerd that I am, I begged the team for lessons learned for a blog. This blog. Because content. Here’s what we learned.

Lessons from Improv

– We learned how to think and step outside of our comfort zones, which of course fuels our creativity. Our clients depend on us to be more creative than they are or think they are.
– We learned how to spark creativity in others. Of course, that’s a benefit in collaborating amongst ourselves and within our client teams.
– We learned how to work as a team, especially when under pressure and without much or any direction. To work efficiently and effectively, we must know how to read each other’s actions and intentions.

– Dan O’Keeffe

I anticipated the improv session would involve comedy, and many interactions between teammates were hilarious. However, the exercises Joe guided had much deeper motives. We were guided to interact and work together in ways none had ever experienced before. Working together in very unfamiliar situations forced us to define individual roles quickly.
The exercises demanded collaboration. What I learned was that our objective performance (achieving the immediate goal) improved, but also our subjective performance (our view of our personal performance in helping to achieve the goal). As we gained empathy for one another, we gained self-confidence as individuals.
One particular exercise was to answer any opening interaction with the word ‘Yes,’ to be open to new experiences, dialogues, and situations. We were guided to build new interactions spontaneously. Rather than individuals focusing on their performance only, success demanded empathy, collaboration, spontaneity, and interaction with others. We built trust among ourselves and had a lot of fun in the process. I highly recommend Joe’s program.

– Dale Justice

The improv class taught me a lot about client relationships and teamwork.
It’s about entering into a situation, about which you have very little control or previous knowledge, and going with the flow. By surrendering to it and affirming external suggestions (“yes, and…”), you can steer the situation toward your desired conclusion.
Also, being thrown into an improvisational situation with my team members was a huge trust builder. Think boot camp for non-verbal and other communication skill nuances, giving your teammates permission to take a chance on things and helping them to succeed with your own creativity.

– Rob Dietrich

– We were encouraged to “play.” This perspective helped lighten the mood and encouraged us to keep the conversation or idea moving, even if we made a mistake.
– The random scenarios put us in situations where we had limited information or context. We had to think on our feet and rely on each other to tell a story that made sense.
– In PR we often work within our team and with clients to tell a story. Using the phrase “yes, and” to build on ideas with clients will help creative solution to fit their unique needs.

– Jocelyn Summers

– The space was open and bright and allowed for freedom in creativity.
– Joe was thoughtful and relaxed and encouraged a “safe space” to express.
Take Aways:
– Be mindful when listening and let the other person know that you hear what they’re saying and together you will find a solution. Take their thoughts and build on them.
– Slow down and focus on the goal – together.
– Three in a row of anything is funny, after that it’s overkill.

– Lisa Dyson

Love working with collaborative folks who can do a mean improv scene? Reach out so we can tell your story together.

Why Owned Media Matters

In our business, we talk a lot about the intersection between owned, earned, and paid media. I would argue that it’s part of our fundamental perspective and drives most of our work. O’Keeffe was founded on earned media – PR, media relations, and AP style. We added owned (and paid media) later with a particular focus on content. How we define owned content changes, but it always includes things like a blog on your website, white papers, or other deliverables that you wholly own. Sometimes we throw social media in the mix, but that’s a misnomer at this point. The fact is this: social media is no longer owned media.

Before you come after me with pitchforks, let me explain.

Who Owns Social?

If you had asked me five years ago if social media was owned, I would have said yes. Mostly. But these are dark days, my marketing friends. The decline of organic reach, the lack of clarity on metrics, and the changing algorithms all present enormous problems for us. Have you tried to pull historical data on Instagram lately? Try going back further than a week without some help, and you’ll find yourself frustrated beyond measure. And may Providence help you if you didn’t connect that tracking platform yesterday because the tracking will start right now, not when you need it.

The big problem is the lack of clarity regarding those metrics. Say you dug into Facebook and pulled out one of those great CSV files. Beautiful, right? Look at all of those numbers and columns! Columns for days! But what in the world do all of those columns refer to? And once you finally stumble on the metric you need, you better make sure you write down exactly what you did and then pray that platform doesn’t change its UX tomorrow.

Who’s Down with D-A-T-A?

The ability to pull correlational historical data is imperative, and it’s one of the biggest things missing from media that isn’t owned. Take your website, for example. Google Analytics may have some updates, but, generally speaking, I’ve been able to pull the same primary data for a decade. How I use that data may have changed, but as long as my website is connected and online, I can get historical data in a platform that actually helps me get what I need.  Your website is 100% owned media. You control that journey, you control how you guide your audience, and you can completely pull the metrics you need with little help from Google. Heck, you can even get immediate, crazy-cool tracking and other marketing goodies if you start linking additional platforms like Pardot. With owned media, you’re not at the mercy of another platform.

Okay, so we know that owned and paid media are different. You might be saying, gosh, Megan, but I don’t use paid social. I’m not paying for Facebook ads, and I’m certainly not boosting posts on LinkedIn. I can’t be paid if I’m not paying, right?


Dollar, Dollar Bills, Y’all

These platforms don’t exist so you can reach your audience. Come on, folks. These platforms exist to make money. There’s a reason why they make their metrics so annoying to pull (I’m looking at you, Facebook), and why their organic reach is declining. Instagram didn’t update how it displays posts so you would have better experience. It updated its algorithm so that you wouldn’t be guaranteed even to be seen, so you feel compelled to sponsor posts. Even Twitter, which I would agree has the most consistent analytics tracking experience, updated its feed, so it wasn’t chronological.

The big four don’t want to make it easy for you to engage with your audience unless you spend money. It’s that simple. You may not be sponsoring posts, but the platforms are now designed to be a paid experience. Social media is not owned. Social media is paid, whether you’re paying them directly or not.

Beyond the Default

We used to talk about the difficulty of building a brand on social media, but it was always in support in creating your website or app and not ignoring the channels that you own. We always cautioned about spending all of your time on Facebook when the platform may disappear and take all of your branding with it. We’re now in a time where social is a default part of any marketing strategy, despite the declining engagement and reach. Don’t get me wrong – paid social is still a comparatively cheap way to reach your audience. But don’t kid yourself and think that posting semi-regularly is enough.

This brings us to another point. Metrics and analysis. Remember that sweet, sweet historical data I mentioned earlier? It’s getting harder and harder to pull. I used to be able to grab an apples-to-apples comparison and industry benchmarks easily. We all used to know where we stand. More is better. More engagement, more impressions, more clicks. These days I can’t promise that. I can apply all of the best practices in the book. I can build creative campaigns. I track everything to the heavens and back. But without that paid budget, your campaign is entirely at the mercy of the platform itself.

But Wendy’s!

Now, I fully realize some brands have found massive success on social platforms. And you may be saying, Megan, this isn’t optional. I need to be one of those brands. Most agencies will promise you the world and deliver an island. We’re not like that. We value honesty and an authentic relationship with our clients. I’m not going to set you up for failure. But I am going to do everything in my power to make you one of those success stories, and I’m going to use all of the analytics at my disposal to create strategies to guide you.

Now here’s the flip side.

You’ve heard the digital space is crowded. Floral for spring. Groundbreaking. And now I’ve told you that social is a wasteland without a lot of time and some spending money. What’s a company to do? Maybe your budget is tiny, and you can’t afford to boost anything. Maybe your budget is massive, but you’d rather not burn piles of cash.

Clean Your House

Your first step is to make sure that your house is in order. When is the last time you updated your website? Are you ready for voice search? Please tell me that you’re optimized for mobile. Review your copy. Does all of this content speak to who you are? Are you answering your prospect’s questions? Is your sales team aligned? Do you have a documented content marketing strategy? If any of these things aren’t there, focus on these first. Your main priority should always be owned media. Paid and earned can layer into this, but you have to be clear about who you are and why you matter.

Your driving mission should be authenticity. We’re beyond a manufactured; white bread easily approved content strategy. Don’t produce white papers because you’re supposed to. Don’t post on Twitter because you have to. Pull together your owned, earned, and paid media into one voice and get strategic about how you spend your time. Know which stories are great for PR and which stories are better as sales content. Research to discover where your audience is and what they want to know.


Social media was one of my first loves in the marketing world. The ability to create instant conversations was pure magic, and I loved finding ways to drive engagement. The days of live-tweeting a conference and expecting a huge return are over. Focus on your owned media and the rest will follow.

When You’re a Marketing Team of One

When you’re a marketing team of one, things get more complicated. Things like schedules and strategies and goals can quickly get usurped for the latest marketing fire unless you’re able to get ahead of the rest of the organization. I should know –  I was a marketing team of one for a good chunk of my career before joining the O’Keeffe tribe.

Here are the top five things I wish I’d known early in my career as a marketing team of one.

  1. Documentation is your best friend.

It sounds like a no-brainer, right? Document things. Easy peasy. But when you’re a team of one, you’re likely juggling priorities across the business and, depending on the history of the organization, and who you report to, you may be dealing with conflicting ideas on how you should move forward.

Hence documentation.

It’s more than just a recap of emails after meetings (although those are essential). Think about how you can best communicate your strategy and your wins across the business. Would a monthly report help? How about a note breaking down wins via email with a why it matters summary? Find ways to bring your leadership and the rest of your organization along on this magical marketing journey with you.

  1. Stay connected within the marketing community.

As a marketing team of one, you will likely be the only person who gets excited when a significant client tweets at you or when you double your open rate on that biweekly email send. Find your local marketing community and make nerdy friends. Sometimes a lunch spent talking segmentation is the boost you need to push out your new content strategy. Your local AMA is an excellent resource for this, but so are Meetups, user groups, and events or conferences.

Make friends, and you’ll always have someone to call to celebrate a big victory or talk you off a ledge when Salesforce breaks.

  1. Keep a roadmap.

Depending on the nature of your organization and whether you’re setting the long-term strategy, you’ll need to keep an eye on your initiatives. Sometimes you’ll be working through a tough time with your sales team, and you’ll need a way to refocus on what’s next. Your roadmap will be your strategic marketing bible and help you cut through priorities. It’s easy to get overwhelmed as a team of one. Being able to reference that roadmap can help your leadership stay focused on where you can make the most impact.

  1. Do the math.

Let’s face it: pulling your monthly analytics isn’t a high priority when you’re managing a giant marketing strategy. But it’s also the one thing that will help you see the light at the end of the long, complicated white paper you’re writing. Being able to see your progress is hugely motivating, and that process of continual optimization isn’t possible without a historical perspective on your efforts. It’ll also save you if you ever want to find a new home because showing concrete results is the best way to land your next gig.

  1. Find time to get creative.

When all of the pressure rests on your marketing shoulders, it’s easy to stay head down and ignore the outside world. You’re just trying to knock out this week’s social posts – there isn’t time for nerding out with a whiteboard and reviewing your personas. The single best way to stop stress and burnout is to stay creative and engaged in your work. Make the time to develop new strategies, review fun ideas, and learn skills that help set you apart. It keeps your brain fresh and your marketing strategy even fresher.

Being a marketing team of one isn’t easy. I’d wager that it’s one of the hardest roles to fill as a marketer. That kind of ownership and responsibility can be insanely fun if you’re able to ride through competing priorities, times of loneliness as you long for a team, and all those conversations explaining just what exactly you do to the rest of the organization.

Did you read this and think, gosh, I wish I had a marketing buddy like the O’Keeffe tribe? We’d love to work with you and help you tell your story. Send us a quick message and let’s talk.

Meet Megan Smale

As I write this, I’ve officially been with O’Keeffe for five months. Which is about the most appropriate time to write your own new hire blog, right? We’ll just skip over the awkwardness of writing your own digital introduction, and get to the good stuff.

As I write this, I’ve officially been with O’Keeffe for five months. Which is about the most appropriate time to write your own new hire blog, right? We’ll just skip over the awkwardness of writing your own digital introduction, and get to the good stuff.

I’m a digital marketing nerd with a background in sociology. I was introduced to the agency by a mutual friend and fell head over heels for the collaborative culture, opportunities for creativity, and the awesome clients. (Seriously – we have the best clients.)

What did you do in your previous life? 
I’ve spent most of my career in the B2B world as a team of one. Most recently, I led marketing for a small startup based in Toronto. I also have a random Master’s degree in Sociology (shout out to BGSU!).

If you could tell our clients one thing, what would it be? 
The more you tell us, the better our work together. It’s easy to ask for quick strategy and solutions, but better results come from that initial and ongoing discovery process.

What’s your best piece of advice for a marketer? 
Be hungry. We can teach skills, but I can’t teach you how to be creative, ambitious, and proactive. There are a million marketers, especially in Cincinnati. Show me your passion, enthusiasm, and creativity. And don’t be afraid to ask for things. I love coffee with marketing nerds, especially with recent grads. You’ll find that people are surprisingly open to that kind of thing.

What’s the last book you read? 
When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. He’s absolutely my favorite writer, and he’s the reason I started seriously writing in high school. I met him in Irvine back in the day, and he was so supportive and friendly. Sedaris is the reason I pursued copywriting after graduate school. Hands down, the funniest, most human writer out there. I adore him.

What’s your secret marketing weapon? 
The American Marketing Association in Cincinnati. I connected with the board a few years ago, and have been involved off and on since then. Making friends with a bunch of marketers means that I have people to call when I break WordPress, when my lead gen strategies aren’t converting, and when I found a cool new platform and want to nerd out. That team pushes me, and has given me opportunities to hone skills long before I was able to use them in my day job.

Tell me your favorite metric to track. 
I’ll cheat and say two. Cost per lead and cost per conversion. I love analyzing success metrics for paid campaigns against their goals. Engagement is great and conversion is great, but if you’re spending more than a new customer is worth, it doesn’t work long-term. Too many people throw a bunch of money at an untested strategy and get frustrated when they’re not seeing the return they want. You have to know your tolerance for spend and what kind of conversion rates you need to get there.

Favorite word? 
Coffee is rather lovely.

Least favorite word? 
Leverage. I use it and hate myself for it. Really any $2 word when a $.10 word will do.

What profession other than marketing would you like to attempt? 
I wish I knew enough math to be an astrophysicist. I love space and I’ve always been fascinated by the stars. Quantum mechanics fascinates me, even if I have trouble following the equations.

What’s the best thing about our line of work? 
We get to have fun every day at work. It’s never boring, and it’s usually challenging. Also, the benefits. Work flexibility, beer on tap, and a good team.

Tell me two truths and a lie. 
I grew up sailing. I used to play volleyball. I know sign language.

You can read my full bio here or check out my LinkedIn profile here. And if you have any guesses about which statement is my lie, send us a tweet.