There’s traveling for work. And then there’s traveling for work.
Lis Korb is the director of content and marketing at AdventureSmith Explorations, a small cruise company offering adventures from the North Pole to Antarctica — and everywhere in between. AdventureSmith has a unique approach to content marketing that involves every employee. One member of the AdventureSmith team takes a trip every month, and part of their responsibilities is to write a review of their trip.
Sometimes these reviews are written by members of the content team. But frequently, they’re written by members of the sales team, people who wouldn’t describe themselves as writers.
A lot of marketers work with non-writers and subject matter experts to produce content. If you do, you know there are challenges involved, but as Lis told me, there are also great advantages to working with a variety of contributors, even if they’re not seasoned writers.
I recently spoke with Lis about her best practices to get everyone, including people who aren’t professional writers, into the content game.
How do you help people who aren’t professional writers think about content?
I try and remind them that they are the experts. Especially in our line of work in the travel industry, our team has a lot of firsthand insight and conveying our opinions is key. Be confident and speak your opinion.
A lot of them start off writing, “The passengers on the ship enjoyed X.” And I say, you're the passenger. You are the guest. Let's remind readers that you were actually aboard the ship and use first person. You’re writing a review that was from your personal experience — showcase that!
What does your editorial process look like?
While we do have a few editorial guidelines, I aim to not be too strict. We want to let our staff’s creative spark ignite without too many parameters, and we certainly don’t want our reviews of trips to begin to feel stale.
Often, the sales team comes home and gives our office a photo slideshow that is a bit more operational, so we can better match our clients with the right trip. But they often share details that get left out of their writing, so I urge them to add those little details. Basically, what would you tell your friends or family looking at a slideshow of your pictures? Use your photos as a guide to convey a familiar tone in your writing.
Our process on the copy usually involves ensuring that expert vibe to the review, as well as small SEO optimizations like writing keyword-rich headers. Every review published on our website typically has at least three touches from our content team.
It sounds like you take a team approach to your work. What have you learned from your team?
People who are newer to the company make me step back and realize that sometimes our company’s unique way of travel needs more introduction. Sometimes we're focused on answering questions like, “Why to go to Antarctica, how to do Antarctica right, which ship to choose,” that we forget to ask, “Well, why would I want to cruise at all? Anywhere?”
As a manager, you can't forget to bring in new voices. I’ve heard the phrase “Bring the beginner mind to your brand.” I really like that, and it’s worked well for AdventureSmith and how we share the benefits of small ship cruising to adventurous travelers.
You have a background in print journalism. What has been most helpful as you’ve transitioned into content marketing?
I've been working in editorial roles for 14 years now. I’m used to working with a fact-checker and having an editor-in-chief, managing editor, copy editor and proofreader all look at something I've produced, as well as a graphic designer who may tinker with wording to make it fit in her template.
So I'm used to having all these touches on my work. But some of my newer employees who come from the Instagram and blogging world aren’t used to it. In their work, they’ve been the boss. For many, it can be hard to learn how to process all that feedback. As a team we now strive to look at it more like layers of a process — versus, "I did something wrong and my boss has to come in and edit everything."
What else do you carry in from your print background?
I think what I bring to our team is a real eye for design and brevity. That's probably my biggest contribution: making every word count. It's really important — not just for legibility for the reader and user friendliness but also for SEO. Don’t use too many adjectives, and try not write around things too much. Just get right to the point. For design, I look to paint the full picture in layout, using titles, headers, images, captions, links and pull-quotes to tell more compelling travel stories.
Writing concise copy is a challenge. What are your editing tips?
Treat your writing like you're packing a carry-on. Lay everything out and then cut it in half. Working in the travel industry, I love this analogy as it’s so relevant and nothing compares to the satisfaction of a well-packed bag on a long trip. What I typically find is an overuse of adjectives, repetitive verbs and repeated thoughts that you can combine. There's always a lot more repetition than you think, no matter who you are as a writer.
In my own writing, I always go back and look at it again. Even when you think you're being really clear and concise, if you look at it with a fresh eye you’ll realize you never get it perfect the first time. And everyone benefits from an outside reader.
The other thing we do a lot is look at the way the words lay out on the page. You may write something in a Word document and it looks good there. But when you put it on the page, it probably won’t look the same and needs a trim. We check to be sure there aren’t any widow words [words that fall by themselves on a new line, away from the rest of the sentence or paragraph] or bad breaks. We do that a lot with mobile as well. We test everything on multiple different platforms.
What do you look for when you hire content marketers?
I think it's really important to look for a creative spark. You can't train for that. You can train for so many of the other nuts and bolts.
Because we’re a travel company, we also seek people who are well traveled. Even if they haven't been to all the places our expeditions go, we want people with an open mind and the curiosity and the eagerness to learn. Our sales team succeeds by sharing the fun of travel, and the excitement and learning that comes with it one-on-one with clients. We want our content team to do the same thing, but for a broader audience.
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