“A continuous feedback loop”: Moving from campaigns to always-on content and audience strategy

24 hours with Sondra Hadden, Head of Audience Development at American Chemical Society

This article is part of a new content series from Revmade that explores how the most dynamic content marketers approach their work.

These days, Sondra Hadden’s work is all about creating demand for content. The first half of her job focuses on building a magnet for scientific audiences to discover American Chemical Society’s (ACS) media content. The second half involves creating another magnet: This one for the content’s potential sponsors.

Across both areas of responsibility, Hadden has built a system fueled by data that never turns off.

“It’s a continuous feedback loop. When I first started, we realized that we had a very time-centric approach to campaigns — we’d have an event with a clear beginning, middle and end. It was all campaign-oriented,” she says. “But the best audience marketers now build a continuous creation and improvement model. Even if a campaign ends, the data/learnings should be fed into the next thing you do. A newsroom is a fantastic environment to mimic for any company because it’s a rapid, daily practice of doing this.”

Sondra spoke to us from her family’s cabin in Maine (“It’s not glamorous, I just spent an hour picking up mouse sh*t from the floor.”) about how to build a data-infused content system, and how audience development and content marketing are intertwined.

The Company: A major association serving more than 155,000 members

Annual Revenue: $632M

Content team size: 50+. Content is a core product delivered through membership.

Content Focus: Daily coverage of news that impacts the scientific community. Email marketing, webinars, global events, lead gen, social content — you name it. One of the association’s core functions is developing and distributing content to its membership and more broadly.

Time spent in meetings each week: 20-30%

Five tools she can’t live without:

  • Eloqua for marketing automation: “Email is still a primary source to raise awareness and get leads. [Eloqua] helps. It doesn’t mean you can set it and forget it.”
  • Asana for project management: “I’m a Virgo, so that’s my wheelhouse. I have a task for everything.”
  • Slack for team communication and quality control: “I approve everything in Slack and talk through strategy with my team.”
  • Canva for design when no designers can be found: “It gives our team a way to quickly turn creative around.”
  • Pocket to save articles to read later: “I’m the type of person who has 75 browser windows open, and when my computer crashes, I’m excited about it because it takes away all the anxiety of that.”

How she prioritizes her day: For Hadden, her day and week are about harnessing energy to get the most from herself and her team. Morning is a sacred time to get work done and not to be in meetings. Similarly, team 1 on 1s happen at the beginning of the week when people are fresh and energized. There’s no right time for looking at the data — that time is basically all the time. Hadden is in and out of dashboards and native platforms all day to inform the decisions she’s making.

How she explains her work: The conundrum of having “audience” in your title is that it’s almost too broad for people to understand the work. Hadden puts it like this: “People can get the website up, but they can’t create the demand for it to exist from the audience. That’s a lot harder to create.”

How she created the feedback loop in 3 behaviors:

  1. Always be in the room. “The best newsrooms — and brands — find ways to get people together to discuss new launches or platforms early, they don’t treat marketers as an afterthought.”
  2. Spend time analyzing the data as a team. “Often, there’s a deeper story that you have to be able to dig into.”
  3. Test assumptions and always try new things. “Sometimes our best work is a twist, or it’s off the path entirely.” The best organizations are constantly looking for new ways to do things from a test-and-learn approach.

When she knows she’s successful: “With our sales team, I have pushed them — over and over and over again — why we’re creating resources, that they should be sharing them. I finally started to see them post our content on their LinkedIn — that’s my true sign of success. That the sales team is using these resources on their own, without me having to chase.”

Steal this idea: Sondra and her team started offline events for prospects to gather, learn and talk through pain points. Her salespeople are present, but their goal is to learn and commune, not sell something. She still remembers the dismay of an executive waiting for the hard sales pitch at the event, which never came. “We want to position ourselves as a partner, to show how we think about things strategically. It’s a soft-sell approach focused on how to teach our clients how to do better in a professional development capacity.” And, it worked: The first event booked more than $100,000 in sponsorships in the weeks after.

24 Hours with Sondra Hadden:

6:30 a.m.: Wake up and prepare for the day.

9 a.m.: The morning is reserved for inbox and Slack maintenance. “I subscribe to a million newsletters [Favorites include Really Good Emails, Twenty-First Digital, Revmade *blush*, IAB, Marketing Dive).

Throughout the morning: Review new content and audience efforts launching in the approval channel. “This can take a couple of hours. I need to look at all the email, the copy, the settings. Make sure our tracking is correct. Make sure the budget is set correctly.”

Lunch: “I don’t sit at my desk anymore. I used to be that person.”

Afternoons start with reviews of (and adding to) the backlog of audience projects with her team. “We use that time to jump into a dynamic agenda and tick through our progress. At the beginning of the year, it’s goal-heavy and KPI-focused.” But despite the focus on hitting the numbers, Hadden views the core of her job as community-building — something that drives more value over time than just hitting a campaign number. “That newsroom ethos is working its way into brand engagements,” she says.

Throughout the afternoon: “I’m always in dashboards. The data informs everything. [Our Audience Marketing Manager] compiles all of our data every month across our loyalty dashboard, highlights from Google Analytics, social and newsletters. The number of leads we’ve gotten that month. She looks at the holistic picture with her takeaways and insights, and we review it together the first Friday of the month. The goal is for us not to just send a list of numbers, but to provide context to what those numbers mean.”

5:30p: “Once I shut my computer down, it’s done. There may be a project where I’m behind on something, but normally I can separate the space very well. I’m fortunate to have a separate office space. I’ve also tried to feel less guilty about shutting work down early if I need to, especially in the pandemic.”

6:00p: It’s time to get out of work mode. “We go for a 20-minute walk up to Takoma Park and get wine or beer at a patio. We have a really nice outdoor space [at home] where I unwind.

11 p.m.: Bedtime. “It’s been later and later. It’s not ideal… My husband just gave me a look.”


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