How Andrea Fryrear Keeps Content Agile and Responsive

How Andrea Fryrear Keeps Content Agile and Responsive

Andrea Fryrear, President and Lead Trainer at AgileSherpas, joins the Content Pros Podcast to discuss the three rules of agile marketing and steps to take to become more flexible and responsive to your customers.

In This Episode:

Andrea Fryrear


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Full Episode Details

A Better Way To Get Things Done

Massive marketing campaigns with bright shiny content are sexy. They showcase all the bells and whistles that a team has to offer their company and the audience. But are they the best method in the long run?

Andrea posits that the answer is no. Borrowing from the world of software development, she and her AgileSherpas are retraining the marketing world to work smaller, harder, and leaner.

Focusing on smaller campaigns with limited roll-outs while the content is still developing allows your team to respond to customer feedback in close to real-time. Being able to make quick adjustments early on leads to a campaign that is ultimately more relevant, more engaging, and more successful.

To support this approach of small yet highly adaptive projects, marketers need to cut the fat off the projects they are working on. Keeping the plate half or two-thirds full allows for a cushion to adapt and react as customers begin responding to your campaigns. Lastly, breaking down silos and ensuring there is a natural cross-functional flow is necessary to limit the number of project handoffs during the campaign.

In This Episode

  • Why a faster, more responsive, and successful campaign means putting it out there before you think it’s ready
  • How limiting your work leads to greater progress and success in the long run
  • Why a well-made content strategy calendar means looking ahead while also looking back
  • How internal silos lead to trouble in sales funnel handoffs

Quotes From This Episode

“Agile marketing is imposing a methodology or a particular approach to how we execute on our work.” —@AndreaFreyrear

Stop thinking of these massive, long-term, big bang campaigns. Click To Tweet

“Things change too rapidly all around us, and our audiences expect us to be more adaptive and responsive in real-time.” —@AndreaFryrear

We have to find a way to horn in on the right work.” —@AndreaFryrear

“You have to have a way to focus in. Otherwise, you just get overwhelmed with too much stuff.” —@AndreaFryrear

“You can discover these hidden gems that you didn’t know were doing quite so well. We lose those opportunities when all we’re doing is trying to hit publish again and again.” —@AndreaFryrear

Agile is not anti-planning. Click To Tweet


Content Pros Lightning Round

When you went to Austin College back in 2000, what type of career did you have in mind? Andrea wanted to be a college professor so she could put her English degree to work! Since then, she has done a little bit of higher education stuff but realized that was not a good fit for her.

Current Netflix binge: It’s not Netflix, but Fryrear is a very solid Game of Thrones fan.

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Episode Transcript

Randy:Welcome to the Content Pros podcast. I am Randy Frisch from Uberflip. Usually, I get to say that I've got Tyler Lessard joining me but today Tyler is off on an executive offsite with his team, so it's just going to be a one-on-one between myself and Andrea Fryrear.  
 Andrea comes with a great background in content. She's lived the content marketer's life through many opportunities that she's going to fill us in on, but these days she's advising a lot of companies around the idea of how do you take a more agile approach towards content, towards marketing, towards everything that we do on a day-to-day basis, which these days, if you're like me, you're overwhelmed. There's so many different ideas being thrown at you. In fact, if you've listened to the most recent podcast we did with Robert Rose, he actually would have told you all about it: how to break up your time to handle all these competing distractions for our attention as marketers.  
 There's got to be better ways to structure our teams, and I'm really excited to have Andrea here. Her company is called Agile Sherpas. Andrea, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us on Content Pros.  
Andrea:You're very welcome. I'm looking forward to it.  
Randy:Maybe for those who are just tuning in and don't know the term 'agile', maybe you can help us understand what that means, where it comes from and how it's crept into the marketing world these days.  
Andrea:Sure. There's a couple of different permutations of it: we have lowercase 'a' agile, which is just a regular rolled adjective talking about being more adaptive, being more nimble, being responsive to what's going on with our audience or with our market, but then when we take it up a level and start talking about capital 'A' agile marketing, this is really imposing a methodology: a particular approach to how we execute on our work. This includes thinking about short term experiments and then building on success and throwing the things out that didn't work; protecting the marketing team from external interruptions and continuously improving our process over time, so lots of really specific practices and tools that come in when we go into that capital 'A' agile world.  
Randy:Got you. Where does this term come from, though, because, I mean, I often, and when we were getting ready for this podcast I asked you, "Did you have an engineering background," because I always hear the term 'agile' tied to development teams. Where are the real origins from this coming when we get to that more capitalize term?  
Andrea:The software development world gets credit for coming up with this first. Gosh, for coming up on almost two decades ago that the original agile manifesto was written, and they were running into problems that are very similar to what marketers are running into right now, which was they weren't doing the right work at the right time, they were taking way too long to get things out into the market and there was a whole lot of waste in their world, and they were trying to figure out a better way to just get their work done, and so Agile was born.  
 A lot of it goes even further back into the world of automobile manufacturing, so those folks trying to optimize their process and then we learn a little bit from them. Now, we have the benefit of getting to learn from the software folks, too, to make our version even better even faster.  
Randy:I love that. It's funny. I mean, I got to know from you chatting beforehand again that you're actually married to a developer, so you've had this terminology. I mean, I feel like I have some similarities in my life there. They're not quite as applicable to process, but I'm married to a social worker: a therapist, so sometimes I just have that desire to go that empathetic approach, or the counseling approach to try and solve problems.  
 I think we can learn a lot from those around us, and I'm sure that's the case in terms of how you've brought this framework to the way you approach marketing with the clients you work with.  
Andrea:Yeah, definitely. When I first came to understand what agile marketing really was I was working in a software company where we were doing at-for-agile: we were changing our mind all the time, but we didn't really have a system that was helping us do that well, so we just were doing that whole chicken with our heads cut of thing where we ran around after shiny objects, not that anyone in marketing ever does that, but …  
 It seemed like we were already running in these short iterations and so why not adopt some of what I'd heard my husband talk about the way that they ran their software team. It seemed like a much more obvious and intuitive way to just get work done.  
Randy:I find it interesting that you describe that scenario where people are running around with their heads chopped off. As a marketer, all of us can sympathize with that whether they were in an environment now, or we've been there, or we know someone who's stuck in there. Maybe you can help us with some basic rules. I always like a framework that's got rules. That's how my mind works, but what are some of the basic rules of an agile marketing setup that you need to embrace so that you approach that change and that ability to adapt without the concept of dropping everything you're doing to move onto the next project?  
Andrea:One of the big ones is to stop thinking in these massive long term, big bang campaigns where we pour a whole lot of time and resources into something that may or may not work. It's very high risk and if it doesn't work then we've lost a lot of time and energy from our team and instead to start thinking about what could we do that's more like that minimum viable product or minimum viable content. What's the smallest thing that we could put out in front of an audience and see what they think of it and then if they love it we do more like it: we expand it, improve it. If they don't like it we just throw it out, and we're only out a week or two of work, time, and effort.  
Randy:That's great. It's funny. You're making me realize that at my company we're adopting some of these things. I don't know if we've formalized it as the agile marketing approach, but just last night we were launching a new page for a product that we have. It's more of an AI add-on that we have, so we naturally needed a page.  
 It's funny because we were all caught up about this one extra module on the new dedicated page, and it wasn't ready yet; it just wasn't polished, but we took a step back and realized we didn't necessarily need that to launch everything else that we had. We had 80% of it there; we wanted this extra element but there was no need to keep waiting because we could have already put out that new concept into the wild before we put the extra 80% of work on the last 20% of detail.  
Andrea:Yeah, exactly. There's usually things like that, but you could strip it down and get it out faster so that you're collecting data sooner. It's a really important way, I think, to break out of when we used to do those massive annual marketing plans and then stick to it no matter what. It just doesn't work like that. Things change too rapidly all around us, and our audiences expect us to be more adaptive and responsive in real-time.  
Randy:Yeah. One of my favorite books, I don't know if you've read it, but it obviously has a lot of correlation to this is 'The Lean Startup' by Eric Ries who talks about that MVP, the Minimum Viable Product that you outlined and how is an organization, and this is whether you're talking marketing or product out there in the market, that we want to get something out, to get feedback versus trying to over-engineer something, if you will.  
Andrea:Yeah, definitely. The lean principles are part of the agile mindset and that foundation that we have to just shift; it's a subtle shift in the way that we think about managing our work.  
Randy:Cool, so I think I killed your flow. We were talking about three rules or guidelines for …  
Randy:This is what happens when we start talking about our worlds. We easily get off-track, which is why we need an agile approach, I guess, but maybe you can give us a couple of more rules to setting up our teams to operate in this way.  
Andrea:The second one, I think, is finding a way to limit the amount of work that you're doing in the short term, so we can't do 20 projects at the same time. We have to find a way to horn in on the right work, and there's a couple of different ways you can do it either to set up sprints, which are the one to two week iterations where say, "As a team, we're going to do X amount of work in the next two weeks: we're committing." Once we commit, nobody else is allowed to throw a bunch of stuff extra at us. We're just doing this amount of work and then we're going to see how it goes and move on to our next time-box.  
 The other way is to think about what's called work-in-progress or WIP limits, which is much more, as a content team, let's say we can only be writing two pieces at a time and only one thing can be in the edit process, one thing can be in design. We place limitations on the state of work and that's going to force us to push projects through; to get them finished before we can start something new. It's a more granular way of limiting your work, but you have to have a way to focus in. Otherwise, you just get overwhelmed with too much stuff.  
Randy:Yeah. Again, to your point, I mean, a lot of these ideas we see in other departments in our organization: our engineering team very much commits to sprints here. As you said, they commit rain or shine, it doesn't matter. They're getting that sprint done. If they're got to work in the evening, they're going to work in the weekend, and that's where the planning for that is also has to be really realistic because you don't want those scenarios where people have to sacrifice their own life.  
 What are, maybe, some tips sting within this second tip of really structuring how that sprint planning or that WIP planning that you outlined? How that brainstorm session happens? Who needs to be at the table? How often does that happen ahead of the sprint to actually happening?  
Andrea:If you're running the sprint cycles, then every two weeks you would sit down and plan the work for the upcoming two weeks and you absolutely have to have the people doing the work in that room and doing that planning because they're going to be the ones to say, "No, that's not an 8 hour project that's a 20 hour project, so we can't take on 20 of those." The same thing if you are …  
Randy:Just to be clear in that scenario, let's say someone had a marketing team of 20 people, right? Maybe on that team of 20 you've got three to four different managers, so would you recommend having all 20 stakeholders in the marketing work part of that sprint planning or moreso just the managers?  
Andrea:Definitely all 20 need to be in the sprint planning.  
Andrea:The managers would be getting together beforehand and making sure that their list of work, which at the agile world we call the backlog, making sure that that is setup the right way so the right work is up at the top and the team can pull the most important items from the top there. Their job is to make sure that the team knows what the most important work is, and then the team gets to come in and say, "Okay, this is how much of that important work we can do and commit to."  
Andrea:For marketers, we really have to be careful about over committing because something else is always going to come up like there's going to be an emergency or somebody's head is on fire and they have to have marketing come and help them in some capacity, so either leaving some hours unplanned to just knowing that's coming down is really important or being willing swap some work out, but you can't just keep adding is the important thing. Once you start you can't add more work in. Something's got to come out if new work comes up.  
Randy:Interesting. It's funny. I mean, I alluded earlier to the podcast we did with Robert Rose: the previous one on Content Pros. The people can find it at He actually talked about … Again, not with the terminology we're using today: having 80% and 20% buffer, right? It sounds like everyone's got to figure out that right balance and some of that probably depends on what type of marketing leaders and other stakeholders you have in your organization to know what kind of things are going to be thrown at you on a regular basis. My team would probably say I throw way too much crap at the moment in the last moment, so they may want more than 20% buffer with me, but absolutely, I think that's the right recipe.  
 Before we take a break for sponsors, why don't you give us that third key rule for setting up an agile marketing mindset on your team?  
Andrea:Sure. The third one is probably the hardest which is breaking down silos whenever possible within marketing and really starting to build up these more cross functional teams so that we have the ability to finish a project from A to Z without passing it off to anybody else because as soon as you introduce hand-offs, then you are setting yourself up for potential delays and misunderstanding. The more you can keep it inside the agile team the better off you'll be and the higher your capacity for work with grow, but that can be really challenging for some organizations to do.  
Randy:Absolutely. Our RVP and Marketing here often calls it a metrics approach in terms of how teams function. One of the frameworks I've always liked just in terms of running a business in general is to think about the business triangle, as I've heard it called: people, process and technology.  
 The tricky part there is that sometimes you have a weak point on any of those three, the whole thing crumbles, right? But when you have strength on all three, and we know triangles are the strongest, then all three work really well.  
 One of the things that we've done is we've actually recently turned to a piece of technology; we're using a solution called work frontier to help us better align that cross metrics dependency of the different groups. What are some of the ways that you've seen people handle that either at scale or in a very hacky way?  
Andrea:People can adjust based on audience segments or personas, right? we have a group that markets to this particular persona and they do everything for that particular persona, or what point of the buyer's journey are they at and then they get to be real experts in that niche of the marketing function within an organization which can be really powerful.  
 It also allows people to maintain their special skills because we don't want to lose that in a marketing context. There's the ideal agile software environment is where everyone's a developer and you can hand-off work to anybody; anybody can pick up a project at any point. In marketing, it just doesn't really work that way. We want people who are experts are writing, we want people who are experts at designing, but we just have to start upscaling and having people learn what they could do to help expand their skillset without losing their specialization.  
 I guess that's the hacky way to do it is just teach your writers how to use Canva or something so that they can make their own blog graphics, for example. Then, there's certainly the scaled way where you have quarterly big room planning. Everybody comes together and talks about big picture strategic objectives, then everyone goes off and executes with these big scrum of scrum meeting where we all cross coordinate and it can get a little complicated when teams get big, but it really delivers more work and at a higher quality. It keeps you really focused on the audience so it's totally worth doing.  
Randy:That's great advice, so we're going to take a quick break here from some of our sponsors here on Content Pros. When we get back we're going to take this little lens of content marketing and see what that means for us as content marketers right back here on Content Pros.  
 We're back here on Content Pros with Andrea Fryrear, and we've got now a really good framework for how to think in the more agile mindset so that we can adapt, we can take on work, take the right amount of work but continually iterate as we go through that.  
 As you hear all these ideas, they obviously apply to everything we do as marketers. In fact, we just talked about that metrics approach that's needed across different groups, but as content marketers and those of us who are focused to creating content, I think this idea Andrea brings is really true in terms of that need to continually produce more and more content. I mean, a lot of people say their biggest challenge is that every week is a new week where they got to create more but they also want to improve. What have you seen in terms of people taking this framework to content marketing?  
Andrea:I love the iterative approach that it lets us do with content, so if we have a piece that's really successful that we can go back and expand it, revisit it, do more with it so that we're not always on the content hamster wheel where we have to do more and more, we can actually build on things that have been proven to be successful.  
 We can also build into the process going back and looking at taking the time to go back and examine what we've done for the last month. You can discover these hidden gems that you didn't know were doing quite so well when all we're doing is trying to hit publish again and again then we lose those opportunities.  
Randy:Just a question for you, and I don't know if there's going to be a right answer here, but we have a number of different people who come on this podcast and some of them subscribe to this idea that, and they're very excited about it, that they have their content calendar planned out for three months, so they know what they're going to create. If it's beginning of October they know what they're going to create through to the end of December of the calendar year. They've got it in a calendar; the whole team is bought in, but in theory that may actually go against this agile mindset, right? Because by doing that we're almost planning too far out. Would you agree or disagree with that?  
Andrea:I think it depends a lot on your context. If you are confident that that's the right content for you to create for three months, then, by all means, go for it but I would say that the planning needs to remain flexible so if something does takeoff then you need to be ready to adjust what you're working on.  
 Yeah, agile is not anti-planning; it's more a series of iterative short term plans so that we can make these micro-adjustments. It's like driving a car, right? You don't just set the cruise control and then go when you know where you need to go. You make adjustments: adjust your speed, go around cars, do turns. There's lots of little things you have to do on the way to get to where you're trying to go, and I think agile content is that way. We know where we're trying to get but we're going to need to make these micro-adjustments as we go along.  
Randy:I like that mindset. Can you tell us maybe about … I know some of the companies you work with and you train on these ideas may like to remain anonymous, but maybe you can help us walk through a company that you came into, had some frustrations, some of the things that you changed and some of the outcomes that they were able to look back on. Essentially, give me a case study that's worked really well where you've been involved in helping change the way they approach their content creation.  
Andrea:My favorite story about this is really when I first discovered agile marketing and so it's really my content team that I shamelessly experimented on when I was first learning about all of these, but we were responsible for, I mean, like most content folks, not only blog posts but white papers, case studies, helping with email and all that good stuff.  
 We would commit to our backlog: to our two-week sprint backlog and then we would very politely pushback on people and say, "I'm sorry that I can't take on this piece of work but I'll put it right in the top of my backlog and it will come in the next two-week iteration." After we did that a couple of times people learned that that's how you dealt with the content team. We met our deadlines, we were very respectful and people's work was getting done. We were writing 200 pieces in a year with a very small team. There were, I think, two or maybe three of us at that point; 200 articles, we were running 1,200 words, they were nice, high quality, well researched and still supporting the rest of the organization doing all the, like I said, emails, case studies, all that other good stuff.  
 None of us were working overtime or going crazy or any of that stuff that you typically hear about when content teams are the short order cooks of the organization.  
Randy:What would you say the key is in this model in terms of getting buy-in at a more executive level? Because I think for the example that you just described, you start to get the people in the trenches who are asking for these requests. It could a sales team that needs a piece of content, it be an extension of your marketing team that's launching a product and needs some content created. Ultimately, I assume this is best when there is buy-in from the executives in that organization. Maybe you can talk about a scenario that you've seen where that's been done really well either at the outset or over time.  
Andrea:It definitely works best when you do have that upper level of support because giving the process lip service is very different than actually allowing people to go off and execute it in the long term, but I've been really surprised, especially lately how many people who are VP level, CMO level are the ones initiating this type of transformation. A lot of it, for them, is stemming from the need for innovation, so they don't want to just do the lather, rinse, repeat same old type of campaign that we do every fall. We're just going to recycle it, redo it and hope that it works. They're looking to, forgive the cliché, but to break through the clutter and to make an impact, and agile lets you do that.  
 That's, for a lot of the upper level folks, that's the in is to say, "This is your way out of the cycle of just doing the same old stuff and this is the path towards doing something really amazing that's going to get you better results from marketing."  
Randy:Yeah, I think that's great advice, especially with a lot of the trends that we're seeing out there these days around the need to create content for not just our website but content for, perhaps some of us are doing it, in a can-be approach or just needing to personalize more and more. We need to able to be responsive in the moment. I think, to your point, a lot of that mindset is even starting to creep into our executive teams, so maybe those are some of the notes to hit them on.  
 Before we start to wrap up here, one of the things I'd love to understand is how you get involved in terms of Agile Sherpas for helping companies adopt this type of mindset.  
Andrea:We work in a couple of ways. The most effective is usually coming in as soon as the maybe-we-should-go-agile conversation starts to happen so that we can provide a really firm foundation and a shared understanding for everybody in marketing of what this actually means for them because adopting the agile approach in marketing is a little bit different than doing it in software or in project management, we have different synchrosis and we tend to break traditional agile methods pretty easy.  
 We come in and help everybody understand what their options are, what the next step can and should be, and then they can either go off and start working on it on their own or we'll do a really customized role out with people.  
 We'll sit down and build those cross functional teams, help construct the first backlog; sell it to the executives a little bit, train them on how this is going to work, on they should interact with the teams, and then if they need ongoing coaching we do that as well.  
 We can be there from start to finish. Oftentimes that helps people get there faster, but some people want to work through at themselves and that's completely fine.  
Randy:Very cool. If people want to learn more about your approach, what's a good spot to go online or find your own content on this? Where would people head to?  
Andrea:I'm at Lots and lots of really nerdy agile content out there and how this work for marketers. We have all of our workshops outlined there, too, if anybody wants to take a look.  
Randy:That's great, so you don't get off that easy, though, on Content Pros. We always like to get to know a little about our guys, how they got into this role, so I was creeping you a bit on LinkedIn and one of the things I'm always curious is what did someone goes to school for and then what do they end up doing? Let's go back to … I see on LinkedIn that you went to Austin College back in 2000. When you went there, what type of career did you have in mind?  
Andrea:I thought I wanted to be a college professor, so I have an English degree and went on, did a little bit of higher education stuff and then realized that was not a good fit for me.  
Randy:… It's still teaching. At the end of the day you're just doing so in more of the modern classroom which I guess is the new post-secondary type of education we all take through learning at work and advancing our careers.  
Andrea:That's a good point. I hadn't really thought of it that way, but I've come to full circle with.  
Randy:There you go. Then, we're going to really tone it down to when you're not working; when you and your husband are both not living on two-week sprint schedules, what do you watch in on Netflix these days? What's keeping you entertained in your free time?  
Andrea:I'm really sad the Game of Thrones is over. That's my big TV addiction, but we have two small kids and I travel a lot to visit clients. I'm also a volleyball addict so I play volleyball here in Colorado and so, really, whenever we're not doing those things we're really sitting down and like, "So, I remember you. Aren’t we married?" Having that conversation of just remembering that we actually have a life together, so we just try to spend time talking which is …  
Randy:Yeah, absolutely. It's funny. You know that you don’t have time for TV anymore when your own Netflix account starts having kids' shows popping up because, then, the kids are just taking over their own account and your account and life's getting confusing.  
 Andrea, it's been a ton of fun. I think everyone will hopefully walk away with a new way of thinking about hitting timelines, staying low on their stress levels and managing both the grind and opportunity that it is to be a marketer today. I really appreciate you taking the time. As Andrea mentioned, if you want to learn more you can check her out, I believe, it was Is that right? Perfect.  
Andrea:That's right.  
Randy:If everyone's enjoyed listening to this podcast we've got lots more episodes for you. You can go to Content Pros is part of Convince & Convert where Jay Baer has a whole bunch of other great podcast from Social Pros and other ones as well as a whole bunch of great content marketing courses for you to take to learn how to raise your game. Until next time, we hope you continue to tune in. We're Content Pros. I’m Randy Frisch from Uberflip, and next time I hope to have Tyler to start back with me. Thanks very much, all the best.  
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