To some people, January is an exciting time full of promise and fresh starts. But for those who work in content marketing, January can be a time of anxiety as you stare down that big, blank editorial calendar and wonder how on earth you’re going to fill it in.

Time for a brainstorm — and these steps will help make sure it’s a productive one.

1: Send Out the Invites
Let’s be honest: If you get to January and your calendar is blank, you’re already behind the eight ball. The time to start planning for next year is right now. So first and foremost, get your meeting on the calendar and send out your invites.

To ensure that your content marketing initiatives have buy-in across the organization, and that you’re getting valuable topic input from a variety of sources, consider inviting:

  • Product line managers
  • Representatives of your marketing, advertising, PR and digital teams
  • A representative from your customer service team
  • Key stakeholders who will be involved in content approvals
  • Key members of your content team

2: Get Your Ducks in a Row
Next, lay the groundwork for your brainstorm:

  • Compile an overview of your 2015 content, along with any results/measurements
  • Define your 2016 content goals/objectives; know the company goals, too
  • Define your audience(s), including needs, pain points and relevant interests
  • Identify your distribution channels
  • Pinpoint desired distribution frequency
  • Review your company’s SEO strategy, and have handy a list of keywords and phrases
  • Define expectations for the brainstorm (e.g., to create a large pool of topic ideas, organized by timing and/or channel)

TIP: Before your brainstorm, send these details to participants, so they have a good foundation when they arrive.

3: Set the Stage
Now decide where you’ll hold your brainstorm gathering. Going off-site is ideal — a new setting can help jostle those creative brain fibers and presents fewer distractions from daily work. But a conference room will do.

Wherever you end up, have ample writing space that the whole group can easily view, such as white boards or large flip pads. Also have a supply of paper and pens for attendees to take their own notes.

TIP: When you hold your brainstorm, assign one person whose primary job is to stand upfront and record all ideas generated.

4: Discuss!
When the big day arrives, start your session by having everyone introduce themselves if they don’t regularly work together. People will feel more comfortable sharing thoughts if they’re not talking to strangers.

Make sure everyone knows their voice matters and there are no bad ideas. Save any evaluation of topics for after the brainstorm, so the atmosphere remains open and positive. Encourage participants to expand on each other’s ideas or offer variations on the theme, and to note audiences, channels or seasons that might be most appropriate for a given topic.

Your moderator should keep an eye on the clock to make sure the group doesn’t linger too long in one area of discussion. If the flow of ideas stalls out, your moderator can try these tactics to rev the engine:

  • Toss out candy for ideas or have toys on the table to stimulate creative thinking (e.g., Yahtzee® dice, Scrabble® tiles, even an Etch A Sketch!)
  • Have prompts ready — ask about common customer questions, which products/services need an awareness boost, what audience pain points or news items can be solved by your products/services and so on.
  • Toss out words or phrases, and ask participants to shout out the first words or phrases that come to mind
  • Consider breaking attendees into smaller groups for part of the brainstorm

5: Follow Through
By the end of your brainstorm, you’ll hopefully have a large pool of topic ideas. Now have your content team review those ideas more closely and toss out the ones that clearly won’t work. Take what’s left, and start refining them and slotting them into your content line-up for the new year. Save any leftovers for possible future use. Then give yourself a pat on the back and relax a little, knowing you have a solid plan in place for your 2016 content marketing campaigns.

But don’t relax too long. Find out more about measure content marketing success and many other content marketing tips and strategies that build loyalty and boost the bottom line, read CCG’s Guide to Content Marketing.