Using the “Yearbook” Approach to Content Marketing


Kevin Lee

A “Yearbook Approach” piece of content marketing elevates the status of the subject, therefore giving it a high likelihood of being shared among their network.

One major problem for content marketers is extending the reach of their content beyond one’s existing circle of friends, fans, followers, and subscribers. There are many ways to attack this problem, including article syndication, PR mentions, and through paid media (provided that one has the budget for this), but one economical method that my team has used successfully is what I call the “Yearbook Approach.”

Why do I call it this? Because, just like an entry in a high school or college yearbook, it elevates the status of the person it’s about and highlights their achievements and contributions. Consequently, it has a high likelihood of being shared very widely by the subject.

Why It Works

The Yearbook Approach leverages an ancient, elemental truth of human behavior, which Dale Carnegie summed up as follows in his How to Win Friends and Influence People:

“Remember that a man’s name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

We’ve created content using this approach many times, and it consistently outperforms content that, while being useful and informative, lacks the built-in virality possible with the Yearbook Approach.

How to Do It

In a content marketing context, executing the Yearbook Approach means identifying influencers willing to consent to an interview with one’s content team. Once this interview is published (and provided that its content is satisfactory to the interviewee), it can be expected that the interviewee will do his/her part to promote the article to his/her own network, which may be much larger than that maintained by the content marketer.

1. Choose Your Influencer With Care.

Unless you’re hooked into the celebrity circuit, you’re not going to be able to score an interview with a top-tier celebrity. For most if you it’s not about reach alone, it’s about quality of the interview and a specific focus. So, don’t use People Magazine as your hunting grounds; instead compare your marketing plan to those with clout (and perhaps Klout) in your sector. Look for people active in your business space who are saying interesting things who aren’t on the CNN/Bloomberg/Huffington Post circuit who would appreciate some added attention. Independent consultants are often good choices because they realize that additional exposure has a direct impact on their bottom line.

2. Think Hard About Your Questions.

You’ll spend most a fair amount of time researching your interview target, getting to know him/her as well as you can, and probing deeply into his/her worldview. A few “softball questions” are OK, but try to draw them out a bit by referencing provocative quotes they’ve made on Twitter, on their blogs, or in press interviews. Once you’ve got your questions ready, fire them off. It’s usually a good idea to allot at least a week for turnaround (although some interview targets respond very quickly).

3. Show Respect.

Once you’ve gotten your questions returned, use them to create a good-looking blog article that they’ll have no reservation sharing with their audiences. In many cases, your interview target will grant you access to use his/her photos on your blog. If these images aren’t impressive, go the extra mile and create unique graphics that highlight his/her stature. Use callouts to illustrate particularly provocative points made by your interviewee.

4. Get Signoff Before (or Soon After) Publishing.

Unless you’re working with someone who’s big enough to demand a preview prior to publishing, giving your target a tipoff that “the article is live” will likely suffice in terms of getting his/her buy in. Don’t ignore this step: it shows courtesy as well as providing a final chance to check for any content errors introduced in the production process.

5. Don’t Ask for a Link Back.

Asking or demanding links back in return for a yearbook-style article can be looked at as risky. One wouldn’t want there to be a presumption that there was a shady “quid pro” in operation. Admittedly a link might produce some SEO value, but embark on this initiative with the idea of great content first. Besides, if your article has done its job, it will attract the attention it deserves from your target and his/her network.

One question I’ve gotten from those considering the Yearbook Approach is whether or not to interview competitors. My response is that generally that’s fine. If you want to appease the vice president, chief marketing officer, or business owner, consider interviewing competition that serve a different geography than you, or service a different sector of the market. There are often also suppliers you can interview.

The Yearbook Approach is highly effective, but because it’s somewhat labor-intensive (especially in respect to the research, question-generating phase), you may lack the bandwidth to produce such articles a weekly. But even if your output of such articles is monthly, it’s worth adding this approach to your content marketing toolkit because the potential for gaining added reach for your content is so great.