How to Use Terrible Content

Updated: Jul 13

An edited version of this post originally appeared on the Content Marketing Institute blog.


The idea of repurposing your published content is old news to you. After all, so much work goes into your content that you want to squeeze as much value out of it as you can.


But how much content do you have that just never made the cut? These are the pieces that are languishing on your hard drive or in the cloud somewhere, never fulfilling its original purpose.


If you’re like me, among your files you’ll find:


  • Blog posts that were made irrelevant by breaking news.

  • Press releases that were never picked up by the media.

  • Guides you couldn’t publish because something happened in the world that made them seem inappropriate (or even offensive).

  • Thought-leadership articles your team created for a trade magazine…that went belly-up before the pieces could be published.

  • Case studies that were tabled when your organization's priorities changed.

All is not lost: Here’s how to breathe new life into old, unfinished, and unpublished content.


Journey to the center of your content


Before you can revive your unused content, you have to find it. Take a look through these common hiding places for forgotten content:


  • Your brand’s Google Drive or other cloud storage system.

  • Folders on your hard drive where you store pitches, ideas, and completed content drafts. (Ask your team to look through theirs as well.)

  • Your company’s blog archives.

  • Your Content Management System.

  • Your social media scheduling tool.

  • Any physical files you may have.


When you find something that never made it past the final draft stage, use the advice below to unearth the hidden value in these assets.


When the content was…rejected


Your team created a guest post for an important blog—and they said no thanks. Or you pitched an idea centered around your brand to an industry trade magazine, and they turned it down. Or maybe you sent out a press release about your brand’s latest news, but the media didn’t bite.


Many content professionals would archive the offending content and slink back to their laptops to try something new. But not you! You’re going to get your revenge on the naysayers by finding another way to use that content. Here’s how.


Send the rejected content to an unsuspecting market


This example is based on freelance writing, but it’s very relevant to content marketing. In my 25 years as a magazine writer, I racked up well over 500 rejections to my pitch letters. I kept each failed pitch in a folder on my hard drive, and every so often I would go through the folder to see if any of the ideas might be workable for a new publication.


In early 2020, an editor at a newsstand women’s magazine—whose name you would definitely recognize—asked me to pitch her some article ideas. I rounded up a handful of pitch letters I had sent to women’s magazines over the previous 10 years which had been rejected, updated and revised them, and sent them in. One of those ended up appearing in the December 2020 issue…and it earned me around $4,000.


You can do the same. If a publication rejected your pitch for a column written by your CEO, find another publication to send it to. If the local media ignored your release, send it to bloggers in your industry. The rejected guest post might be perfect for one of that blog’s competitors.


Should you feel bad about sending out your rejects? No. Just because a piece of content was wrong for one outlet doesn’t mean it’s wrong for all of them. As they say, one man’s trash.


Sometimes you just need to wait until the time is right. So look at your rejected work with a new eye, and for each one ask yourself: Is it this content’s time to shine?


Take your ball and go home


No one wanted the guest post, press release, article, or infographic your team so painstakingly crafted. That's okay, because you didn’t want to give it to them anyway! In fact, it’s so great you’ve decided to publish it on your brand’s own website, blog, resources page, or social media accounts. So there.


When the content was…inappropriate


When I ran a small content studio, we developed an incredible report about how to incorporate the principles of women’s magazine journalism into B2B content to “take it from ZZZ to OMG.”


Right after we proudly released the report to the world, the pandemic struck.


Suddenly, no one wanted to read about (or create) fun, entertaining content. Our duty was now to demonstrate that we knew what was going on in the world by producing gloomy content about “the new normal.”


And it makes sense. Brands that didn’t at least give a nod to the situation in their content looked out of touch and tactless.


But the question remains: What do you do when you’ve created an amazing piece of content and it suddenly seems wrong with what’s going on in the world?


Reframe the topic


Sometimes a simple tweak can turn your content from “They said what?!” to “I need to read this now!”


For example, while we did temporarily pull the report, we could have made it work with a new design and a lead such as, “We could all use a distraction these days. Here's how to bump up the fun in your B2B content to give your readers a welcome break from the negative.”


View it as an opportunity


Maybe the current content treatment won’t work right now—but this is a good opportunity to turn that one now-useless topic into a load of on-trend ones.


Say you’re a home furnishings brand, and just as the pandemic started you were about to launch a content campaign around how to create a luxurious guest room for summer visitors. No one was visiting anyone at the beginning of the pandemic, so that topic suddenly came off as clueless.


But a smart content marketer would have reframed the idea. For example: With everyone stuck at home—parents working from home, kids schooling from home—things started to feel crowded, and people mourned the loss of their personal space. A campaign on how to turn unused guest rooms into home offices, man caves, lady lairs, and classrooms would have been right on point.


My content studio shelved the women's magazine report in favor of an infographic called "30 Creative Alternatives to 'Unprecedented.'" This amusing infographic still touched on the theme of adding more fun to your content, it showed an awareness of the situation, and it ended up getting even more attention than the report.


Wait it out


We knew we could re-release our women’s magazine report when the time was right. And in fact, people did eventually get tired of gloomy marketing content, ads featuring somber piano music, and emails from brands about how “we’re all in this together.” They started craving fun content—even though the situation itself hadn’t improved much. So we reposted and marketed the report in June, and it garnered a lot of engagement.


Does your brand have old content the news rendered irrelevant or even offensive? Ask yourself if the day has finally come when your audience will appreciate the original content idea.


When the content was…just a wreck


Maybe that unpublished piece of content is simply unsalvageable. Like:


  • The content is so out of date it’s not worth your time to update it.

  • You hired a writer who was just N.G., and even the best editing couldn’t save it.

  • The case study features a customer that’s now out of business.

  • The piece is targeted to a customer persona your brand no longer serves.

  • Your organization’s policy is to credit the writer, but the person who wrote the original piece…well, let’s just say they’re no longer in good standing in your industry.


Even this content is not dead; you can still mine it for bits to use in social media, email newsletters, testimonials, pull quotes in other pieces of content, and so on. For example, grab out and reuse:


  • Quotes from SMEs.

  • Helpful tips that are still valid.

  • Sidebars from case studies, guides, articles, and other long-form content.

  • Resource lists.

  • Entire sections/chapters of ebooks, guides, and white papers.


Pick over that content like a grandma using a roast chicken on day three. We’re in chicken salad territory here, folks. Don’t let any usable content go to waste.


Your terrible content is not so terrible after all


You’ve delved into your brand’s content and come up with some losers you could turn into winners. In many cases, the content wasn’t really bad. It was just a case of wrong place, wrong time.


Now that you have these strategies for reviving rejected, tabled, and otherwise unpublished content, add a quarterly reminder to your calendar to go digging for content gold.


You’ll save time, save money—and treat your audience to amazing content they otherwise would have missed out on.


Want to know how likely your content ideas are to get results—before you spend time and money developing (or pitching) them? Check out the Brainstorm Buddy App today!



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