Pre-2020, one of the things I loved most about my job was meeting and talking face-to-face with other incredible women in my industry. Back then, I completely took for granted just how easy it was to make those connections--by signing up for a conference, attending a local networking event, or even making a chance connection at a party. 

Of course, face-to-face events and serendipitous meet-ups just aren't happening right now, but there has never been a greater need for women to forge those vital connections. We need to see, learn from, and empower one another, not just because these relationships are essential for maintaining our careers during this pandemic, but because they fuel our fire and let us know we're not going through this experience alone. 

To help bring women in our industry together--and ensure that women's extraordinary accomplishments don't go unnoticed--our female-led team at Masthead Media launched WICMA Connect, a virtual networking extension of the Women in Content Marketing Awards. The idea was to put the most accomplished and inspiring women in our industry together in a room--or in this case, many smaller Zoom breakout rooms--with those who are just starting out, making a career transition, or simply looking to grow as marketers.

Since I couldn't be in each and every breakout room, I reached out to our WICMA winners after the event to continue the conversation, and learn their best piece of advice for marketers as this new (and hopefully much better) year gets underway. Here's some of the direction I'll be taking in 2021.

1. "There's nothing wrong with just listening."

Heather Keets Wright, co-founder of Wright Creative Agency, shares this simple--but rarely followed--piece of advice from her grandmother. She notes that the marketing industry as a whole can benefit from more listening, particularly when it comes to underrepresented voices.

"It's not just about the buzzwords that we hear all the time--authenticity, building engagement, storytelling," says Wright. "None of that means anything if you're not actually going out and finding people from different backgrounds to tell different stories."

How can you include diverse perspectives in your work? Consider reaching outside your immediate network and joining larger online communities with a focus on building relationships with professionals from other races, genders, ages, and experience levels. Be intentional (and open) about amplifying the work from marketers from different backgrounds.

2. "The audience is your client, too."

When we're building content marketing campaigns, many of us get hyper-focused on what the brand wants to say or push out--and we completely forget to ask ourselves what our audience actually cares about. 

"Our readers are our clients, just as much as the brands who work with us," says Denise Burrell-Stinson, who heads WP BrandStudio, the branded content division of the Washington Post. "We continuously and critically assess the content topics that interest audiences, and how they engage with the different types of content formats."

Knowing this helps Burrell-Stinson and her team better understand the topics and user experience audiences really connect with, so they can keep developing content that audiences want to engage with. 

3. "Diversify your skill set."

At this critical moment in health care, I was particularly interested in Amanda Todorovich's thoughts on expanding content marketing within her organization--she's the senior director of digital marketing and health content at the Cleveland Clinic.

Amanda highlights the importance of not only sharpening your marketing and editorial skills, but also developing a data-driven mindset. "Diversify your skill set. Become a better writer, but make sure you also understand analytics and measurement," she says. "Data tells our story for us in every instance."

Amanda also recommends taking a data-driven approach when requesting additional budget or new hires for teams. "Advocating for continued support and investment in content is so much easier when there are such strong, measurable results to routinely share."

4. "Share the numbers."

At some organizations, there's a tendency to let only certain people--often a small group of higher-ups--see analytics and success metrics. But there's an issue with this mindset: How can your entire team learn what's working (and what's a flop) if they can't see how stories and campaigns have performed? 

For this reason and others, Giselle Abramovich, executive editor of Enterprise Thought Leadership at Adobe, believes wholeheartedly in democratizing performance data. 

"We've created a really in-depth dashboard within Adobe Analytics that's available to all of our stakeholders across the organization. Anyone who wants access can get it," Giselle says, noting that content creators can see details like the topics, length of content, and format that readers engage with most.

"Teams across the organization can look at different audiences, and really understand what content they are interested in, so they can meet those needs."

5. "Reinvest in your team."

As the vice president of content at NerdWallet, Maggie Leung has had the unique opportunity to build out the company's content operations from scratch. She quickly realized that her new department's success was strongly tied to the team she hired. 

"It's so critical to invest in training, development, and coaching," Leung explains. "We promote primarily from within and try to keep talent with us for as long as possible. We continuously look to build domain expertise and institutional knowledge. That's important to us because we want to be a trusted brand for generations to come," she says.

She also highlights the importance of building a diverse team--hiring writers from different backgrounds, generations, and geographic locations. "The better we reflect our users, the better we can serve them."

6. "Stay prepared but flexible."

There couldn't be a more important time to be working in politics. As the social media director for Elizabeth Warren's presidential campaign, Anastasia Golovashkina pioneered a new level of integration between digital and communications. 

"By adapting key quotes from debates, town halls, interviews, and other videos into shareable content like GIFs and quote graphics, we made sure Elizabeth Warren's best moments would continue to be shared and remembered long after a single story or moment passed," Anastasia says, adding that staying "prepared but flexible" with the team's content queue was crucial to their success.

Repurposing content across channels, even on a moment's notice, is a crucial tactic for any resourceful marketer. As you plan your content calendar, map out how each piece of content can be adapted to resonate with your audience across platforms and in newsworthy moments. 

If your brand is considering leveraging its content and platform to speak out about a political cause or issue that's dominating the news, think about how you might tailor your message across platforms, too. "It's never too late or too early to get involved with the campaigns and causes that matter to you," Anastasia says. 

7. "Value the numbers--but also look beyond them."

Dina Morocco, executive director of content marketing at Comcast, has been leading the charge to elevate the brand's editorial presence and value to consumers. That has meant developing a framework for measuring the success of their content.

"Having strong engagement metrics allows us to understand the user interest in the content," she says. "We also measure against the return on our investment--does the content we create and promote move the needle for our business goals?" 

But as another, more intrinsic measurement of success, Dina looks to see how effectively she and her team have been collaborating with others across functions. "We partner with many colleagues on the production of our branded entertainment," she says. "The most successful projects are those where we've inspired each other--and had fun--in the process. 

8. "Do the job well--no matter how small."

When you're first starting your career (in marketing or otherwise), it's only natural to ask for more responsibility. Before you dive into the big, higher profile assignments, make sure you've completed the smaller, seemingly "unimportant" parts of your job. 

Before she was the editorial manager at Tonal, Sahar Aman was a university student working on a film set. That's where she was tasked with making tea. At the time, she felt discouraged.

"To keep my spirits up, the third assistant director told me that making tea is actually a very important job, even if it doesn't seem like it," she recalls. "So I began to learn how to make tea to the best of my ability. Sure enough, my dedication to tea started earning me some serious praise on set and I began getting more and more responsibility. I decided right then never to be put off by a 'small' job and to do everything I could at 110 percent."

Demonstrate your willingness to do every job with thoughtfulness and care--I can guarantee it won't go unnoticed (especially by your boss).