Behind the Scenes of ‘How to Get Away with Murder’: Content Marketing Lessons From the Mega-Hit

Like many people, I tuned in this year to watch “How to Get Away with Murder” (HTGAWM), the newest brainchild of producer Shonda Rhimes (who created hit dramas like “Grey’s Anatomy and “Scandal”) and creator Peter Norwalk.

The show quickly became the year’s most promising new series; it was renewed for a second season and has already been nominated for a slew of awards. So what the heck does this have to do with content marketing? Let me tell you…


I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jameson Cherilus, an upcoming actor based out of Los Angeles, C.A. who worked on set during the show’s inaugural season, to find out just what propelled the show to such fame. Tucked away in our discussion were fruitful content marketing lessons that marketers can begin implementing right now to see success. Here’s what I walked away with after our riveting discussion:

On Board the Ultimate “A” Team

Fans of HTGAWM would agree the cast is the secret sauce of the show. “The cast is absolutely amazing,” Cherilus said. Take Billy Brown, for instance, who plays Detective Nate Lahey. “He definitely strives to give every scene his absolute best.”

And we certainly can’t forget Queen Viola Davis, a phenomenal actress who is not only talented, but also well respected both within and outside of the entertainment industry.

When it comes to picking your “A-team,” you may not have choices like Davis, an Oscar-nominated and Tony award winning actress, or project leaders like Emmy-nominated and Golden Globe winner Shonda Rhimes. But you have something better. You can have award-winning marketers, industry-leaders and category creators.

Seek employees who are superb at what they do, are dedicated to your brand’s mission and goals and are well respected by their peers. For example, employees who are:

  • Superb writers: Are your marketers willing to word smith a blog multiple times to ensure it tells the right story, similar to how cast members reshoot several scenes until they are just right?
  • Strategic thinkers: Are your players constantly coming to the table with fresh ideas to innovate content creation? Are they truly hungry to keep pushing the boundaries when it comes to telling your brand’s unique story? The wheels must keep turning no matter what, meaning your A-team needs to be able to do some improvisation of their own.
  • Multitaskers: Your team members must be versatile and able to don multiple hats. In content marketing, a jack of all trades is oftentimes better than a master of none.

Tell an Engaging Story

“When megastars like Norwalk and Rhimes put their heads together, they feed our souls! They know exactly what their audiences want and need,” said Cherilus.

As content marketers, we are first and foremost storytellers. To succeed at content marketing, you need to identify what story your company is going to tell through content creation. More importantly, you need to pinpoint how your content speaks to the needs of your target audience.

For HTGAWM, that meant appealing to a diverse viewer audience by representing several races, nationalities and sexual orientations in its character base.

For content marketers, this means producing content that your customers will find genuinely interesting, engaging and share-worthy, as well as content that will meet them at every phase of the buying cycle (e.g., first-time prospect, warm prospect, loyal repeat customer).

Only You Can Lead Your Team to Content Marketing Victory

As a marketing manager or director, the success of your content marketing program ultimately lies on your shoulders. In many ways, marketing managers are like show directors:

“It’s the director’s job to pull out the actors’ greatness when he or she is falling flat. The directors knew what they wanted and did not stop trying to pull it out of the actors until they got it. That’s commitment and dedication, and that’s why the show is so successful,” Cherilus said.

As a team leader, you without question have a lot of responsibility on your shoulder, but your team is relying on you to take them to new heights. Therefore you must:

  • Establish your company’s content marketing vision: Create a mental picture of how you see your content marketing program looking and, more importantly, commit to that vision. Document your content strategy so that specific actions begin slowly but surely aligning with your overall framework.
  • Lead your team with a firm hand: Stay on top of employees and always push them to go harder. The only way you can push them to work harder and more strategically is to be a stellar example of that yourself.

Your Team Should be Tight Knit; Create a Close Working Environment

“When they yell lunch break, cast members Alfred Enoch, who plays Wes Gibbins, and Matt McGorry, who plays Asher Millstone, actually eat together. These people actually get along and like each other. To me, that speaks volumes about the chemistry both on and off set,” Cherilus said.

Your content marketing team should be more than just colleagues; they should be working together as friends. The work environment should be open, engaging and light so as to encourage creativity and spark innovation at any moment.

It just goes to show that content marketing inspiration is everywhere around you, even in a favorite late night TV show. Perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned is that you should always keep your eyes open; harness the information you receive and strategically use it to your advantage.