The (necessary, hated) discipline of content strategy

Your content strategy is just a few months in, and you’re getting a ton of requests for off-strategy work from across your organization. What now?

The work of building a content strategy can be daunting. And then, somehow, it gets harder. 

“Saying NO to off-strategy requests” is a common conundrum for our clients. It makes sense: To effectively build a content strategy, you need to drive some level of consensus, buy-in and excitement across departments. In laying the groundwork, you hope to have rabid internal participants. 

But you also need rules — rules that ensure you’re producing something over time that’s true to your strategy and serves your audience. These are the same rules that say you’re NOT producing something that’s completely self-serving. 

The good news? There are ways to ensure adherence to your strategy without isolating eager participants: 

BE CLEAR ABOUT THE STRATEGY

Are your colleagues sure what the strategy is? In many cases, they either haven’t been briefed on it, haven’t read it or missed a meeting and aren’t up to speed. 

A second common, and bigger, issue is that they may not understand it, and therefore haven’t bothered to internalize it. When we’re presenting strategy, we need to show the underpinnings of it: What it’s hoping to achieve, why it’s going to matter to the target audience, where we’ve been previously and why it hasn’t worked. We need to tell the story of the strategy, not just explain the strategy itself, so it can stick in our (sometimes resistant) colleagues’ minds.

MAKE AN INTERNAL ROADSHOW PART OF YOUR EFFORT

A formalized briefing process with a solid strategy and story that will get heads nodding is key. Most of our projects deliberately include an organized roadshow: A formal briefing deck with the story of where your organization has been and what it hopes to achieve; the strategy that will achieve it; examples of the strategy in real life; a Q&A session; and an overt “how staff can be part of this effort” session. The head of the project then runs a series of meetings (typically with individual departments, then at a global marketing all-hands meeting to reinforce). 

The results at this stage have been stunning: A roadshow creates the opportunity for people to raise their hands and participate in the way that you’ve directed. The downstream effect of feeling included from the beginning is critical.

PUBLISH AND PROMOTE AN EDITORIAL CALENDAR

Editorial calendars aren’t all-inclusive (you typically won’t know everything you’re going to publish six months in advance). But they do give a high-level sense of where your content is going, and the major franchise opportunities/trending topics you’re going to tackle throughout the year. As part of our process, we insist on developing content series to ensure your topics and format stay true to your audience. 

To promote the editorial calendar, make it a one-page, easy to scan, branded document. Then, print it out and share it face to face if you can. Encourage people to have it hanging somewhere so they don’t forget about it.

SHOW OTHERS HOW TO WORK WITHIN THE RULES

After all this communication and goodwill-building, you still will have some stragglers who blast off emails asking you to publish something that just doesn’t work. Before you angrily type an email responding (or, go ahead and do it and then delete it), consider sharing some of the content series frameworks you’ve developed and ask the person to brainstorm how their concept might fit it. 

This should prompt a healthy dialogue that teaches even the most stubborn stragglers to engage in the strategy. 

USE DATA TO YOUR ADVANTAGE

Finally — when all else fails — you have data. 

We’ve done projects where there exists a very stubborn naysayer, and nothing will convince that individual that the strategy is correct, that the strategy is worth following, that the rules are in place for the good of everyone (company and audience included), that content for content’s sake is a fool’s errand, etc. 

In this situation — kill ‘em with kindness and lots of data. Comparison data is your best bet to convince the persistent off-strategy requestor. Exhibit the difference between the “old way” and the “new way” through audience performance data. 

To avoid this issue in future conversations, we’re always working with clients to update the roadshow decks to reflect performance. It’s a good reinforcement mechanism for why the rules of strategy matter. R 

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