Winning the Content Production War
I just finished reading Freedom’s Forge, which describes how American industry produced planes, guns, ships, and everything else in quantities our World War II enemies couldn’t match.
What struck me were how much money and time production experts achieved by eliminating bottlenecks. Some were as simple as rearranging work flows so pieces didn’t have to be moved so often, or making components so accurately that even unskilled workers could install them correctly. In one famous example, a shipyard built a no-frills Liberty ship in under a day from preassembled components.
Content marketers face the same do-or-die challenge: Cranking out huge amounts of quality content much more quickly and cheaply than ever before. Yet even working with word-class companies, I often see writing projects delayed for weeks or months by the same bottlenecks.
Here are the four worst offenders and my suggestions for eliminating them:
Poor raw materials: It’s a lot easier to reject a load of bad steel when it arrives at the shipyard then to pull it out of a ship that’s fully built. The same is true of the raw material you provide your content creators writers.
- Review the background material you give writers to ensure it doesn’t include out-of-date messaging, survey results that are unusable because they came from a competitor or “case studies” that are actually hypothetical examples from client presentations. (Yes, I’ve seen all of these – recently.) Before sending a 120-page PowerPoint “in case it’s useful” pull out what is relevant and tell the writer why. This work up-front slashes production time while improving quality.
Unclear Objectives and Unanswered Questions: By the time a piece of content is in draft mode, you’ve probably invested thousands of dollars in staff time defining it, assigning it, brainstorming it, and providing background to the writer. But all that investment can’t “go to war” in the marketplace unless it was designed from the start to hit the proper target audience, and the author has the information they need to build it.
I’m often stalled while various experts argue over the target audience, the desired messaging or their understanding of a buzzword. (So are many others, according to this conversation on the LinkedIn Hubspot Partners Forum.)
- Invest the time up-front in person-to-person phone conversations with all stakeholders to clarify objectives and definitions. Letting an experienced writer ask clarifying questions eliminates massive re-work later, as well as hours responding to emails. (I’ve found such calls especially useful when working across language or cultural boundaries.)
Delayed Reviews: Your smartest and most articulate people probably think meeting a project deadline or closing a deal is more important than answering a pesky question for a white paper. And they are right – unless their bosses make it clear that content creation is just as important as grinding out code or a client meeting.
- Suggestion: Make content development part of the evaluation criteria for your account managers, developers and practice managers. How much of their evaluation is tied to content is an easy way for them to prioritize content versus other responsibilities. For faster results, measure their content contributions quarterly.
Sloppy Version Control: Juggling multiple sets of changes to the same document from different reviewers is a time sink that practically guarantees errors and reduces quality. When a writer reworks a paragraph to meet one reviewer’s request, and another reviewer later eliminates that paragraph, you’ve wasted two people’s time while delaying delivery.
- Make one person responsible for reviewing, accepting and publishing content. That person, or someone with suitable knowledge and authority, should also be responsible for resolving editing disputes and consolidating all the changes in a single document for the writer to review.
Those are my tips from the content production front lines. What are yours?
Bob Scheier is a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor. Visit Bob’s site to learn more about his writing and services.