Selling Content Strategy: A Continuous Process

Your content game plan

Demonstrate your game plan at every step of the content planning process to maintain stakeholder buy-in.

One of the top questions new content strategy practitioners have — as I did when first introduced to the discipline — is how do you sell it?

How do you make the case for content strategy and convince web stakeholders that their content needs a better plan (assuming a plan currently exists — eek!)?

It’s easy to get discouraged. Have you ever had an experience like the following?

"I told my boss (or HiPPO [Highest Paid Person’s Opinion]) our content is outdated and ineffective. I said, we need a message architecture, a content audit, a style guide, and a governance and measurement plan. We’re running around creating content with short timelines, and we don’t know if what we’re doing is necessary or effective. Why don’t people get it? Heck, I’ve shown them Kristina Halvorson’s book!"

If this is you, pull up a chair. You’re in good company.

One of the reasons I often focus on content measurement (evaluating content quality and success) is because I realized early on that I needed practical ways to demonstrate the value of my work. It’s not enough to tell web stakeholders that their content is useless, confusing, or off-brand. We have to demonstrate why it’s ineffective and why it’s in their best interest to make it better.

We’re Selling a Process, Not a Product

Content strategy is a process, not a product.

The reason many stumble on the question of selling content strategy is because they think of it as a product or deliverable. Content strategy is a process, not a product.

Content audits, content style guides, content templates, editorial calendars and publishing workflows are all deliverables that can help you make the case for content strategy. However, none of these things stand on their own: they may get you in the door, but to keep people involved and interested, you have to sell content strategy again, and again. And again.

When I took on my first large-scale content strategy job, I thought once I got buy-in for the project, I could take my sales hat off and focus on my work. Boy, was I wrong. Every time I took my sales hat off, I lost stakeholder motivation. I learned quickly that I could never afford to stop selling content strategy. It wasn’t enough that stakeholders were sold on the need for a message architecture or a content audit or other deliverables — they needed to be reminded throughout the process.

Truth is, making the case for content strategy is part of a content strategist’s job. If you’re in this role, embrace the responsibility, don’t begrudge it. And, really, how bad is it to educate people about a topic you love? Right?!

Think Education, Not Sales

The secret to successfully selling content strategy is education.

Content professionals are often not comfortable acting as sales people. Believe me, I can relate. But the secret to successfully selling content strategy is education, not sales. Take off your sales hat and put on a teaching hat. We need to educate content stakeholders about the content strategy process throughout the project, not just at the beginning.

It helps that our work makes sense. Content strategy is logical, not amorphous. There’s a reason why messaging needs to lead the content plan and why an audit needs to inform the scope of work. How can you assess content quality without understanding your communication goals? How do you know what content you need if you don’t know what content you have?

Explain the logical development of the content planning process at each step along the way. Demonstrate how you got from phase 1 to phase 2 and what’s needed (and why) for phase 3. It’s easier to get content strategy buy-in when people see it in action.

"Oh, dear. We need a content governance plan." Right-o, Mr. HiPPO!

Content Strategy As Change Management

People are not averse to quality content. They’re not opposed to happy users. They’re resistant to change.

Content strategist Karen McGrane describes much of content strategy work as change management. I love this idea because it gets to the heart of the challenge. People are not averse to quality content. They’re not opposed to happy users. They’re resistant to change.

Content strategy forces people to think differently about how they approach their work on the web. It raises questions they can’t easily answer and identifies problems they can’t easily solve. Who wouldn’t want to avoid that?

If we want to gain support for content strategy, we need to help stakeholders make a shift in how they approach the web. We need to show them how content strategy helps them do better work and, ultimately, do that work more efficiently.

Inspire

How do you sell — or, rather, educate — people on content strategy? What approaches have you found either successful or ineffective?

Here are a few kick-start approaches, including one by me.

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About Rick Allen

Rick Allen has worked in higher education for over twelve years, helping to shape web communications and content strategy. As principal of ePublish Media, Inc, a web publishing and content strategy consultancy in Boston, Mass., Rick works with knowledge-centric organizations to create and sustain effective web content. Keep going »

Comments

  1. Rick, this is almost eerie, this blog post, as I think you may have somehow seen into my brain these past few days. I’m neck-deep in a content audit, a very necessary one, but am also drafting some educational sessions to advocate for content strategy — why and how it will really help our work. I’ve been drafting some ideas on workshops and presentations but it is always good to hear what’s been tried-and-tested.

    Can’t thank you enough for this post. GREATLY appreciated!

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