Have you ever tried to put together Ikea furniture without using the instructions? Your thought process probably went something like, “Nah, I’m not going to bother with that. I know how to do this.” Perhaps you got lucky, and everything worked out, but I’d be more willing to bet it didn’t. That you broke something, had to go back to the instructions, or at least just wasted time. Now Ikea can’t do much more to convince you the instructions are important beyond supplying them in the box, but content strategists can and should do more to position the content strategies they create to be successfully adopted.
Why It Matters
In the introduction to her book, The Content Strategy Toolkit Meghan Casey (2015) shares a number of definitions for content strategy from industry leaders. Rahel Anne Baile’s take on contact strategy is that it “deals with the planning aspects of managing content throughout its lifecycle and includes aligning content to business goals, analysis, and modeling, and influences the development, production, presentation, evaluation, measurement, and sunsetting of content, including governance,”
Baile goes on to say that the actual implementation of the plans a content strategist develops is not the work of the strategists themselves. They must depend on others – stakeholders – to do that work. This means that if stakeholders don’t like, understand, believe in, or have the right support for the plan they won’t want or be able to follow the strategy and things won’t turn out well. In some cases, it may even prove pointless to have developed a content strategy at all.
Now, nobody likes their work to lack pay off but getting buy-in for content strategy can be a complicated dance. In most businesses content has a lot of stakeholders, whether it’s those who develop and create it or those who review it and approve budgets. Each added person involved is another opportunity for a stumbling block in implementation, especially because content is something many people can become personally invested in. Any strategy that suddenly comes in and proposes to make changes could be eyed with suspicion (Casey).
“If our community fails to recognize, divide, and conquer the multiple roles associated with planning for, creating, publishing, and governing content, we’ll keep underestimating the time, budget, and expertise it takes to do content right. We won’t clearly define and defend the process to our companies and clients. We’ll keep getting stuck with 11th-hour directives, fix-it-later copy drafts—and we’ll keep on publishing crap.”Kristina Halvorson (2008), “The Discipline of Content Strategy”
What to Do
This is why you need to bring stakeholders in early in the content strategy development process and keep them informed throughout. However, not everyone needs to be in on every aspect of a project. Casey advises that you create a stakeholder communication plan to outline when communications will take place, who should be kept in the loop about what, the form these communications will take, and their frequency according to the importance of someone’s role to a project.
One of the best ways to make sure you’re including everyone you need to when starting a new project is to identify who your stakeholders are, how they’re involved, and what type of stakeholder each one is.
The 5 roles stakeholders can play in a content strategy project that Casey (2015) outlines are:
- Project Owner: the person ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the project, there’s usually only one
- Decision Makers: the people who have a problem your project can or should solve, usually have a lot to say, and have approval and veto power
- Champions: the people who support your work and evangelize the importance of your project
- Influencers: the people who have opinions and insights that should be considered, but don’t have approval or veto power, even if they believe they do
- Derailers: the people who don’t always have official veto power, but can stop a project in its tracks if they are resistant to it or misaligned on it
The type of stakeholder a person is depends on the insights, opinions, and information they bring to the table. Stakeholders can fall into one or more of the following types:
- Strategic: sets the vision and goals for the business, operating area, or department.
- Expert: the subject matter experts (SMEs) have detailed knowledge about an
organization’s products, services, and offerings or about technology or operations
- Implementer: responsible for putting your strategy into action by creating and publishing content
- User Proxy: have knowledge or experience related to your target audience(s)
Having this knowledge not only helps to better organize who to involve or communicate with at what point in a project, but it also shows to your stakeholders that you respect and care about them. Understanding how others’ work impacts the bigger picture and thoughtfully planning convenient opportunities for them to be involved can build much-needed goodwill for your project. Stakeholders who feel they’ve been heard and understood in the building of a plan are much less likely to object to following through with it (Casey, 2017).
“Alignment is not about telling people what you think and then asking them to agree. It’s about getting stakeholders to participate in the project, so they feel invested in and committed to the strategy.”Meghan Casey (2017), “The Secrets to Stakeholder Alignment”
Another piece to set your content strategy up for success is to include budget planning in its development. Budgeting should include not just money needed to directly support a plan, but other requirements as well, such as the time different teams will need to commit to it and headcount.
If a business isn’t prepared or able to support what’s needed to execute a strategy, then the chances of success are much lower. Budgeting helps to make sure you’re not unrealistic or overpromising with your project. Plus, people in business think in terms of return on investment. Being able to tell them how much a strategy will cost and how much it will benefit a business is often necessary to get their approval (Casey, 2015).
How to Pitch It
Right about now you may be saying to yourself, “Hey, this all sounds great, but how do I actually sell my stakeholders on my ideas, especially if they’re new to content strategy?” Casey suggests crafting your case using Toulmin’s Argument Model, which lays out six components to making an argument:
- Claim: the statement you are asking someone to accept
- Grounds: the data and facts that support your claim
- Warrant: how the data is relevant to your claim
- Backing: information that supports your warrant
- Qualifier: the likelihood that the data supports the warrant
- Rebuttal: the response to anticipated challenges to your claim
If you’ve made sure you’re prepared with these 6 things before making your pitch then you’re much more likely to not just impress your stakeholders and eliminate information gaps that breed doubt, but also to double-check your direction is sound.
Content strategist Kristina Halvorson (2018) suggests an alternate way to gain approval, especially if content strategy isn’t already a part of your organization’s practices. The key components in this approach are to start small, focus on storytelling, and don’t sell content strategy itself. You want to start with a problem or excitement stakeholders care about at the moment that with a specific content strategy project you can achieve success towards a bigger goal. Make sure, though, that it can be done in a short time and with a reasonable budget so you’re not making a big ask. Then create a pitch deck including the following in order:
- The Story: this is the beautiful future state you believe will be the outcome of your project and should be the most important and emphasized part of your pitch
- The Current State: this is what’s wrong right now focused on the pain points, obstacles, and inefficiencies
- High-Level Summary: this should include the approach for the project, timeline, and resources you’ll need (budget, people, technology, etc.)
- The RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) Chart: this chart outlines who needs to be involved in the project and what each person’s role and responsibilities will be (the prep work of identifying stakeholders previously mentioned can come in handy to help create this chart)
- Next Steps: this sets expectations for what will happen next, who will do it, and when it will be required to be completed by
Obviously, these are just overviews of how to make a successful content strategy pitch. If you’re familiar with who you need to convince and what they tend to respond best to then it’s also helpful to consider tailoring your approach to that.
Once you have approval to begin a project you will probably still have other moments where you will face resistance or misalignment. Having a well thought out pitch to quickly reference to recenter the project and remind others of the overall goal can be helpful at these moments.
As you build tangible success with content strategy projects, you’ll most likely build credit with stakeholders which can help lessen these stumbling blocks over time. However, since no 2 content strategy projects are identical, you’ll most likely always need to be ready to do some convincing whether it be in a pitch, as part of a project, or during implementation. After all, even the Ikea customer on their 20th piece of furniture can get cocky enough to think they don’t need the instructions.
Casey, M. (2015). The content strategy toolkit [Kindle version]. Pearson Education. https://www.amazon.com/Content-Strategy-Toolkit-Guidelines-Templates/dp/0134105109
Casey, M. (2017, July 20). The secrets to stakeholder alignment. Brain Traffic. Retrieved from https://www.braintraffic.com/articles/the-secrets-to-stakeholder-alignment
Halvorson, K. (2008, December 16). The discipline of content strategy. A List Apart. Retrieved from https://alistapart.com/article/thedisciplineofcontentstrategy
Halvorson, K. (2018, August 2). How to sell in content strategy. Brain Traffic. Retrieved from https://www.braintraffic.com/articles/how-to-sell-in-content-strategy