Content ops stakeholders: Content authors (podcast, part 2)
In episode 123 of The Content Strategy Experts podcast, Alan Pringle and Gretyl Kinsey wrap up our series on content ops stakeholders and continue their discussion about content authors.
“When you are trying to get executive buy-in on something as a content creator, don’t focus on the tools and the nitty gritty of the tech. That is not the way to get the attention of executives. ”
– Alan Pringle
- Content ops stakeholders: Localization (podcast)
- Content ops stakeholders: Tech stack managers (podcast)
- Content ops stakeholders: Executives (podcast, part 2)
- Content ops stakeholders: Executives (podcast, part 1)
- Content ops stakeholders: IT (podcast)
- Content ops stakeholders: Tech support (podcast)
- Content ops stakeholders: risk management (podcast)
- Content ops stakeholders: Content consumers (podcast)
- Content ops stakeholders: Content authors (podcast, part 1)
Gretyl Kinsey: Welcome to The Content Strategy Experts podcast, brought to you by Scriptorium. Since 1997, Scriptorium has helped companies manage, structure, organize, and distribute content in an efficient way. This is Part 2 of a two-part podcast. And in this episode, we will continue our discussion about content creators as stakeholders. I’m Gretyl Kinsey.
Alan Pringle: And I’m Alan Pringle.
GK: I want to talk about another common challenge that we see for content creators, and that’s the lack of decision-making power, or sometimes a lack of support at the management or executive level, when something needs to change. So if they see that there is some inefficiency in the workflow, or if they can see whenever a merger has come into play, that something is making their lives harder as a result, if they can see that some part of the localization process is broken, if they can see that cross-departmental silos are a problem, a lot of times it’s the content creators who can see that happening, and they can see the results of what it does to their workflow. But they are the ones who have the least power to make that change.
AP: What to me is so interesting, and possibly ironic, that might be the right word to use here, is the content creators are the ones that recognize the flaws. Yet sometimes, they cannot articulate the business case to get those things fixed. So they’re the ones that understand it and see it, but then they can’t communicate to the audience at the executive level about how to fix these problems, either through some kind of return on investment argument, basically there’s some financial implications and things you have to figure out and explain, to get that funding, to fix these things. And despite these professional content creators’ ability to communicate with their end audience, sometimes they have a more difficult time communicating with the people who basically control the funding that flows into their department.
GK: Yeah, and I think that stems from a couple of different things. I think one is just that a lot of their focus is already on the content creation process. And so it does involve extra thought, extra time, extra research to prove that there is a loss of time and money in the inefficiencies that they face. And then I think the other piece comes from just the fact that if they are entrenched in one department, they don’t really have that bird’s eye view of how these inefficiencies are affecting the company as a whole. And so communicating that to a management level or to an executive level, to someone who can get them more budget, can be really, really difficult, especially if the company already doesn’t value content as much as it should.
AP: Yeah. And I think it’s also worth noting, a lot of these people know that when it comes time to make change, the content creators are going to be the ones who basically are on the receiving end of the brunt of the change and the pain, because they’re having to change tools, they’re having to change processes, all that stuff. This is where I think executives, on the other hand, need to be very much in tune with the importance of change management, and making sure that people just aren’t thrown into a new tool set, without the proper preparation, training and whatever else. Just merely putting a new process in is not nearly enough. You’ve got to get that cultural buy-in and an understanding of how these tools work, how they’re going to improve work life, otherwise you’re going to be probably flushing money down a toilet.
GK: Yeah, if you have a writer who comes to you and says, “Here is what is making our work inefficient for my department,” but then all you do is just throw a brand new tool at them and leave them alone, then that’s just going to make things worse. That’s going to increase the inefficiency for a long time because every time you change processes and change tools, there is a major learning curve. So instead, the better way to approach it is when you have someone coming to you and saying, “We’ve identified these inefficiencies, and we have figured out that here’s what would be the best way to get past that and to make our lives easier,” that you do provide all of the support that those writers are going to need to get through that change, that you provide all of the right training, the right follow-on support, the right resources, maybe a little bit of extra help.
GK: Because when you make those process changes, the writers are still going to have to do all of the work that they’re already responsible for, on top of putting these new systems in place, and getting up and running. So making sure that you not just give them the tools that they need, but also the guidance to get through that process change is what’s really going to help clear that inefficiency out of the way that they initially complained about, and get them to the point where they are working more efficiently and saving your company more cost and time.
AP: Yeah. And one last point I want to make in here in regard to these business challenges, as a content creator, when you are trying to get executive buy-in on something, don’t focus on the tools and the nitty gritty of the tech. In general, that is not the way to get the attention of executives. That’s my piece of advice in this regard. You’ve got to look at the return on investment, ROI, you’ve got to look at the business case, and demonstrate how the problems that are going on with your content creation processes, how they are in direct conflict with the goals, the business goals of the company, that’s the kind of language, that’s the kind of viewpoint you need to be bringing to those discussions. Not this tool is inefficient because I’m copying and pasting. That may be completely true, but that is not the way to get off on the right foot with executives when you’re having those kinds of discussions.
GK: Yeah, if you just start by saying, “We’re copying and pasting a lot,” that doesn’t really say much. But if you say, “We are spending X number of hours copying and pasting each time, there’s an update cycle, and that is costing the company this many dollars, then that’s going to get you a lot further and getting some type of a change made. And I think it’s also worth pointing out that if it’s difficult to have that conversation, if your company doesn’t maybe place as much value on content, or isn’t willing to listen to someone who’s in a content creator role, then that may be a time when you would want to bring in an outsider. That could be a consultant like us, it could even be just somebody in another department, to collaborate with you, who could maybe help give your argument a little bit more weight. But that might be a way to really get through to the people who have the purse strings at your organization.
AP: Yep, exactly.
GK: So we’ve talked a lot throughout the series about all of the different other types of content stakeholders besides the creators at an organization. And I want to talk about how those other stakeholders might be able to support the creators.
AP: Sure. And we just touched on this point in the previous conversation. The collaboration and listening angle, it’s important to speak to each other in some kind of common language. And I’m not talking about English, French, Spanish, I’m talking about speaking to someone in terms they are going to understand, hence the whole conversation we just had about don’t go in there talking about all the nit-picky things that are wrong with your authoring tool. Talk more about how the process doesn’t fit the business requirements. That kind of conversation is what’s going to get you further. And that’s how you can really ramp up the collaboration and the assistance from those who really have the money.
AP: You’ve also got the issue of the siloed information that we talked about. There are ways to basically take, shall we say, a more format or presentation-neutral process, and then you can take that information, which is often some kind of structured content, an XML for example, and then transform that content into the different kinds of information that you need. A good example of that is if you’ve got specifications for a product, if you have all that information collected in one format-neutral place, you can then pull it and put it in your online user guide, you can put it in a marketing slick, you can put it in some training material. And it’s only been written once, and you’re giving everybody the ability to connect to that central chunk of information, and use it in a way that provides that very critical, consistent messaging to people who are reading and consuming that content.
GK: Yeah, I think having not only central chunks of information, but also unified terminology, unified style, unified look and feel for your information, is the other piece of it. Because the more you unify your information, once you have all that in place, the more accurate your content will be when you deliver it to your customers, you won’t have issues like I’ve seen at a lot of organizations where people will say, “Oh, our marketing materials say this, and they use these words to describe the product. But then when the user gets the technical manuals, it describes everything completely differently and they get confused.” Or maybe if we send users to our training website, the look and feel is completely different from what you get on our main site. So the more that you can unify and get everything to have one collaborative look and feel, the better that’s going to be for your organization as a whole.
AP: Absolutely. And part of that, looking at things as a whole, is taking a look at what are the obstacles for the different content creators, and how can you remove them, and make their work more efficient. Not just in one department, but across the organization because what works in one place may be helpful in another. So try to take a more bird’s eye view, as you said earlier, about how changes can be something that can occur in multiple writing groups, content creation groups, to really unify that efficiency across the board.
GK: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s what we talk about a lot at Scriptorium when we mentioned enterprise content strategy, getting one content strategy for the entire organization, instead of just having each department with its own way of doing things. And I think that cuts into another area where stakeholders can support the content creators, which is also something we’ve touched on a little bit in some of our previous discussion. But that’s understanding the value of content, what content brings to your organization, and being able to communicate that and prove it with numbers. And I think that is a really critical way that, for example, if you’re a writer and you have maybe some people in management, in your department, or even in some other content producing departments, who need to go to bat for you, that’s especially one thing that they can do, is being able to prove here is what we save by having better content, more efficient content, more accurate, and more unified content. Here is what content does to make the organization look better to our customers, to make our organization serve our customers better.
GK: And that information, that proof of what the content actually does for your business is going to be what gets you the resources to continue making better content.
AP: Exactly. Executives are much more amenable when you’ve done that legwork that you just mentioned, and get some numbers to explain lack of efficiency and so on.
GK: So I want to wrap up by talking about some advice that we have as consultants, as people who’ve seen a lot in this industry, for those who might want to work as content creators.
AP: I think we’ve talked a little bit about some of the bigger picture things. And the big one is, it’s not just about writing, keeping your head down and cranking out the content. You’ve got to understand how your content feeds the bigger picture, the business goals and requirements for your company. Those two things need to work hand in hand. So the sooner you realize that you are contributing to a bigger picture, the better off you’re going to be. That’s my primary piece of advice.
GK: Yeah. I think another one to really keep in mind is to always be prepared for change. And that’s something, again, that we’ve touched on throughout this conversation. We’ve talked about the world becoming more global, more digital, more connected. And I think that as technology evolves, as we keep seeing companies take advantage of that to grow and scale their operations and their processes, that that is going to have an impact on what you do as a content creator. So it ties back also to the point about being not just about the writing, but about all of the other things. If you also know that your job is not going to be the same from one year to the next, that things are going to evolve and change, then that’s going to put you in a better position to be ready for those changes so that you can roll with the punches.
AP: Exactly. Basically, you need to be as adaptable and nimble as the systems you put in place, because you never know what’s around the corner as far as content creation and delivery goes.
GK: Yeah. And I think one area that we’re really seeing a lot of change and a lot of evolution, particularly in recent years is, again, around having more personalized content delivery, content as a service, being able to allow your users to pull specific pieces of information on demand when they need that, that that type of content creation and development, to feed into those types of systems, requires a different thought process than what you might have done 5 or 10 or 15 years ago, if you were just producing PDF manuals.
GK: So I think we’re going to go ahead and wrap things up there. So thank you so much, Alan.
AP: Thank you, that was a great conversation.
GK: And thank you for listening to The Content Strategy Experts podcast, brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, visit scriptorium.com, or check the show notes for relevant links.