This post addresses related, but different, content outsourcing and in-sourcing project best practices.
Outsourcing Content Creation
I have seen many companies struggle setting up outsourced content creation projects due to inadequate preparation and documentation.
Content vendors often prefer it this way. Your inefficiency, or ignorance, is their “value add” — and higher billing. Often, preparation work, in the guise of “research,” occupies a significant portion of the content project’s time, effort and budget.
This may have been acceptable in the traditional, periodic, “point production” content outsourcing model. But organizations today must create a constant stream of buyer relevant content to satisfy a broad use case requirement map.
After content vendors come up their learning curve, conduct their research, and deliver their work product, lots of knowledge walks out the door. Undocumented knowledge. Some or most of this knowledge will be needed for somebody’s content project. Probably pretty soon.
Internal and Personal Content Projects
Recently I have worked with different clients who needed assistance assessing and improving content assets for workshops, webinars and whitepapers.When I asked for what I call the “Content Header” (explained below) so I understood the audience, purpose, desired outcomes of their content — in short the context — they didn’t exist.
So the people requisitioning content weren’t clear what they really wanted, the creators lacked useful guidance, and those reviewing and critiquing could apply any expectations and standards they wanted. No wonder people experience conflict and confusion when content is delivered to other users.
Principles and Practices
The principle here is simple. There are critical inputs to any content project. They should exist somewhere, although they may not be documented. If they aren’t documented, they can’t be vetted, quality checked, shared and maintained.
If these elements are captured or developed and documented at an universal, even enterprise-wide level, they can be applied to each content project. This saves time, improves operational efficiency, message consistency and content quality. And probably 100 other benefits along with avoidance of project delays or disasters.
I believe lack of this documented information is a major cause of most reported content marketing challenges.
Apply Universal Planning to Each Content Project
This 4 minute video provides a deeper look into this idea.
Content Project Inputs
I am talking about something more than a “creative brief.” The creative brief provides input for the creative activity, and is part of the lists below.
Our operational and process focus is to realize these objectives: to optimize content investments from each project (including, time, effort and resources). This means raising content quality, reducing content-time-to-market, and maximizing outputs, especially content versions required to cover appropriate use cases.
- As you prepare to contract or begin your next content project, which inputs in the lists below would you not want your creators to have?
- If you want to really get the most from content projects, how would you do it without this level of preparation, planning and input?
- If you could provide this level of documentation as input, how much “hand off,” learning curve and research time would be saved?
Content Header — For each content asset to be created
To requisition or create each content piece, complete a content header.
Background Input — Customer and Content Frameworks
These are typically template documents that capture and convey key insights about markets, buyers and competitors. Many content projects are delayed to clarify this understanding by content project team members. Without good documentation, this is an ad hoc activity, often requiring redundant research by the team.
In addition, common but universal messaging decisions also encumber project efficiencies. This includes but goes beyond keyword lists to include message maps, words and phrases to use and avoid, inventories of facts, images and stories. Over time this provides a rich repository for content creators.
Content Quality Checklist
What content control documents or checklists do you use manage content projects? What elements are missing from my lists above. This is a constant effort to improve these checklist. Use comments section below to share your ideas.
These requirements can be documented in a comprehensive content requirements document. But it can also be summarized in a short Content Header.
An excellent blog to review is Doug Kessler’s on the 7 critical elements of a great content brief.
Also see blog post regarding the communication principle “setting up the listening.”