Why Content Is Not a Department

In order to hold an audience’s attention, the push is on for brands and organizations to regularly update their websites, social channels, and other properties with new, relevant, inspiring, and sharable content in a variety of formats, ranging from brief lines of text to something as complex and costly as full-length custom webisodes or branded interactive games. This overwhelming, bottomless pit of need has sparked new job titles and departments popping up within marketing or as independent departments tasked with providing the endless stream of new content.

Once you have those content people in place it’s tempting to declare the case closed. Sorry, but the reality is that good content requires much deeper collaboration and efforts from a lot of different abilities and departments.

If you have someone or a department dedicated to content within your organization, you are definitely ahead of most, who are still relying primarily on already overworked marketing or creative departments to fill content needs. While content does have a lot of crossover with marketing activities, it needs to go both deeper and wider within an organization, putting the content strategist or department at the intersection of a spectrum of talents.

Good content requires someone (or a team) at the strategy level. Their job is to make sure content appropriately fits and enhances the broader plan. The one-off efforts that often happen without this kind of coordination and guidance can weaken the messaging platform, confuse your audience and interfere with integration efforts. The brand strategist has a handle on the big-picture planning, messaging, and budget available and is best positioned to outline and prioritize the content needs in a coherent and effective way.

You need to involve someone who has budgeting authority. This stuff is not cheap and if there isn’t support for an ongoing conversation with your fans, followers, customers, reviewers, visitors, distributors, and other audiences then it may not be worth starting that conversation. In fact, it might be detrimental. Charging into the chief financial officer’s office during budgeting season or submitting a large line item without providing the context and expected impact of the content spend is not the way to get support. Prepare in advance with cost estimates, timelines, and anticipated returns to gain an ally.

Engage your front-line personnel – those that have direct contacts with customers through community management or customer service, among others. They have the pulse of the relevant audiences. They are charged with providing almost real-time responsiveness to chatter, events, complaints, etc…and can provide invaluable insights – if asked.

The best content is fueled by insights from careful research and listening. Involve the research folks who can measure both the broad and specific impact of content against specific goals and provide feedback in a timeframe that allows for iterative improvements in your content program. They understand the audience as a whole and by various segments. This same person or team may be an analytics whiz but they may also man the listening post for brand and competitive activity and audience response.

The creative and technical teams who spend each day ideating, designing, and building all that content need more than just marching orders. If you treat them like a production house you lose the opportunity to tap into the passions that drove them into their respective careers. Too often it is assumed that the content creators work in a vacuum and require only task- or project-specific inspiration and direction to succeed. Get the best outcomes by supplying detailed briefs with background info and context to other programs and the overall strategy then give them some creative license and the time needed to get things done. Let them stretch your boundaries (on strategy, of course!) to create the kind of content that gets noticed and shared.

So where do agencies fit into the content picture? Agencies have always been in the idea and content business and can help advance content efforts as client needs escalate, but they need access to the kind of client side info, data, plans, feedback, and internal resources that are involved in the broader content effort. An agency without that trust and access cannot be effective (except by accident), but an agency appropriately utilized and supplied can be a tremendous content partner. Agencies can scale resources to respond quickly and at their core are exceptional communicators and creators with specific abilities not found in most organizations.

Content continues to be a major challenge for marketers and organizations as they sluggishly respond to this new content era. Creating content, monitoring and measuring it, and integrating all the groups and individuals involved in the process can be the responsibility of a point person or department but they can’t function optimally without considerable support from many different areas. Just anointing someone or creating a department is not enough. The content challenge many organizations face is primarily one of coordination and integration for a new focus that is not supported in the old organizational structure. Until that realization happens, old-style organizations will continue to struggle to compete.

Is your organization set up for content success or failure?

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