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Can Your Content Strategy Handle the Truth About Governance?

by Meghan Casey on January 6th, 2011

I’ve noticed a bit of a trend lately in content strategy blog posts. A lot of them only talk about the content side of content strategy—what content is needed, why it’s needed, who it’s for, what format it should be in, etc.

A whole lot of them are missing a really important component of content strategy: Governance. Specifically, the importance of:

  • Getting everyone to agree with the core purpose—and structure—of the site, and the messages it needs to convey
  • Empowering someone (or a small group of someones) to make long-term and day-to-day decisions about content

These things are just as important, if not more important, than the content itself.

Content strategy – governance = face-hating

Consider this made-up story of what can happen without governance, even with the best of intentions:

Once upon a time, a Content Strategist arrived at work, coffee in hand, eager to continue the challenging—yet fulfilling—task of overseeing his employer’s website content. Months before, he developed and implemented a content strategy for the site. It included a lot of really great stuff, from content objectives to an editorial calendar, and everything in between.

All of these things had helped to dramatically improve the site’s content. Content drafts required less editing. Calls to action were more compelling. Customer service was getting fewer calls from people who couldn’t find what they were looking for.

With all of these positive results, the Content Strategist was surprised—jaw-droppingly aghast, even—when he opened the site and found something on the home page that didn’t fit with the content strategy. Even worse, he knew nothing about it.

It was an interactive, Flash-based “Letter from the President,” full of company pats on the back, corporate speak, industry jargon, and nothing of value to site users. And, it clearly cost a lot of money to produce. Like half of the annual content creation budget.

The Content Strategist exclaimed, “Ellllgghhhh. Who did this? I hate his face.”

Once he determined that it was the Director of Executive Communications who was responsible, the Content Strategist grabbed his Editorial Specialist colleague for moral support and marched to the Director’s office. The following heated conversation occurred.  It might sound familiar.*

Content Strategist
"Did you order the interactive Letter from the President?"

Director of Executive Communications
"You want answers?"

Content Strategist
"I think I’m entitled."

Director of Executive Communications
"You want answers?"

Content Strategist
"I want the truth!"

Director of Executive Communications
"You can't handle the truth!

Son, I serve the most powerful person in this company. The person who signs our paychecks.

Who’s going to keep the CEO happy? You? You, Mr. Editorial Specialist?

I have more responsibility than you can fathom.

You weep for the home page and curse the CEO’s office of communications.

You don't know what I know. That interactive Letter from the President saved jobs.

And my existence, while grotesque to you, appeases the person who approves your budget.

But deep down, in places you don't talk about at content meetings, you need me in the CEO’s office.

I haven't the time or inclination to explain myself to someone who needs my protection but questions the way I provide it.

Better just to thank me. Or sit in a meeting with the CEO and indulge her every whim.

Either way, I don't give a darn what you think you are entitled to!"

Content Strategist
"Did you order the interactive Letter from the President?"

Director of Executive Communications
"You're gosh darn right I did!"

And so the Content Strategist bowed his head and left the office, with no recourse to fix the situation.

Hindsight is 20/20

The Content Strategist learned a lot from this experience. Rather than agonizing in his defeat, he took a more proactive approach. One that allowed him to salvage all the great stuff in his content strategy and prevent such a thing from happening again.

To gain alignment with the CEO’s office, he scheduled a meeting to discuss a few things with the Director of Executive Communications, including:

  • Why content strategy is important to the business
  • The content strategy document he uses to guide content decisions
  • A proposal for establishing governance that includes stakeholder alignment, content planning processes, and a decision-making model
  • Recommendations for how the interactive Letter from the President could be re-purposed to meet business goals and user needs
  • A request to present the same information to the CEO to get her buy-in and support

The meeting was a success. You see, the Director of Executive Communications knew the interactive Letter from the President was a bad idea. But, with nothing compelling to stop him from following his marching orders, he found it easiest to please his boss rather than push back.

If you’ve ever been in a similar situation, you know that it’s pretty hard to say no when you don’t have anything formal or documented to back it up. Get some governance—and get more control.

*Adapted from the film A Few Good Men

  • http://www.sdicorp.com/Resources/Blog/articleType/AuthorView/authorID/24/lkunz.aspx Larry Kunz

    That’s a great story. I can’t wait until the movie comes out — with Tom Cruise as the content strategist, of course.

  • Destry Wion

    Super!

    I was just writing some blather to somebody today about how CS can be a fair bit different than IA, and governance (or “management”, as I less effectively stated it) was one of the key points I tried to make about where/how that difference comes into play.

    I’m not familiar with any IAs, anyway, who have the same level of responsibility (or access to the C-suite) as the character in this story. I’d be happy to learn in what situations they do exist, if they do. Though this position looks like it’s getting pretty close…
    http://unjobs.org/vacancies/1291628627471
    Also looks like there’s a fair bit of double-hat wearing in that role. Someone having to be both IA and CSist.

    But yeah, governance. Rawwwrrrr! Glad you touched on it.

  • http://twitter.com/4tuckertalk Jennifer Tucker

    Delightful!

  • http://prosekiln.com/ Melanie S.

    Ohhh, that was funny.

  • http://entrebankph.com/ Eleazar

    Effective governance of content strategies matters most.

  • Solo

    So funny and so true, it hurts. Having administered a site virtually solo for mid size organisation for years, whilst located in a Communications office with well-meaning colleagues who in the main just don’t speak the same language, this encapsulates the problems perfectly.

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