5 Intersects of Content Strategy and Project Management (Part 3)

Validating a work plan, even a high-level strategic one, is key to success in the fields of both content strategy and project management. Obviously, if you have no constraints and an unlimited budget, then you have no need to challenge such a wonderland existence. But, alas, most of us live in the real world, ruled at least by the triple constraints – schedule, cost, and scope/quality. And some would argue that our constraints number even more.

Note: This blog is the third in a five-part series that examines how the elements of the content strategist role both parallel and intersect those of the project manager’s roleSee part 2, published in May 2019.

So validating the efficacy of a strategic plan becomes more of a requirement than a luxury. For content strategy, the simplest validations are the most obvious ones:

  1. What are the priorities for your organization? For your audiences?
  2. What does the data tell you?
  3. What deadlines must you meet?
  4. How can you pull this off with the resources you have?

It’s probably best to tackle the questions in order.

  1. The first question speaks to your core content strategy as well as to expressed project and messaging goals. Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach in their book Content Strategy for the Web reminds us that a “core strategy sets the long-term direction for all of your content-related initiatives” and thus helps you keep moving forward.
    –>On the tactical, project level, you should star, highlight or otherwise begin to distinguish the must-have content work from the nice-to-have.
  2. The second question speaks to metrics, a topic that I plan to give more depth in a later blog. That said, for planning new content, you will find value in examining page visits to and downloads of similar content over the past six months. Include user journeys and search term rankings if possible. And if your team or the larger organization does audience surveys, carefully examine those results.
    –>Look for trends over time. Did you miss something in your gap analysis? If so, add it to the work plan and give it an appropriate priority.
  3. The third question and fourth questions help you winnow the wheat from the chaff. If your original plan calls for 14 videos, and you have only one video expert and six weeks to complete all video work, your plan likely needs adjustment. Besides planning (e.g., creating a shot list) and filming, videos can require scripting, editing, and post-production processing – all of which are time-consuming.
    –> If you can’t add resources, you’ll likely have cut the number of videos for the project.
  4. On the topic of resources, remember that not all content has to be home-grown (i.e., “original content”). Consider where you can aggregate existing content from outside sources and curate it for effective presentation to your users. In the book Medill on Media, Owen Youngman explains that curating content “combines intentionality, audience knowledge, filtering, and quality control.” It is a type of cherry-picking for relevance.
    –>However, content curation still requires someone to do the initial work and maintain the resulting output for its life cycle.

…begin to distinguish the must-have content from the nice-to-have.

Speaking of a content life cycle, remember as you winnow your work plan that content not only requires a development cycle – a set of iterations involving reviews and revisions – but also some kind of governance of its life after it is published. How much maintenance will the content require in the future? How long a life will the content have?

Some balancing of these considerations should be part of your planning. For instance, your team might want to consider curating short-lived content and putting some sort of trigger in place to remove it after a certain timeframe.

The outcome of this winnowing effort should be a refined, specific work plan and a content calendar, also referred to as a content-planning calendar.

The American Society of Association Executives recently reported that among professional associations, the content-planning calendar was the most commonly used of 17 content strategy tactics uncovered by an ASAE survey. (To see the list of tactics, refer to “How Are Associations Thinking About Content Strategy?”)

At this point, with your content-planning calendar in hand and your work plan refined, you will have to get buy-in from strategic stakeholders before you proceed with implementation. For that, you will have to rely on your negotiation skills and organizational processes. Good luck!

The next blog in this series will address – as previously promised – leveraging proofs of concept, incremental reviews, and other techniques for monitoring and managing your content strategy’s implementation.

Good Prose!

Welcome to my first blog = Good Prose! This is an initial installment in the quest to understand the ingredients of and offer recipes for good communication (in English).

Okay, there’s some shameless play involved, too. I admit that I “leveraged” a bit from Alton Brown’s show on the Food Network – ‘Good Eats.’ The search engine blurb
for the show promises to explore “the origin of ingredients, decode culinary customs, and present food and equipment.” Of course, I watch it for all those reasons…but also so that I can catch the latest escapades of the mad French chef.

Prose, Pros and Cons, the last name Kahn – it all works. (Remind me to tell you sometime about the name-the-Kahn-baby contest I was subjected to at a former employer’s.)

So what is “good prose”? Or for that matter, what is prose? Well, it’s generally thought of as anything that isn’t poetry. Surprise! Everyone writes prose everyday. If you regularly write emails, you may genuinely introduce yourself as a “prose writer” the next time you meet someone new. Of course, I’m not promising that will guarantee you a good first impression.

But speaking of good, what do I mean by “good prose”? In their seminal work on writing – The Elements of Style – Strunk and White direct us to “make every word tell” when we write. So that’s a good start, and we can explore more about that on this blog. We can also explore some of the finer points, such as punctuation and emphasis.

One of the overarching principles that draw all of that together, I believe, is a sense of audience:

  • To whom is your communication directed?
  • What is important to them?
  • What questions might they have that you will want to anticipate in your       communication?
  • Especially for email communications, how much time will they realistically spend reading this communication? How will they read it — in-depth or just with a quick glance?
  • Does your audience include non-native speakers of English?
  • If it’s a personal communication, what impression of yourself are you       conveying to the reader?

For me all of these questions are important to answer when crafting a communication. They will influence the techniques you choose to use, for instance:

  • How much information to convey
  • What kinds and levels of details to include
  • What concepts to emphasize
  • How to organize your information
  • What words, tone, and style to use to communicate with your audience

Alton Brown (or at least his writers) has a good sense of audience. He knows that stringing together erudite culinary history with “watch-me-cook” renditions of recipes might not be palatable to the wide audience attracted by the Food Network. So he adds the funny characters and visuals – and sometimes even a plot – to keep us watching. And yes, it’s all a bit silly sometimes. But we keep tuning in.

Please keep tuning in here. Let me know your thoughts on how you adjust your prose to specific audiences.