The problem with Content

Companies have long published content (annual reports, sustainability reports) so it is not a new part of the communications mix.  However, digital and social media has opened up almost endless ‘owned media’ possibilities and enabled companies to build their own processes and platforms to deliver content direct to stakeholders and customers without the need of intermediaries.  But with this opportunity come new challenges and headaches for the corporate comms/affairs function and its leader. This was evidenced whilst conducting the fieldwork for our annual Watson Helsby FTSE 100 Corporate Affairs/Director Survey. This blog attempts to explain why:


(i)         First ‘Content’ has naturally fallen into the remit of the corporate communications function because, other than Marketing, there is no other obvious place for it to belong. But because the owned media opportunity is both massive and quite new/embryonic there is a natural tendency for communications directors to question whether they are: fully maximising and grasping this opportunity; using it as strategically as they could; and whether they actually have the skill set and knowledge in their team to create and target content effectively. It does inevitably pose questions about the function’s capability and skill set. 


(ii)        Second issue is the historic approach to Content production which informs the current approach. The modern company publishes a lot of Content but still tends to do so with a ‘producer’ mentality – pumping it out because they always have done, or are required to do, with greater attention given to production & project management (which should only be one stage of a much more thoughtful and protracted process) than to desired outcomes.


(iii)       Third is the sheer volume of Content (encompassing everything from reporting to corporate initiatives, health & safety, brand relaunches and refreshes) which makes it very difficult to take a strategic approach to each ‘production’. Meeting deadlines and ‘getting it out’ becomes the main priority.


(iv)       Creating a more coherent and consistent approach to Content curation.  Content production is quite dispersed in larger organisations, e.g. IR, CoSec/Legal, HR, Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility all have their content requirements.


These are the reasons, we believe, why communications directors view it as an “issue”.  Content, if it is to have a value, requires the same rigour, discipline and strategic input as an advertising campaign which, after all, has always been ‘Content’, but just never given that moniker.  Although the ‘content’ for an advertising campaign often commands a budget of a different magnitude to other ‘corporate productions’ and the stakes are therefore higher, the same process of planning, insight, objective setting (what you want audiences to do, feel or think as result of seeing the content and how that links to business/brand objectives or broader reputation building themes), audience segmentation/targeting, creativity and, ultimately, production should still apply.  Production should be just one phase of the process.  If this sounds arduous, in the context of the volume of content referred to above, it shouldn’t be once a very clear framework has been put in place; which should question the need and objectives of the content up in the first place.


Some corporate communications directors recognise that there is a skills gap/deficit in their teams.  For instance we recently conducted a search for a Global Head of Brand & Content, the role purpose being to develop a more joined-up, coherent approach to brand and Content across the company.  Communications people, who can naturally be quite audience siloed in their thinking, do not always have this skill set (or mindset), hence the need to sometimes look externally for someone with more of a strategic brand management mindset.


In our next blog, with the help and insight of a highly experienced brand consultancy director who has an extensive knowledge of marketing, branding, digital and corporate communications (an unusual blend), we will look at the do’s and don’ts of Content production/publishing and how to ensure it meets the needs of both the business and its stakeholders.

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