It’s 6.30 a.m. Martin checks his email, and there’s a company announcement: Kelly, the SVP of product marketing, is leaving. That’s news to Martin, as he has been working on a special project she’s leading. The announcement includes a link to the corporate intranet, where there’s a press release naming Kelly’s successor, but no additional details. Martin immediately emails his project peers. “What do you know,” he asks “about the management reshuffle and the state of our project?”
This scenario of uncertainty could have been prevented if corporate communications had a deliberate and proactive content strategy that integrated employee and leadership communications, as well as public relations (PR).
Great content lies at the heart of everything communications does
The most effective communications leaders create a clear, coherent message — one that advances a strategic business priority or reinforces a desired attitude or important behavior — and develop comprehensive distribution plans to ensure they successfully execute that content strategy.
“Great content lies at the heart of everything communications does, including employee and leadership communications and PR. But leaders need to deliberately prioritize, plan, produce and publish effective content or the audience will simply be overwhelmed and confused,” says Gartner research leader Elizabeth Barrett.
First prioritize content
A well-formed and communicated content strategy would have let know Martin that, regardless of leadership changes, the strategic importance of his project remains, and its goals are intact.
Aligned and targeted messaging begins with a properly prioritized content strategy. This is a vital step given the explosion in the number of franchises that create and syndicate content and the many channels through which content is distributed.
To prioritize, it is important to differentiate the different types of communications content:
- Proactive: Driven by established strategic priorities. Content is relatively easy to identify and prioritize when it relates to a strategic pillar or stakeholder behavior — or when it supports routine but important or mandatory business operations, such as compliance or benefits messages. To prioritize, communications leaders can simply ask: “Is there significant business upside if the communications are successful and significant downside if they are not?”
- Opportunistic: Leverages content that already exists. Content can be repackaged and promoted through new or additional internal and external channels. For example, an employee story can be repurposed and distributed externally via social media, or articles written about a product can be retold from the customer perspective. When prioritizing opportunistic communications, make sure communications teams don’t shift resources away from more important initiatives — and that they don’t create content that conflicts with other planned communications.
- Reactive: Based on events or requests that can’t be anticipated. This includes management changes, potential crises or demands from business partners. The best communications teams weigh two criteria when evaluating any reactive content project — the project’s value to the business and the team’s unique ability to add value to the situation. In reactive situations, like Kelly’s departure, communications teams need a process to escalate potential risks and create an integrated content and distribution plan.
Read more: How to Develop an Effective Content Strategy
Plan, produce and publish
After prioritizing content, communications leaders need to develop an editorial calendar and plan. Choose the stated goal, such as a specific behavior change, and target a time for the content to go live. Then work backward from there to identify steps and resources needed to create and distribute the content. This approach helps communications leaders surface and preemptively plan for potential obstacles.
Communicators are typically skilled content producers. To ensure they achieve audience impact, they must hone their ability to simplify messages, use an authentic tone and ensure all content is audience-centric.
High-performing communications teams scrutinize how their stories are produced, particularly when multiple teams are creating content on the same storyline. In today’s communications environment, numerous teams create content, including brand and product teams, so it’s important for all these content creators to collaborate and coordinate — both to remove wasted/duplicative effort and inconsistencies, and to take advantage of content produced by one team that could be repurposed by another.
Read more: Turn Employees Into Storytellers
To decide where and how to publish, communicators must consider how, when and where target audiences typically consume content. Choose the channels audiences use most and publish during their preferred times, when possible. The best communicators also recognize that regardless of channel and timing, their company may not be the best messenger. They may determine that intermediaries or syndicates are better suited to deliver the company message, and then enable and entice them to do so.