Planning and producing content that requires cross-functional input is one thing; maintaining this content is quite another. Dedicated editors can ensure that the herculean efforts companies often put into such content initiatives deliver more lasting results.
Many organizations are still structured into fairly defined silos by business unit and product lines, and then matrixed around the world with regional and country-level structures. It is still less common for them to be organized around audience types or other transversal topics – technologies, medical conditions, digital transformation -- though some do have teams focused on vertical industries.
It takes significant effort, then, to create cohesive and long-lasting digital narratives around transversal topics. What I’ve seen happen in several instances is that a cross-functional team is put into place to drive the effort. This team generally has a business lead to ensure the right persons and product groups are involved, and that business objectives are properly prioritized. This can be the solution manager from the business unit with the most at stake with this particular topic or audience, or a business lead from a central marketing unit.
The team generally also has a content lead – for instance, a digital communications or content strategist or marcom manager responsible for translating this cross-functional story into a digital format.
There’s generally a big kick-off meeting, followed by a series of meetings, supported by many exchanges on internal collaboration networks, or more commonly, a lot of emails. The team identifies objectives; agrees on a content architecture; defines who needs to contribute what, to where, and in parallel, who needs to validate and sign off on everything. There’s a lot of arbitration (when three stakeholders provide contradictory feedback), a lot of last-minute issues (where are we going to get the images?), and, as always, a lot of wrangling.
Finally, after much pain and effort , the story is ready to go, and there it is, live on your website.
Who maintains the beast? Who makes sure that the story evolves in step with the market and new product development? This is one of the big challenges that a lot of these stories face, because too often, once this cross-functional ‘project’ has gone out the door, most of the cross-divisional team members go back to their day jobs – in their product BUs.
Meanwhile the content lead now has 5 million other projects on their plate, and no time to single-handedly chase, cajole, and wrangle updates from 20 colleagues in other BUs.
If the content lead comes from a central role, then they’re unlikely to have the subject matter expertise to keep that story fresh. And once people start moving around in the organizations (and not being replaced), it’s sometimes difficult to even identify who can assess if the content is still valid or not.
So what to do? Well, why not assign a dedicated editorial unit, or at least one editor, to these cross-functional topics? For one thing, this would allow enterprises to stop treating these endeavours as one-off content projects, and weave them more permanently into the organization.
This unit has editors, rather than content managers, who are responsible for chasing, wrangling, dealing with legal and compliance, keeping abreast of industry news, and being otherwise proactive in suggesting ways of how the story can evolve. They can keep tabs on a whole list of ‘triggers’ that should spur content updates. These editors can also test their content to ensure it is meeting reader needs.
Having an editor responsible for a story that has so many moving parts also shifts more responsibility for content ownership to the editor, rather than to a large team of content owners themselves. Too often, content managers in large companies – be they from digital communications, marcom, content operations or even in a large division – are supporting too many content owners to oversee ROT on too many topics. As a result, in large companies with decentralized responsibilities for content, it’s usually the subject matter expert who can vouch for content validity and who is therefore considered the de facto content owner.
However, when too many content owners are responsible for cross-functional content, then no one is responsible. Dedicated editors are ideally placed to take on that responsibility – but they need to be mandated to do so.