Agencies: How to run a content project at scale
Has your agency been tasked with running a large scale content project?
Working with a large volume of content, with various stakeholders and contributors, is undeniably more complex than pushing out a weekly blog or a series of social media posts.
This is why it pays to follow a thorough pre-planning stage where the ‘i’s are dotted and the ‘t’s crossed before the project even gets off the ground. As the project moves forward, there should be a transparent workflow for managing the content and regular checkpoints to ensure that client and contributors are on the same page and happy with how the work is progressing.
This article discusses some important steps for running a content project at scale. These will help avert common pitfalls, foster a pleasant working experience for those involved and (last but not least) produce first-rate content!
5 key considerations when running a content project at scale
In this section, you’ll find an overview of the key factors for the smooth running of complex content projects. These factors are universal and apply to virtually any type of content you’re seeking to create.
1) The brief
Without an accurate and comprehensive brief at the outset, your project is bound to be plagued with problems and miscommunications.
Gather as much information about the project and your client as possible. Set up a briefing call, face-to-face meeting (or a series of these depending on the complexity of the project) to gain an understanding of your client’s organisation and the project’s objectives.
Flesh out the key content ideas together with your client during this stage to ensure you have all the essential information to do the work.
In this briefing process, you should be looking to establish:
What the content should achieve
The content should have a clear purpose which everyone contributing to it understands. Does your client want users to take a specific action after reading the content, if so what? Does the content need to change audience behaviour, drive sales or increase customer loyalty? In order to create value for the target audience there must be a clear and measurable objective behind the content.
Who the audience is and what they want
Who is the content targeting? The clearer your understanding of the target audience and the more focused the content is in terms of audience, the more successful it’s likely to be.
What’s unique about your client
What differentiates them from the competition? Why should customers choose their organisation over others? What are their values? What makes them the top choice?
It’s likely search engine optimisation (SEO) was a major driver behind your client’s decision to embark on a large scale content project. Perhaps your agency even suggested it after undertaking an SEO audit. Make sure you create an intelligent keyword strategy that gives your client’s new content the best chance of being returned in relevant search results.
Style and tone of voice
The content needs to accurately reflect your client’s personality. Do they want formal, corporate-sounding material, or quirky content with a humorous twist?
If their organisation already has style and tone of voice guidelines, ask them to share these so you can write in their voice.
If your client’s earmarked content from other organisations that they like (or dislike), ask them to share this information. Similarly, if they have examples of content from their own organisation that have performed well that they’d like to emulate, ask them to send these to you.
Having this reference material is invaluable, for writers and editors in particular. It also means your client will get consistent content in a style that they like – this is particularly important when working on large-scale projects, with multiple contributors.
Like all professional services, creating high-quality content takes time. Confirm with your client whether their suggested deadline(s) is achievable and how to best deliver the work to meet these date(s), e.g. staggered delivery in specific batches.
Tip: Always bear in mind that sufficient time for review rounds/revisions should be factored into the project schedule.
Once you’re clear on the brief and deadline, you should be in a position to put together a written quotation for the work to submit to the client for their approval.
You may also wish to draw up a project contract to protect both parties, confirm the deliverables and ensure that everyone is clear about the terms of payment.
Following quote acceptance, it’s good practice to assign your client a dedicated in-house point of contact, or project lead, to provide regular progress updates and address any queries or concerns. The continuity of communications being channelled through a designated contact person is extremely helpful on large-scale content projects.
If the project requires a number of small teams led by more than one project lead this is also workable, but it pays to keep the number of project leads to a minimum.
Set-up for a project might include these typical steps:
- Project lead sources and confirms the team of writers and editors. The project lead confirms the key information to the team, as well as requirements concerning expected deadlines. If recruiting new writers, vet them by asking them to supply a test piece and/or samples of their work.
- Set up of project using a CMS: Managing your project using a CMS such as GatherContent or Drupal means that contributors to the content can follow a structured content creation process, with clear roles for everyone. It also provides good general oversight and allows you to avoid bottlenecks and version control issues.
- Creation of content templates: Creating customised project templates using a CMS ensures you achieve a consistent format that meets your client’s needs.
- Creation of content style-guide and checklist: These documents are normally created by the project lead or a senior editor based on the brief and reference material. They should be used by the content contributors and added to as the writing moves forward, to ensure they’re as up-to-date and comprehensive as possible. Documents such as these are a critical source of information for editors when it comes to checking the content. This is invaluable when working on a large project with multiple writers in order to achieve a uniform, consistent approach.
Following the set-up stage, the content goes into production.
A typical workflow for content creation might include:
Step 1: An editorial calendar is created to map out a schedule of delivery for the content.
Step 2: Project lead briefs all writers and supporting editors and answers any questions the team might have.
Step 3: Writer uploads their drafts to the CMS. With large projects, it’s best practice for each writer to upload one ‘sample’ piece initially. The project lead should review this promptly to ensure it meets the desired criteria and feed back to the writer. The writer then makes any necessary changes and the cycle repeats until the content is approved. The first approved sample should be sent to the client for their feedback to ensure it meets their expectations. (If the project is split into multiple strands the client may need several samples for approval.)
Step 4: Editor thoroughly checks the remaining drafts to ensure they’re error-free, consistent and in line with the brief.
Step 5: Project lead exports and deliver the content to the client, with a request for any feedback. The project lead may also assume a further quality assurance role (e.g. spot-checking edited documents), depending on how you choose to run the project. It’s good practice for random checks to be carried out on the content throughout the project, and your project lead may assume this role.
Step 6: Content creation team actions any changes, and the project continues until sign-off by the client.
Tip: You can customise this process according to individual client requirements and preferences.
There are many moving parts your agency needs to consider when running a content project at scale. Some common pitfalls to avoid include:
- Content for content’s sake: Even in large content projects, all material must be relevant and nothing should slip under the radar.
- Content by committee: Rather than multiple reviewers feeding back in dribs and drabs, you should encourage clients to collate all feedback and return it in one batch.
- Version control issues: Using a CMS, having a clear folder structure to store offline material and adopting a strict file-naming convention should help avoid these issues.
- Re-briefing work at the review stage: Whilst some amends to drafts are expected, alarm bells should sound if a client completely changes the brief at review stage. The same applies if they request multiple additions far above the agreed word count. If amends constitute a significant change in project scope, you should raise this with your client.
To sum up…
Whilst working with content projects at scale is undeniably complex, thorough pre-planning and rigorous processes can make that crucial difference.
A clear methodology for how to run a content project at scale should help avoid preventable issues. It will also allow for smooth communication between your agency’s team and your client.