One of the toughest challenges faced by content producers is managing the needs of multiple stakeholders – often with conflicting requirements. But if you don’t get stakeholder management right you can end up with content that is fragmented and ineffective. It isn’t easy, but with a little finesse you can balance the needs of all your stakeholders to create clear and powerful content.
Avoid ‘too many cooks’
We’ve all been there – you have ten different people all demanding their ‘bit’ be included the content you’re creating. You can try to keep everyone happy, but in attempting to get everyone’s message across, you end up getting no one’s message across well, and your content ends up looking like Frankenstein's monster.
It’s important to limit input to necessary stakeholders only. Start by listing your stakeholders and whether they need to be consulted or informed for each area or type of content. Consulted means they will have some level of input on the content, informed means they’ll be kept up-to-date of your progress, but generally won’t have a say about the content. If your situation is really complex, a good stakeholder management tool is a responsibility assignment matrix.
Next, get an agreement with each stakeholder on his or her level of editorial input. This technique can quickly cut down the number of people who have a say in the final product. For example, you may have a situation where one department wants to input on another department’s area of content. Don’t let them. Gently guide them away from anything outside their area of expertise and agree their feedback will be limited to these areas. Also, make sure you agree who will have final sign-off on the content.
Determine a hierarchy of stakeholder needs
Once you’ve established which stakeholders will have editorial input, you’ll need to develop a prioritised list of which stakeholder needs are most important to your project. By doing this you can quickly establish an order for assessing input.
I recently worked on a project where the balancing act between stakeholders was a challenging one. The needs of the users, the business and the policy team often conflicted with one another. The product was an online application form, and while my heart was with the user – I always want to improve the experience for those using the service – the policy team's needs had to come first, as the form needed to be legally binding. The trick was finding a way to make things easy for the user to understand and still be legally correct, while also making sure the business gathered the information they needed.
Distinguish wants from needs
Just because stakeholders want something doesn’t mean they need it. Getting to the bottom of what is essential and what is optional is a major step in ensuring content meets its objectives. If your stakeholders are getting bogged down in the details, ask them to define their goals.
A great tool for this is a content brief. A standard brief should include questions like:
• What’s the purpose of the project?
• Who’s the target audience?
• What are the main key messages you want to get across?
• What do you want people to think/feel/do when they engage with this content?
Once they’ve answered these questions you can show your stakeholders where they might have to let go of some of their wants to make room for their needs.
Set clear boundaries and deadlines
Obviously this isn’t always possible, but if stakeholders have clear deadlines for giving feedback they are more likely to limit their comments to the things that are most important or relevant.
In my role at a research charity I had to send all content for the supporter magazine to the department heads for review. When I first started I got back a variety of feedback, from necessary changes for accuracy to style and grammar changes. Ego aside, it was necessary for me to set a boundary – only comments on inaccuracies or business requirements. I developed a house style guide and also set out a clear timeline for when I would send out drafts, as well as when I needed comments back. This made it possible to keep to our deadlines for publication.
Gently remind stakeholders this is what they pay you for
Your stakeholders are experts in their area of the business; you are the expert in yours. As it’s likely that everyone in your organisation can write, it’s sometimes easy for them to forget that creating compelling content is a craft, one that you’ve spent years developing. But if you acknowledge their expertise, they’ll likely do the same for you. By listening to your stakeholder’s concerns and taking them on board you’ll eventually earn their trust. And you can get on with doing what they hired your for – creating great content.
By Cyd Casados, freelance writer and editor
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