The Content Strategy Toolkit is a manual for anyone interested in creating, revising, or maintaining content. The first part of the book focuses on two essentials components of a project foundation: stakeholder buy-in and execution/communication planning.

In the first chapter, the reader is treated to a crash course in content auditing. Rather than framing prior efforts as “wrong,” the author establishes the necessity of an opportunity mindset. Casey does not demand that the reader tear down all prior work. Instead, she provides a simple framework for examining content to understand where it can be improved beginning with a series of prompts including:

  • The relationship (if any) between the target audience and the audience the content is actually addressing
  • The voice or lack thereof in the existing content
  • The disconnect between a user’s motivation and the content provided

After the initial information gathering, the next step is to package the argument for establishing and maintaining a strategy. Casey presents the Toulmin model as a starting point and demonstrates a practical use by applying the model to a simple story about an organization’s intranet. As the book’s focus shifts to stakeholder buy-in, the following quote struck a familiar chord:

“…implementing a content strategy requires a change in the way people think about and do their jobs.”

-Meghan Casey, The Content Strategy Toolkit, CH. 2

No matter how forward-thinking a company is, one is likely to encounter resistance when presenting a new idea to an established organization. Stakeholder buy-in requires a multifaceted presentation, tailored to the various parties involved. While the overall benefit to the organization may be clear to the project initiator, each party involved must be persuaded. To do so, Brandpoint.com encourages project managers to begin with the same approach noted by Casey: Identify your stakeholders.

This Toolkit provides a method for categorizing the various players one is likely to encounter at this stage in the project. Organizing the stakeholders further assists the project initiator in strengthening their argument and adjusting their approach to each individual, both at the beginning and throughout the life of the project.

Much like Casey’s instruction, Brent Swanson encourages project managers to gather stakeholder input before finalizing the strategy. He states:

Communicating your ideas by asking someone for their input generally goes further than simply telling someone what you want to do.

Early and open involvement is a key facet of stakeholder engagement. According to Jim Kiser, director of consulting at GEP, “…gaining agreement on the rules of project engagement is important in the beginning toward securing needed buy-in.” It is critical for a project manager to understand each player’s role and clarify their responsibilities toward the project; whether that involves tangible contributions or voicing opinions. As content must build trust with its audience, so must the strategy build trust within the organization.

Assuming the reader has successfully gained the approval and budget for their desired undertaking, Chapters 4 and 5 of the Toolkit focus on establishing the project ground rules and execution plan. Beginning with a sample agenda for an “alignment session,” Chapter 4 details the steps for creating an open environment for discussion, including examples and tips for inviting participants. The chapter emphasizes the importance of patience and facilitative listening, explaining methods of maintaining order and encouraging participation.

The primary goal of an alignment session is to agree on a final objective. The ground rules and facilitative listening techniques listed in the book echo the framework necessary for a successful ideation session. To expand on the Toolkit’s techniques, several points from the Interactive Design Foundation’s Best Practice Rules for Effective Brainstorming can be incorporated:

  1. Set a time limit.
  2. Start with a defined statement and stay focused on the topic.
  3. Defer judgement or criticism.
  4. Encourage weird, wacky, and wild ideas.
  5. Aim for quantity.
  6. Build on each others’ ideas.
  7. Be visual.
  8. One conversation at a time.

Dam and Siang write, “…poorly facilitated face-to-face brainstorms do stifle creativity.” The alignment session is an opportunity for the project manager to draw out all stakeholders and build a fuller view of the organization’s needs based on a variety of perspectives. This benefit is captured in the Content Marketing Institute’s Developing a Content Strategy:

“…it can help keep siloed teams on the same page, minimize duplicated efforts, and ensure that everyone is working toward the same content goals.”

Once the initial kick-off is complete, Chapter 5 provides a detailed guide to project planning. The steps and method detailed are applicable to any project, regardless of scope. Casey writes about establishing a communication plan – a step that is often overlooked, particularly with internal or “small” projects. The article, 5 Reasons You Need a Communications Plan,  by the Wainger group (a strategic communications firm), echoes the points Casey is making; in order to run a successful project, one needs:

  • Clarity/purpose
  • Audience definition
  • Staff & stakeholder alignment
  • Optimized resource allocation
  • A point of reference for measuring success

Without the above, projects are subject to derailment by a number of factors including scope creep, staff misalignment, and resource negligence. The first five chapters of the Toolkit serve to emphasize the benefits of Project Management within the field of content strategy, including:

  • Defining roles and responsibilities
  • Establishing clarity and focus
  • Effective expectation management

In Why is Project Management Important, Ben Aston noted:

Project management is important because it ensures what is being delivered, is right, and will deliver real value...

A project is an inherently vulnerable organism. The proper support for a content strategy can make the difference between successful, beneficial content or increased confusion.

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