How to Sell in Content Strategy

Kristina Halvorson

When people ask me how to sell the idea of content strategy at their organization—which, I'll mention, is the number one question I ever get asked—here's my response.

Step one: Find out what leadership is super excited about (or frustrated by) right now. It can be anything remotely related to content strategy—maybe it’s an upcoming responsive website redesign, or content marketing campaign, or new CMS implementation. Or MAYBE it’s leveraging the new camera technology on the iPhone 7 to create a viral video campaign that will increase brand awareness and drive customer loyalty across channels!

(OK, not that last one. If that’s what your leadership is excited about, please run away quickly.)

Step two: Identify a specific content strategy project (e.g., creating a new content model, conducting a content audit, developing a website messaging architecture) that would help advance progress toward a related goal. Make sure this project is achievable in a relatively short timeframe with a reasonable budget—it’s easier to sell in stuff that isn’t big and scary.

Step three: Pull together results, put them in a shiny deck, and go tell your story.

And then the people say, great, OK, I’ll go do that! Off they go, empowered to kick some content strategy butt.

Later, they come back and say, IT DIDN’T WORK, WHY DID YOU LIE.

So then I ask to review their pitch deck. And over and over, this is what I see:

  1. An in-depth introduction to content strategy
  2. An explanation of how content strategy can help the company
  3. A list of “critical projects” the company should take on
  4. A closing slide that says, “Questions?”

These presentations are boring. And it kills so hard on them: they do the research, they build the case, they gather the right people, and they go for it. It’s so admirable. But it’s the wrong approach.

If you want to get people’s attention, you need to tell a good story. An in-depth description of content strategy is not a story—it’s a lecture, and unless your audience is a workshop participant or a super weird first date, no one wants to hear it. Furthermore, a list of multiple projects is going to overwhelm people. In this first pitch, you likely want to prioritize the work based on immediate need and real-time resources. That is to say, don’t walk through the door asking for tons of money and a big chunk of people’s time up front.

In fact, if content strategy is brand new to your company, you probably need a series of “quick wins” before anyone is going to commit the big bucks. And don’t call what you’re doing “content strategy” at first—use whatever language is going to resonate with the people holding the purse strings. Spring it on them later that—AHA!—they were suckered into content strategy!

Back to your deck: Figure out your story, and structure it in a way that immediately tells people what’s in it for them. Include the following elements, in order:

  1. ‍Project outcomes (the beautiful future)
  2. Current state (pain points and/or obstacles)
  3. very high-level summary of project approach, timeline, and resource requirements
  4. Risks and assumptions
  5. A RACI chart explaining who would be involved in the project
  6. Concrete next steps

This might look SUPER boring … and if you don’t have a good story up front, it will be. That first part is your hook. Give people a good look at the future state (when everything is awesome) and show them what’s in the way of getting there. Then lay out the project roadmap.

Finally: You will note that there is nothing in that deck about what content strategy is or why it matters. That’s because content strategy isn’t exactly glamorous work. It’s excavating the landfill of your current website. It’s figuring out what content users really need versus the content we wish they wanted. It’s pouring the concrete foundation you need to build the content marketing mansion. No one wants to hear it. Not yet.

Every company (and within, organizations, teams, and personnel) has its challenges. But, every story has its hero. It’s up to you to create the narrative that turns difficulties into wins. After a few wins, you’ll be ensuring your story isn’t a one-hit wonder. Instead, you’ll be grabbing the attention from colleagues and going from content strategy advocate to leader. So, tell them the sexy story first, the story that ends with them looking (and feeling) like rock stars. Hooray for content heroes!