Some stakeholders haven’t a cluedo about content. Deal with them.

For those of you that remember long British winters playing Cluedo by the fire, this particular murder is at the hands of Colonel Ego, in the boardroom, with the job title. And it’s your content that just got shot down.

We’ve all been there. The content has been briefed in, mapped to strategy and carefully constructed to maximise user experience and findability. It’s both mobile and millennial-friendly, social and shareable but it needs to go live, right now.  Oh wait, there’s a problem – a senior stakeholder just wants to make ‘a few small changes’.

In 7 years of leading content strategy seminars around the world, this is what has come to my attention. You can have the best content strategy in the world – and the finest strategists and creatives to devise and execute it – but if you don’t have your internal stakeholders on side, you may struggle to get any of that brilliance out to your users.

This is a real problem. In Sticky Content’s recent survey of content professionals, two thirds of respondents revealed that up to 25% of the content they create ‘never goes live’. A stunning 37% admitted that when feedback is conflicting they automatically go with the views of the most senior stakeholder. And 31% say they try to take on board everyone’s views and compromise. At Sticky, we call this Frankencontent – the monster you create when you try to incorporate everyone’s feedback. And it’s frightening how often it still appears.

So why are we content experts so ready to back down from what experience and years of skills-honing has taught us, when stakeholders come wielding feedback? Last week I asked that question of a class of content strategists, UX professionals and designers at UX week in New York and got various deflated replies. Senior stakeholders hold the budget and so have to be kept sweet. Senior managers think they must know better than anyone else, in spite of their lack of digital expertise, so they impose half-baked opinions on their frustrated (and truly expert) team. Stakeholders hold the source material and so can hijack projects they don’t approve of. Stakeholders prioritise internal politics over user experience, which they don’t necessarily value. The list goes on.

Yet there is a way – in fact there are many ways – to regain control of your creative projects and work effectively and enjoyably with stakeholders. Start by mapping them carefully and individually. Then reframe the relationships. Position your stakeholders as partners, rather than gatekeepers/adversaries. What can you do to engage them in your project? How can you share your knowledge and experience in a way that benefits them? Have you taken the time to understand what the legitimate concerns underlying their irritating feedback might be? Have you given them enough context, or built a strong enough business case, for them to trust in the project’s aims?

‘You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you, ‘ wrote Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Want to stop your content being slaughtered on the whim of the most senior person in the room? Focus on their self-interest instead of your own; share your expertise generously and operate crystal -clear content processes. Soon they’ll have much more of a clue.

About the author: Catherine Toole is founder and non-executive director of Sticky Content Ltd (part of the Press Association). She delivered a speech called ‘Stakeholder says no! How to get better content signed off & live’ at #TFM16

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