How to Sell Content Strategy to Management

How to Sell Content Strategy to Management

Do content strategy problems keep CEOs up at night? Web teams may not think so. The CEO may not either. But in reality, they do. That’s because many serious business problems, at their core, are actually content problems. A sound content strategy helps address those problems; it also helps organizations meet users’ needs, operate more effectively, and make better use of products, programs, and people, all by creating information that is used and usable.

The process of selling content strategy to management begins when the content strategist has a conversation with a key decision maker. In this conversation, the content strategist must discuss the following:

Many elements of content strategy involve substantial change management and require new processes, collaboration, and accountability. For this reason, executive buy-in is absolutely critical – it’s how content strategists gain support for the changes they’re trying to make and ensure those changes stick.

From 2005 to 2011, I directed, the member-focused website for the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). When I joined the organization, multiple departments created content about the same topic and published it on the website, using lots of industry jargon. There was no awareness of or accountability for content’s usage. Once published, content often stayed on the site indefinitely. And the organization did not have a common understanding of its audience.

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As a result, members faced significant challenges trying to learn about a topic, understand NAR’s point of view on it, and figure out how the information might affect their business. Many of the association’s efforts went unseen and underused, and members questioned the value that the association brought them. In other words, NAR’s content problem was also one of its biggest business problems.

While my team and I made enormous strides in improving NAR’s content strategy, we could not have done so without buy-in from many levels of management. Executives need to see the value content strategy brings. They also need to understand that the foundation for content strategy is already there – that content teams have already planted firm roots intended to support a larger, all-encompassing strategic vision.

To support a content strategy initiative, executives need to see how lack of a content strategy is causing problems for the organization.

What resonates most with executives is tying content problems to business goals. For a corporation, business goals might include increasing revenue, profits, subscribers, etc., and/or decreasing costs. At a nonprofit, showing missed opportunities to meet strategic goals might prove more effective. For an intranet, the goals might be employee satisfaction or retention rates, engagement, or awareness of how their work fits into the organization’s overall mission.

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At NAR, we wanted to increase traffic to our website from links in our member publications. Over the course of a year, we analyzed the click-throughs of every item in a particular newsletter. The 10 most-clicked items were all information that directly affected our members’ lives and their businesses; these represented 71 percent of all clicks. The 10 least-clicked items were largely about the association itself: event deadlines, new CEO, etc.

While those items seemed important to us, they were clearly not important to members. The numbers affirmed our preferred approach, and we were able to make and defend decisions about promoting member-focused information in the organization’s e-newsletters as well as on the site’s homepage and social media streams.

Sarah Richards, who led the creation of, used statistics to show management the effects of badly created content on cognitive load and goal achievement. She also showed product owners videos of people who were unable to use content to complete tasks that the organization needed them to complete.

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