Joined-up autonomy: enabling a truly global content strategy

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You’ve spent months creating a smart, actionable content strategy that is going to have meaningful impact right across your organisation. It’s been approved at every level, so all that’s left to do now is implement it, across multiple countries, all of whom speak different languages and have their own market consideration and business priorities.

It’s an inconvenient truth that, for most global enterprises, creating the content strategy is a relatively simple task compared to the challenges that come with the implementation of that strategy across multiple borders, languages and teams.

When it comes to installing content capabilities across multiple geographies, most organisations balk at the complexity and naturally gravitate to one of two simplistic extremes.

Either they will consolidate control in a central location and force their local outposts to cut/paste/translate whatever crumbs are handed down to them from the boardroom table, without any attention to relevance, language, tone or timings.

Or they will take the laissez faire approach, leaving local teams to their own devices, and neglecting knowledge sharing, upskilling, communication and guidance in favour of speed and quantity of delivery.

But this doesn't have to be a binary choice. Believe it or not there is a content 'third way', a happy medium that sits between these two poles and which doesn’t entail horrible complexity. A content nirvana where global strategic thinking informs regional planning; and local knowledge, and logistical nuances enrich and optimise the overarching approach.

At Think we have a shorthand for this happy medium: 'Joined Up Autonomy'. A deliberately contradictory-sounding framework that promotes the idea of independent, self-determining local offices, connected by a series of strategic imperatives and performance goals. And in most cases it can be brought to life through a simple, three-tier infrastructure.

The C-Suite Cheerleaders

At the top of this infrastructure sits the C-Suite. Their role is to fight for the content business case, securing genuine buy-in at the highest levels of the business so that their teams can test, learn and optimise without having to worry about constant oversight or micro-management of performance. Creating a shared single purpose and vision, and evangelising about that vision are the main goals of the C-Suite level.

What they are not there to do is dictate process or direction - once that happens the system then breaks and local teams either become frightened to make a move on their own or they lie dormant, just waiting to be handed their next order. Either way they will eventually become resentful that they no longer have a genuine say or any real ownership in the process.

Building bridges

Governance and strategic direction comes from the next level down. There has to be a connection between the global/central tier and the people on the ground at a local level. Preferably it is one individual that builds this bridge. Whether they're called chief content officer or content strategy director, the title doesn't matter. What's essential is that they have a hand in three key areas: creating the group-wide content strategy, implementing the processes to make it happen, and driving the adoption of the strategy across the whole business.

These are the people who will be helping to set the KPIs and objectives that the local teams will be working towards, but their work does not end there. The most crucial element of their job is one that evolves alongside their local teams: that of developing local market knowledge, translating that knowledge into actionable content insights, and turning those insights into executable best practices.

Boots on the ground

It's at the local level where all of these good intentions are most likely to crash and burn. Whether it's due to an over-estimation of employee enthusiasm for content creation and distribution (what you might call the 'Give a Fuck factor'), or the misconception that 'creating content' is as seamless as opening a Word doc and remembering to use spell check.

The first barrier can be overcome by creating a consistent and positive attitude towards content across the organisation. 'Positive' is the key word here. Evangelising the value of content and socialising proof of worth are all well and good, but if these things are done at a distance (Powerpoint slides presented to a script, over video conference, with no care or attention to local requirements and nuances) then you will instil an entirely negative attitude towards content that will be very hard to overcome.

This socialisation project is the best time to identify and connect local content owners. This crucial role is also one of the hardest to install successfully across multiple offices for a sustained period. Initial enthusiasm can soon burn away at the reality of day-to-day responsibilities, so it makes sense to allow content owners and their teams to create and socialise systems, workflows and best practices between themselves.

A cross-office infrastructure consisting of 'centres of content excellence' and knowledge sharing platforms will ensure that information flows across territories and that success stories, project feedback, and creative inspiration are widely communicated, helping the strategy become reality.

What I've outlined above is a very basic structure on top of which must be overlaid an entire engine of tools, capabilities, training, communications, analytics etc (as with any large-scale operational change). But it's basic for a reason.

Content strategy is unique in that successful implementation relies on creating a smart balance of top-down direction and permissions, alongside bottom-up learning and autonomy. Then a delicate mix of cross-functional and cross-territory communication has to be added to ensure the wheels run smoothly.

Taking that complex set of requirements and boiling down the responsibilities of a simple three-tier structure is the first step to overcoming the daunting organisational complexity and creating a thriving content culture in any business.

Rob Hinchcliffe is content and community director at TH_NK