Who owns content in your business?

Sonja Jefferson

Where should responsibility for content sit within an organisation? Who ‘owns’ content strategy and makes decisions on the ideas you share as a business? 10 marketers and business leaders give their expert view.

Who owns content?

Where should responsibility for content sit within an organisation? Who ‘owns’ content strategy and makes decisions on the ideas you share as a business?

It’s an important question – the success of your business development efforts might well depend on getting the content leadership structure and workflow right.

In the course of my work I’ve seen three different models at play:

  1. Responsibility for content sits firmly under marketing/comms.
  2. Responsibility lies with a senior leader from the business – a subject matter veteran if you like. Works in close collaboration with marketing.
  3. Companies hire an editor in chief/ ex-journalist to take responsibility for this role.

There are no doubt pluses and minuses for each option but what’s the best approach?

I asked some of my contacts in the marketing, business and agency world for their view. It’s made for a very interesting debate. Here’s what they had to say, with comments and a summary from me.

Content is everyone’s job but needs an overall editor

~ Matt Lane, CEO and founder of BeerBods

Matt Lane BeerBodsMatt: “We see content as everyone’s job but with one person (me) pulling it together and taking responsibility for it.”

Sonja: “Thanks so much for the contribution. Great that you’ve got the whole team involved – that really does shine through in all your content too. So do you take a kind of overall editing role?

Matt: “Yep, exactly.”

>> Matt Lane is Founder and CEO of BeerBods: beerbods.co.uk

It needs an owner within the business

~ Diana Murphy, content strategist

Diana MurphyDiana: “Very interesting thread. Having sat on all sides of this both internally and on the agency side, I’ve learned it’s valuable to have one person own this who has deep integration with all lines of business, although it all ladders down from marketing & comms in order to tightly and consistently align with brand positioning and ongoing messaging.

Content is the face of the brand as much as – daresay even more than advertising – and has a role to engage consumers and continuously draw them through the funnel. It’s a powerful marketing tool when done right, allowing brands to create a deeper relationship with consumers by giving them value and showcasing what the brand stands for while ideally converting them into customers.”

Sonja: “Thank you Diana – great to get your view from both sides. We’ve seen that approach too, for example when our fantastic client Geoff Mason was head of content at Project One – a deeply experienced leader within the business, with the understanding and connection needed across all lines, working in close partnership with the marketing and comms team to produce and distribute the content required. Thank you for your contribution.”

> Diana is a Content Strategist, Digital Marketing & Branding Executive: Diana Murphy

Content should sit under marketing with wider buy-in

~ Simon Swan, Digital Transformation Lead at the Met Office

Simon SwanSimon: “Content should sit under marketing but it needs the buy-in from the entire business. For example, how content would be measured would need to satisfy the business KPIs and goals (as well as micro-measuring in place within the marketing function).

If content does not have a dotted line into the business strategy then it will always be regarded as a tactic and therefore reduces opportunities for budget, resource, and impact.

A successful content strategy can indeed be measured through quantitative metrics but it’s the softer metrics that it can also support e.g. building brand equity, busting silos and a catalyst to help an organisation to drive new business, engage with external organisations and build partnerships. For me, it’s a strategy that drives a shift in culture for any organisation that believes in the approach.”

>> Simon Swan is digital strategy and transformation lead at the Met Office

Marketing coordinates with input from those on the ground

~ David McGuire, Radix Communications

David McGuire RadixDavid: “We tend to see at least one person with overall responsibility for content within a business unit (we usually work with big tech firms, with entirely separate marketing teams for different divisions/product areas), and that person usually sits in marketing/comms.

But as Matt says, there are many parts to making good content happen, so when we run an editorial board or workshop, marketing people tend to be joined by product/service specialists and (crucially) someone customer-facing, so we can write with technical authority about things people really care about. Ultimately, though, it’s marketing that usually pulls it all together and makes sure everything is aligned.

We definitely find the more we can talk to people who are close to the products/services/customers (or even the customers themselves), the better the end result. For all concerned.”

>> David McGuire is a B2B copywriter and creative director at Radix Communications

Content from the experts, coordinated by marketing

~ Matt Skinner, Proctor + Stevenson

Matt Skinner Proctor + StevensonMatt: “I think it depends on the type of business/the resources they have, but in my experience, it works best when it’s a book-ended by marketing/comms: coordinated and planned by them at the front, then sculpted/delivered at the end, but the *content* of the content should come from experts within the business.

The biggest issue I see when it comes to defining who is responsible for content is that it’s often handed over to the marketing/comms teams entirely, without a provision for the involvement of anyone else.

Creative teams are experts in delivering creative, knowing which channels to use, distribution tactics, structure, tone of voice, *spelling* (!), but they’re (often) not experts in the subject matter they’re creating content about. If you separate the marketing/comms team from the rest of the business, you get weak content with little substance. This sounds like a no-brainer, I know, but the amount of marketing teams I’ve worked with that have zero formal interaction with the rest of the business is staggering. It makes a huge difference!”

Sonja: “We see that too often too – marketing and comms teams expected to deliver ‘content marketing’ without any help or involvement from people in the business. Like you I’d like to see that change. The point of sharing valuable content is to spark and deepen relationships with prospects and clients alike. To do that requires an understanding of the key questions and challenges they struggle with, and which helpful, thought-provoking content could help them solve. So those in contact with clients and prospects – salespeople, subject matter experts, customer service representatives – are the best people to flag up what content needs to be produced, and what needs to be said. Marketing can educate, coordinate, shape, edit… and promote the content, but it so needs the contribution of those internal experts.”

>> Matt Skinner is Head of Digital Strategy and Data at Proctor + Stevenson

It has to be a team effort

~ Bryony Thomas of Watertight Marketing

Bryony: “Great question. It is a team effort! I definitely think there’s a content planner, who creates the overall calendar, chairs any content creation sessions, and keeps the wheels turning on getting the drafts, edits, approvals, etc. This person can very effectively be a retained external expert.

Then, I think there’s a role in listening and gathering ideas and inspiration, to bring to creative sessions with (almost) EVERYONE in an organisation – as ideas can and do come from everywhere. I think named spokespeople on your website should have their own bylines – if you’d send them to a networking event to talk to people in the big wide world, then I’d have content authored by them.

Crafting the copy into the finished piece should always sit with someone who understands how to write in a way that keeps people reading, sharing and engaging… which often means that drafts are edited by an expert before they are released.

And, everyone who has an external presence needs training in commenting, sharing, curating and interacting with the content of others. So, whilst there is someone with overall ‘air traffic control’ – the truth is that content isn’t owned by one individual, but by a team. This makes buy-in to its value critical.”

Sonja: “Hi Bryony. Thanks so much for your valuable response to this. It’s a team effort – so true! I think the way Ben Wheeler works with Dave James and the Ascentor team is a great model for other businesses. Yes to getting all those with an external presence skilled up and motivated to contribute to the effort!”

>> Bryony Thomas is Author and Founder of Watertight Marketing

Responsibility lies within, with a little help from outside

~ Ben Wheeler, marketing consultant

Ben Wheeler“In the smaller consultancy businesses I work with, content tends to sit with the owner/MD as they know what they want to cover. The challenge is getting it done as they are so often at the sharp end running the business and delivering work to clients.

Often then, the content comes from a team effort involving the MD, subject matter experts (sometimes external) and with someone like me to bring consistency to the process.

I find that offering the opportunity to contribute content can be very engaging within a business and there are usually some hidden content stars that surprise themselves (and their MD) with their ability to nail a topic. Of course, the over-riding watchwords are quality and relevance – whoever contributes content needs to write well (or not mind some help) and produce content that adds value to the reader and answers the questions they probably came to the client’s website for.

So I think responsibility comes from within – with a little outside help”

>> Ben Wheeler is a Bristol-based marketing consultant

It depends on the content type

~ Eva Ferguson, Sustrans

eva ferguson sustransEva: “From my experience in various organisations I would say Comms are responsible for topical news but when it comes to evergreen content you need a strategy to reflect how the organisation will respond to user needs.

You need to clarify your goals and service mandate, the user goals and find the intersection and opportunities. You may need to speak to lots of people and mine data to get this. You then utilise subject matter experts to provide the right depth depending on your audience and distribution channels.

This workflow needs to be owned by the user champions, whatever their job title or department. And to get buy-in you need to show the value this content provides. So often it ends up being marketing but without the cross organisational input due to time constraints or broken relationships.”

Sonja: “Eva – I love what you have to say, differentiating between topical and evergreen content, and ownership of workflow for each.”

>> Eva Ferguson is Website Manager at Sustrans 

Whatever the structure the BIG IDEA must come first

~ Dolores Hirschmann

Dolores HirschmannDolores: “If the organization as a whole is anchored on a clear IDEA that informs everything they do then the whole organization should be responsible, for a cohesive customer experience. Everything an organization does, writes or says IS content. As for responsibility for the actual produced, scheduled output of information? It can be CMO/ CEO/Content Strategist depending on the size of the company.”>>

Sonja: “Well said Dolores! Thank you. That’s a very valid and important point. The big idea, which links to the purpose of the organisation, must come first.”

>> Dolores is a speaker and communications coach and founder of Masters in Clarity

Whoever is leading, remember it’s a two-way street

~ Sharon Tanton, Creative Director here at Valuable Content

Sharon TantonSharon: “When your content strategy is inextricably linked with your business development strategy the process of content creation is a two-way street.

You’ll be continuously engaging with your ideal customers to ensure the content you’re creating is right for them because your clients/customers ARE your business. It’s not just what you’re putting out into the world, it’s what you’re learning too that makes the process so worthwhile.

The content process does need a strong leader. And whoever leads or owns the process must listen to what comes back, feeding all the useful info back into the business.”

So, who should own content in an organisation?

What a fascinating bunch of responses – thanks to all those who contributed their thoughts and ideas.

It’s heartening to hear that things are changing. These responses reflect what we’re seeing on the ground: there is now far more collaboration on content between marketing and the business. In the past, we heard too many stories where content was left solely to marketing/comms, with no support or buy-in from the business, or even knowledge that the content existed! This meant sales teams and customer-facing staff didn’t contribute to or use the content as part of their relationship-building roles (which is a big part of the point in my view!). This situation is thankfully shifting.

When it comes to responsibility for content the message is clear:

  • When it works best content creation is a team effort: “It’s everyone’s job”.
  • Content needs an owner. This can be the CEO in smaller firms, or marketing, or an experienced expert within the business – someone with deep knowledge and gravitas.
  • Marketing has a key coordination role to play, but content spans more than pure marketing. The challenge is to get buy-in and involvement from the wider team.
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