Introducing The Center of Content Excellence

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Doug Kessler

23. 03. 2013 | 9 min read

Introducing The Center of Content Excellence

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As we all move along the content marketing maturity curve together, the biggest companies are starting to hit a new problem: lots and lots of different teams within your organisation will be generating content for their own needs – without any coordination, orchestration, strategic validation or quality control.

It’s the age-old challenge – local relevance vs. central control – but it’s a fairly new issue for us content people and it’s an increasingly important one.


Content Proliferation Syndrome

The problem is created by the power of content itself. Once they see it, everybody wants some.

Different departments are making content. The product guys need some. The consultants need some. The press team needs some. It’s not just marketing, it’s sales, customer service, HR… anyone who needs to communicate messages.

Different disciplines are making content. You can see content proliferation just within marketing alone: The SEO guys are making a new eBook. The social media team is doing a series of infographics on the same topic (with a different spin). The PR team has an Executive Briefing video, white paper and webinar program. The events team is turning live content into discoverable web stuff…

Different regions are making content. France saw what Latvia did and wants some of that mojo. EMEA is re-purposing Australia’s eBooks into videos. The US team has woken up to all this and is throwing budget at the problem.


Think about this.

Content coming from every pore in your company. Lots and lots of eBooks, videos, white papers, web pages, microsites, Prezis, Slideshares, Pinterest boards, Facebook pages, LinkedIn groups, email newsletters… The underlying stories aren’t that different but the packaging sure is.

That’s a lot of very different content with the same logo at the bottom. In itself, that may not be a problem. The world is getting used to the idea of a single brand having many voices. But in practice, it can get pretty ugly, pretty fast.

At Velocity, as we create content for our bigger clients, it’s not uncommon for us to trip over someone in a distant corner of the company who’s doing something very similar. Or for them to trip over us. Either way, it’s embarrassing and preventable.


Smaller companies, drop out here

Everything that follows is for big companies, so if you’re not one of them, you should go read something else.

Big companies need more process, insfrastructure, strategy and structure than smaller companies. Ironically, these extra structures are there to help Goliath behave more like David. In practice, they often do the exact opposite.

The trick is to have an enlightened center instead of a dead hand. But if you’re still small, you don’t really need to worry about these things. Go read something inspiring like the B2B Marketing Manifesto or the Three Poisonous Metaphors in B2B Marketing or Pnin.


The content proliferation penalty

Here are the kinds of problems caused by Content Proliferation Syndrome (you are in the market for some new problems, aren’t you?):

  • Lots of duplicated effort – pieces that are trying to do the same things
  • The exact same piece living in many places – Google can penalise that
  • Pools of under-used content collecting in nooks & crannies – a microsite here, a resource center there…
  • Wasted budgets – that could accomplish much more if there was a bit of coordination
  • Inconsistent stories and looks – so that animated video looks nothing like a Slideshare piece on the exact same topic
  • Variable content quality – because not everyone will be good at this

All these things add up to a much bigger penalty:

Confused prospects and customers – who aren’t sure what to consume, where to go for it and how it relates to all that other content they’ve seen coming from your company.


Edge, meet Center.

The HQ vs Regions (or C-Suite vs Line-of-Business) tension shapes almost every discipline in global companies. It’s the problem that gave us Brand Police, Compliance Cops and The Worldwide Heads of Sameness.

And the history of marketing in any big company charts the ebb and flow of power from the center to the edges and back again.

A new CMO is hired and – re-org! – she pushes power to the regions.
(And for the next three months, every meeting starts with “Bob now reports to Gill and Sheila looks after APAC.”)

Then the CMO is fired and the new guy re-organises to get the power back to the center.
(“Sheila’s now got Channel and Gill is doing Innovation.  Bob got taken out back and shot.”)

We expect content to go the same way. Companies will panic about the feral content cats running all over the estate and impose a command & control structure to herd them up.

The stakeholders will start to squeal because they’re being prevented from creating the content they need and are being asked to make do with the bland stuff from Content Central.

So central control will be relaxed and the edges rise again.

Maybe there’s a better way.


Introducing the Center of Content Excellence

What big companies need is a resource that, instead of trying to produce all content for all stakeholders or to control all content, helps the stakeholders do it better themselves.

We call this the Center of Content Excellence (or the Content Center of Excellence if you prefer) and we’re convinced it’s the only way forward for big companies who want to harness the power of content but don’t want to waste a fortune on ill-conceived, poorly executed effluent.

Here’s what the Center of Content Excellence does for the organisation:

  • Learns – the CCE is there to capture and spread best practice with all content teams
  • Guides – setting high-level policy on content processes, pieces and promotion (including social and SEO)
  • Shares – letting every team know what all the others are up to
  • Listens – keeping an eye on the market and competitors and updating the content teams
  • Collects – holds copies of all content in a central library so everyone knows what already exists
  • Refreshes – retiring out-of-date content and renewing the threadbare
  • Creates – producing high-level, strategic content for teams to use or re-purpose
  • Extends – producing content for local teams when they don’t have the resources (but do have a business case)
  • Cross-promotes – helping each team promote other team’s content within their own
  • Leads – helping the organization develop its content culture and build its content brand

These tasks have two things in common: they’re important (so someone has to do them) and they’re best done centrally (so the benefits are not confined in a silo).


What a great Center of Content Excellence looks like

A great Center of Content Excellence – like the best of any centralised services – needs to have these qualities:

Content expertise – the best content people in the organisation should sit here

Business chops – the CCE must understand the entire business, the market, the customers, the products and the competitors

Access to the top – the Center has to know the company’s strategy now and where it’s going next; and it has to sell a content culture to the top team

Sensitivity – an understanding of the needs and dynamics of different regions and stakeholders

Diplomacy – the ability to balance needs against each other to get to ‘win win’ outcomes instead of ‘ouch-ouch’ ones

Flexibility – content is an incredibly diverse discipline; a cookie-cutter approach will kill it stone dead

A hunger for new things – content media and tactics are changing all the time; the CCE must lead the company by experimenting with everything that looks promising

An affinity for openness – we live in social times; today’s companies are porous; the CCE should help the organisation embrace this instead of fighting it

Clearly, it takes a special kind of person to build and run a Center of Content Excellence. You need to be confident enough to be relaxed about your ultimate lack of control. You need to be smart and likeable so you can attract people to the light instead of herding them there. And you need some Power.


Who’s in the Center of Content Excellence

It starts with a Chief Content Officer whose job it is to win executive backing, build the team, set the policies and processes and orchestrate the whole thing.

That’s the only job title that’s pretty much mandatory. Around it, the Center needs people who will wear different hats (one or many hats-per-person)to fulfill roles like this:
The Strategist – someone who can help translate the business strategy into specific content strategies for each team, department or region
The Listener – someone to watch the market, competitors and other markets to hoover up insight and report back
The Producer – who can create great content that leads the way — drawing on outside help where needed
The Experimenter – who will discover the latest ways to tell stories and give them a go
The Data Geek – who can squeeze your analytics packages to get the insight out, then share it with the less numerate
The Helpdesk Agent – who can answer questions and support content teams
The Sultan of Search – who helps maximise the search impact of all content
The Social Butterfly – who understands how to use social media and influencers to spread content
The Pusher – who gets outbound (largely email, web ads and sponsorships) and can help teams exploit it
The Policy Wonk – who can develop processes and policies with a light touch
The Librarian – who creates, tags and manages the central content stacks
The Diplomat – to visit content teams and preach the gospel
That’s a lot of hats but it doesn’t have to mean a lot of heads. The very best people combine several talents and you need the very best in the Center of Excellence (or it will become the Center of Mediocrity and kill the Goose That Ought To Be Laying Golden Eggs But Instead Is Just Eating And Pooping).


The Content Playbook

One of the first things your Center of Excellence should work on is your company-wide, online Content Playbook.

Done poorly, this will be as dry as your Brand Guidelines and as inspiring as your IT security policy.

Done well, it will be one of the best pieces of content in your business. Smart, fun, enlightening and entertaining.

How will you know which you’ve created? Page hits, return visits… and the quality of content produced out there.


A few guiding principles for the Center of Content Excellence

A Center of Excellence that promotes great content needs to understand what makes content great. These should be captured in a short set of principles that guide everyone on the team, so they don’t get all dull and bureaucratic. You’ll want your own principles for your company but they ought to include ideas like these:

  • Your primary goal is to build a Great Content Brand – a brand known for producing fantastic stuff. Our ‘Crap’ slideshare explains why
  • Great content is more likely if there’s a sound strategy – a shared understanding of goals, target audience, themes… See our Big Fat Content Strategy Checklist for help
  • Know your target audience – we don’t really like the word ‘personas’ but we do really like the idea behind it, as this round-up and this post explain
  • Great content is insanely ambitious – creating a content machine can kill this; aim for ‘the best content on the web for this topic’ and you just might hit it
  • Different perspectives are more interesting – a centralised content resource shouldn’t lose the variety that makes life interesting
  • Don’t forget the F word – if a piece of content was fun to make, it will be fun to consume; and we all like fun


Anybody out there?

So what do you think:

Are you horrified by any attempt to corral the creativity of content?

Have you noticed the early warning signs of Content Proliferation Syndrome?

Are you struggling to add any kind of centralised coordination or quality control?

Have you started to build a central resource to support content teams?

We’d love to hear about it…

Published in:

  • B2B Content Marketing

  • budget

  • content-marketing

  • content-process

  • helpdesk

  • policy

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  1. John Malecki

    March 25th, 2013

    I think it’s a fine idea. In fact, this basically defines what ‘content management’ IS on the client side, or at least what’s needed for the term to have any real meaning in a large organization. For some large B2B companies, of course, a content center is something that will likely first exist as more of a shadow content management organization crossing departmental boundaries than a formal and recognized one. And the initial more formal content center will probably be a subgroup of the marketing department, where people will be wearing more than one content hat, as you mention, but might be expected to wear their old marcom hat(s) at the same time.

    None of which matters that much, I suppose, since what we’re going to witness will be similar to what we’re seeing with technology–convergence. Right now, traditional marketing/marcom is still the dominant corporate mode of B2B expression, and content may be on the radar but has yet to engulf the screen. At some point, I’d think the modes reverse in importance or, more likely, the distinction between the two evaporates. I can see ‘content management’ and ‘marketing’ going away completely as they become part of the (more accurately named) Communications Department. Selling messages, ‘non-selling’ useful information, whatever p.r. ends up morphing into–coordinated and presenting a person-like, individual, multi-faceted personality much more seamlessly than it’s done today.

    Since I’m an American, this disturbingly stirs up memories of Mr. Romney telling his audience that corporations are people, too. But while that certainly isn’t true, the overall communications goal should be strongly in that direction. Quite a bit like fleshing out a character in a TV series, becoming richer and deeper and more interesting as time goes on, except played not by one actor but by dozens or even hundreds of communications professionals who know the role cold.

    But that’s another topic entirely, I suppose. ‘Anthropomorphic Personality Management’…kind of like the sound of that… 😉

  2. Doug Kessler

    March 26th, 2013

    Great comment, John. Thanks.
    Love the sound of APM — an acronym is born.

    Clearly, the bigger companies are struggling as content plays so many roles across the business.
    “Where does it sit?” is the question we’re hearing asked a lot.

  3. Neil Hopkins

    April 2nd, 2013

    Hi Doug

    Centralisation is always a good thing – at least it should help establish minimum acceptable standards.

    It does sound rather like a great Marketing department though – rather than a hived off (and often over-hyped) Content Department…

    But, whatever we call it, I agree. So long as the rest of the business is empowered through mentoring to help deliver as well…


  4. Tom Edwards

    April 2nd, 2013

    Hi Doug,

    I think a centralised system could be a great thing, if as you have said, it is done correctly. I think a main benefit of it is that it gets people talking and watching, both internally and externally. Also, it would potentially reduce overlaps of content, which should reduce confusion for customers.


    Tom Edwards (edwardstom2)

  5. Kris Mausser

    April 16th, 2013

    Great article! I have actually had quite a bit of success facilitating change management in a large B2B financial crown corporation in Canada with a similarly fashioned Content Center of Excellence. While we settled on the concept of a Director-level Editorial Board who reports directly to the C-Suite, the structure is similar to what you describe, and the results have been fantastic! If you are interested in the workflow I implemented, please visit my post Enterprise Content Strategy Comes Down to Governance and Workflow that you’ll find on my blog here:

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