- Brand publishing teams must strike a balance between creating valuable, interesting content and protecting the best interests of their companies.
- Publishing teams should create review processes to ensure their work doesn’t cause unintended friction or consequences.
- The best review processes focus on catching problems before they occur while affording publishing teams freedom to do their best work.
Most brand publishing processes focus, rightly, on creating well-written, interesting, valuable and error-free work. For teams that want to make good content, the value of a great editor can’t be overstated. But there’s often another part of the overall review process that is often forgotten amid the enthusiasm of creating good work: Balancing writing good, impactful stories but not having them hurt the business itself.
These euphemistically described “sensitivities” can show up as a variety of issues:
- In the case of services businesses, a story or article names a current client of the company in an unflattering way
- For an investment firm, private equity company or venture capitalst, a story exposes certain gaps in their portfolio — or inadvertently criticizes certain investments
- Articles with certain tones or angles offend someone within the company politically or socially
- Specific stances around issues such as racial justice, health or vaccinations can be polarizing
And they’re not really sensitivities as such; they can often do lasting damage to relationships and how the company presents itself. What makes this issue even more tangled is that correcting, clarifying or consistently “pulling” certain content offline, or printing apologies, are reactive measures that often do more harm than good.
It can be tempting to not think too much about these types of “hypothetical” problems upfront. After all, people assume that teams are staffed with experienced and talented people who will intrinsically know how to present information in a way that’s interesting but also palatable; and won’t hurt larger business interests.
What causes friction and potential conflicts?
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Writers and editors can be completely removed from connecting the dots between their work and how it may (or may not) jive with the company’s business or work.
In other cases, there may be a sense of separation between the company’s business work and its editorial work — the proverbial firewall that supposedly exists in journalism, for example. This kind of misplaced sense can result in outright issues when writers or editors think they can operate entirely independently from the wider company. But the fact is that even in the most evolved of businesses, brand publishing’s first and foremost goal is to improve the company’s overall business — whether through smart thought leadership, driving and building an audience and growing the bottom line. When writers and editors don’t put that mission front and center, one of the side effects is an unclear or vague understanding of how to ensure that the content being produced is actually additive and doesn’t hurt the business.
There’s also something to be said about trust here. When any business decides to go all-in on brand publishing, executives have to be cognizant of the downsides and risks of making good content. For one, someone, somewhere is bound to be unhappy with what the company is putting out. Consumers may not like certain stances or topics; clients may not either. But good, effective publishing strategies can build real audiences and real authority — when done right, the upsides will far outweigh any potential downsides. But having a clear understanding that risks do exist, and trusting those who manage the publishing endeavor to manage those risks, is paramount for leadership.
That being said, a clear and well-thought-out review process that catches issues before they happen, instead of putting teams on the back foot if they arise, can go a long way in ensuring interesting, valuable, and business-friendly work is created. It’s no different from a newsroom legal team that ensures that a reporter’s work passes muster (and won’t get the business in trouble.)
Creating an effective content review process
- Build a framework of trust. Executive, senior management and brand publishing leaders have to work together and collaboratively on agreeing to the overall mission and stated goals. This can lead to a clear framework based on trust between the two groups so that they have a shared and common understanding of what exactly is being covered and why.
- Put publishing leaders in management positions. One of the biggest issues can arise when those doing the writing and creating of content don’t have a clear view into the wider business. This can be important for knowing what to write about, but also what not to write about. Sensitivities around industry issues, certain clients and consumers, and pitfalls to watch for can be effectively communicated to the wider publishing team if its managers sit within bigger business teams and are privy to wider business discussions.
- Don’t ask for permission to publish. The ideal review process catches issues before they’re published, not after. At the same time, it is neither feasible nor wise to have every single piece of content vetted by executives — instead of catching potential sensitivities, it can have an adverse effect of turning stories into reheated press releases, or just make them confusing and unreadable if too many editors are put into play.
- Create an independent review team. There should be a team, or perhaps even just a person, who sits independently from both the publishing team and the business stakeholders who can be called upon to read, listen to and watch over any content that can potentially be disruptive to the business. This team should be ready to flag problems and adjudicate on issues where they come up.
- Have a list of “hot” topics that can cause problems. Instead, publishing managers and editors should have a list of agreed-upon topics that could cause issues or harm. These can be subject-based — for example, pieces around climate change, policy, politics, or race. Or these can be specifically company-based — competitors or clients that the company needs to be careful about including. This list of topics should be refreshed every quarter or year. If a story or piece of content covers these topics, editors can, at their discretion send these along to the aforementioned IP team to be read over and changed if necessary.
- Track progress. Just as publishing teams track pageviews, podcast listens and video views, it is worthwhile for editors to also track how many pieces of content get corrected or clarified after publishing, and how many times issues of a sensitive nature crop up. The goal ultimately is to get to a point where even if content is created that can cause harm, it is caught before publishing, while also respecting the independence of the publishing team so it can tell impactful and valuable stories, not become a company mouthpiece.