January 25, 2020

Selling a Content Strategy

Content creation needs to work in concert with a content strategy. Intellectually, that is not a provocative statement. In practice, it’s a difficult concept to grasp because it can lead to less content. Decision makers are often leery of less content even when faced with diminishing returns. However, “up to 70 percent of branded content is not consumed” (Dedeu, 2016). I’ll use my experience as a case study.

I spent three years sending daily e-newsletters, and our list engagement (opens and clicks) fell precipitously in that time. This was a problem because our e-newsletters had sponsors who tracked the impressions (the number of times an advertisement renders or displays on screens) of their ads. For targeted ads, we were guaranteeing sponsors a level of clicks and webinar registrants. I remember telling my marketing managers, “We’re losing credibility. We need to send fewer emails.” In a business to business (B2B) setting, we were sending ten to twelve emails a day to single lists. We had a problem and made incremental changes—often involving sending more emails after giving a list a short rest from sponsor emails. Little had changed because we needed to invest in a content strategy, not an editorial calendar.

What is content strategy?

Ahava Leibtag, in her book The Digital Crown: Winning content on the Web, defines content strategy as “a system that an organization uses to plan, create, publish, analyze, and govern content.” Leibtag’s definition is a great way to sell content strategy on an organizational level. Megan Casey has the perfect definition when someone inevitably asks, “well, what does that mean?” According to Casey, “Content strategy helps organizations provide the right content, to the right people, at the right times, for the right reasons.”

Securing the Buy-in

Implementation is the only way for a content strategy to benefit a business. If you deal with content on a day-to-day basis as I did, you notice the problems. Notifying managers doesn’t necessarily address your concerns. I let my marketing manager know of our email campaigns’ poor performances, and she agreed with me and passed it up to our team leader. My team leader, in turn, brought the concerns to the VP of marketing and division president, where the issue was dropped. We continued as if nothing had happened. I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience. Our mistake was we took the wrong approach. We didn’t secure the buy-in.

It’s helpful to remember implementation problems often have little to do with the content strategy itself. We committed a cardinal sin of Public Relations. We didn’t recognize our audience. It was a failure of empathy. I didn’t think like a business person. Megan Casey, in The Content Strategy Toolkit, explains how business people think. “business people think in terms of return on investment (ROI) and risk and reward…So make sure what you’re proposing actually is a sound business decision…Their budgets, their reputations, and sometimes even their jobs may be on the line” (p. 16).

We needed to present the problem as an opportunity. Fixing a problem is daunting, while seizing an opportunity is invigorating (Carpe diem, anyone?). Getting business people onboard involves math:

  • You need to figure out the dollar amount that the problem is costing the business.
  • With that, you want to forecast how much the content strategy will save the organization if implemented.
  • If data is available, include industry trends for points you’re proposing. For example, companies that do X generate twenty percent more leads.
  • Industry trends may help you estimate the probability that the strategy will succeed.
  • You need to know the likelihood of success to determine the risk. According to Casey, risk is calculated by multiplying cost by likelihood the initiative will fail.

Embrace incremental change

Estimating accurate dollar amounts may not be feasible. Start with a small change and show decision makers the value of what you’re proposing. Kristina Halvorson, the CEO of Brain Traffic, recommends starting small. “In fact, if content strategy is brand new to your company, you probably need a series of ‘quick wins’ before anyone is going to commit the big bucks. And don’t call what you’re doing ‘content strategy’ at first—use whatever language is going to resonate with the people holding the purse strings. Spring it on them later that—AHA!—they were suckered into content strategy!”

Let’s return to my example. While we were unable to limit the number of times we were sending to lists, we were able to clean up the lists. Our open rates suffered in part because we were sending emails to a large number of inactive addresses (in some cases people who hadn’t opened an email in five years). We purged our lists of thousands of useless addresses, and our open rates noticeably improved across our e-newsletters.

Numbers are persuasive and coupled with a clearly outlined content strategy will provide you with the ammunition to speak in terms that will help business people understand your plan’s potential and secure an organizational buy-in. If your organization is reluctant, stay positive. By starting down the path of content strategy, you’re joining a select group—only 35 percent of marketers have documented content strategies (Dedeu, 2016).


Casey, M. (2015). The content strategy toolkit: Methods, guidelines, and templates for getting content right New Riders.

Dedeu, F. (2016, July 1). Breaking down the content strategy. Bizcommunity.Com Retrieved from https://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/15/147226.html

Halvorson, K. (2018, August 2). How to sell in content strategy. Retrieved from https://www.braintraffic.com/blog/how-to-sell-in-content-strategy

Leibtag, A. (2013). The digital crown : Winning at content on the web. San Francisco: Elsevier Science & Technology. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/quinnipiac/detail.action?docID=1429412