The content disaster recovery plan

In Content Strategy by Rob Johnson1 Comment

(NB: This is part 2 of our three-part series on how to manage, or hopefully avoid, a content disaster which will cripple your content marketing plan. For part 1, click here.)

Step back and take a look at your content marketing project.

That’s a luxury many of us don’t get to do, because we’re so caught up in the day-to-day running of it. But make the time. What do you see?

No matter the size of the organisation you are in, there is a very good chance you see a project that is funded from a particular source of revenue (either internal or external to your organisation), and driven by one, or at best two, individuals.

There’s nothing unusual about either of those scenarios. But what do you do if that source of funding dries up? What do you do if that individual who is the champion of your content gets another job? Or worse, gets very sick?

If you’re like many content marketers, you’re probably working with a small, closely-knit team and a small budget. Neither of those realities should be an impediment to you being ready when disaster strikes.


Content disaster number three: the loss of your revenue base

It’s hard to understand what it felt like during the early days of those weeks at the end of 2007 and the start of 2008, when we first started talking about a Global Financial Crisis. I remember all of us doing our best to keep going on as normal. Personally, at our office, we distracted ourselves by moving from a cavernous warehouse space to a groovier, but much smaller, space. We gossiped about a problem staff member who had run off to another state. And we silently noticed that the trickle of money into the bank account had slowed, then eventually, stopped.

We were publishing a magazine on behalf of a client, and the big bills for printing and distribution were funded by advertising revenue. The deal was a true partnership—we would have to wear that revenue loss if bills weren’t paid, but we got to keep the profit when they were. So when the GFC hit, we had two problems: getting the money owed to us, and keeping the client.

So we phoned around to chase money. We always got the same response: “Head office has put a hold on payments. We don’t know when they’ll start paying again.”

“But we have bills,” we’d say. “We have kids to feed.”

“Same here,” they’d reply.


Plan for your MVS (minimum viable size)

Content marketing is meant to be an ongoing process, not a campaign. So the effect of having your money disappear is more serious than having an advertising budget cut.

If you have spent time and effort building an audience, then just stop supplying that audience with the information they expect, they are left with a very negative view of your brand. Even in the best case scenario, where you get a budget back, you will have to start from scratch rebuilding that audience. Many of them may have moved on. Others won’t trust you anymore.

So it’s good practice to work out a minimum viable size for your content project which is based on a percentage of the budget you have allocated, and expected minimum costs.

For example, if your content marketing is digital, you may have a budget for external contributors. Your first instinct may be to divide that up between months, so you have an idea of how much you will have to spend every month. But if you divide up the budget unequally—so you are spending less at the start and more at the end of the year—you create a buffer for yourself. In a worst case scenario, if the budget is cut halfway through, your content output stays the same. In a best case scenario, you can ramp it up towards the second half of the year.

Similarly, if your content project is a printed publication, costing a minimum viable size for the magazine will give you buffer. Your printer will be able to tell you the most cost-efficient number of pages for your publication, and sometimes that’s higher than you think. For example, since paper on a web-press comes in a 32-page form, a 32-page magazine may be cheaper for you to produce than a 24-page one (because the printer will have to allow for the cost of cutting forms down to smaller sizes).


Have a transfer strategy

Finally, costing in a buffer will also help you transition your audience to a different, or cheaper, platform if your budget has been cut and shows no sign of coming back. Moving a magazine online is common nowadays. It will become more and more common to see blogs moved to social media platforms like LinkedIn or Medium too. You will lose a percentage of your audience in the move—but losing some is better than losing all of them.

So if someone has turned off the printing press and shut down your broadcasting studio, have a plan for the wholesale move of your content to the web. If someone has pulled the plug on your website, you have one more option.

As a final buffer, it’s a good idea to have a presence for your content brand on the relevant social media sites (based on whether they are B2B or B2C). It’s not ideal, as those sites will own your audience. But at least you can stay in touch with some of them. And you may even pick up some new fans on the way.

loss of key personnel

Content disaster number 4: Loss of key personnel

We had a sales guy working on a magazine who was our dream employee. He turned up at work at seven in the morning and left at 7 in the evening. He spent his time at work productively. Those first two hours of the day were spent writing props, sending emails, and sourcing new leads. Then from 9 till five he was working the phone like a demon. He was individually responsible for half the company’s phone bill. The last two hours of the day he spent analysing competitor data and projecting upcoming issues.

He was also a nice guy to have around, surpassed all his sales targets, never got stressed, and never asked for a pay rise.

Then one day, he left.

It was nothing personal. He had stuff to do, and places to go. But as the weeks passed by and his memory (and forward bookings) faded, we realised how deep a hole he had left. No-one was as connected to our market as he was. When he disappeared, it was like the magazine itself turned to smoke in the eyes of advertisers, and slowly drifted away.


Plan for the worst

Replace the term ‘sales guy’ with ‘business development manager’ or ‘content officer’ or ‘communications manager’. We all know someone like that. They are a champion of your content strategy. Losing them would be a disaster, which is exactly why you should plan for it to happen.

It took us ages to work our way back from the point where that sales guy left. The stress of getting back to where we were could have been avoided if we had a documented content strategy. When people talk about content strategy, they often focus just on the content itself. There’s nothing wrong with that. But Part of documenting the strategy is identifying who should be doing what, and who takes care of roles around the production and distribution of content. Who is responsible for uploading posts? Who puts together the newsletter? Who does the first edit of the posts on website, or of the article in the company magazine? Who is checking the legal stuff?

If all of those roles are documented it makes it much easier to see the impact of losing a key team member. It also creates a resource for any new team members to understand where they fit in if they are replacing someone else.

And if you’re the one responsible for your organisation’s content plan, it makes it easy for you to show your boss how indispensable you are.

workflow content disaster

Go with the workflow

Once you’ve documented who does what, you will also quickly see the need for a production workflow. The content you produce will be at different stages of the production process at different times. You need to keep track of what you’ve got and where it’s at. That way, if someone in a key position leaves, you can know immediately by looking at the production workflow what holes you need to plug.

It’s not tricky to do, and your Finder window will do most of the work for you.

Just create a folder for every stage of the production process, and number them. The fact that the folders are numbered will order them correctly, and you can follow you content through the folders until it is distributed.


Above is a screen grab of the production workflow we use on our print magazines, but we use similar ones for websites and newsletters. You can see, it takes you from the early Administration of the magazine (which may involve editorial ideas, and briefing notes and so on) through a place to put copy and images when they arrive, through to folders that  are ‘owned’ by individuals who need to grant approval before publication. By implementing this, or a similar, workflow, you save yourself the hassle of keeping track of what everyone is doing.


In the end

Creating a safety net is a sensible part of any plan. That’s the lesson here, really—if you know what can go wrong, you can plan to be ready if it does go wrong.

If you’re fresh to this blog post, you should check out the first in the series, which dealt with what content marketers should know about defamation. Next week we’ll look at some other disasters that can hit your content both from within and without.

And finally, for a regular review of all you need to know about the mechanics and details for engaging an audience with content marketing, sign up here to receive our irregular newsletter.


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