6 Best Practices for Working With an Outside Content Provider

I’ve been creating marketing content for clients small and large for more than 20 years. Most of the projects I’ve worked on have been enjoyable and even fun. Occasionally, though, things have turned south, putting an unpleasant taste in the mouths of everyone involved—client and content provider alike.

To optimize the return on your investment in an outside content provider—and avoid that unpleasant taste—be sure to make the following best practices part of your project approach:

1. Set clear expectations. Projects without clear expectations are projects that are likely to go careening off the tracks. First, both parties must agree on timing and on the definition of the deliverable. Is it a four-page brochure, or an eight pager? Color, or black and white? What’s the desired word count? Do you need it next week, or next month?

Additionally, the content provider must understand exactly what the client wants in terms of messaging. Who is the audience? What is their problem? How can the client help them solve that problem? What does the client want them to understand or do? It’s the client’s job to clarify all of this information up front—and the content provider’s job to ask for it if it’s not volunteered. Otherwise, the odds are good that the client will be disappointed, or the content provider will have to do extra work, or both. Style guides, creative briefs, and personas can be important tools for setting messaging expectations.

It’s also important to set expectations around process. For example, the client may need to provide background materials early in the project, timely editorial feedback during the copy-development stage, and design elements during production.

2. Involve the decision-maker across the project lifecycle. It’s fine if the decision-maker isn’t the project’s primary point of contact. But if it’s the director of marketing who’s spending budget on your project and will have the final say, she or he should weigh in at key points across the project—from defining deliverables to approving content outlines to contributing to the editorial review of drafts. Trust me: no one wants the decision-maker to be utterly surprised by the final deliverable.

3. Assign a single point of contact at the client. Without a single contact point, the content provider may end up serving multiple masters—which is unsustainable. The point of contact manages the project on the client’s side, providing relevant research, background information, and other assets to the content provider, and acting as a conduit between the content provider and the client-side stakeholders reviewing each draft of content.

4. & 5. Consolidate editorial feedback—and give feedback that’s actionable. Per this excellent overview of editorial-review best practices, to keep your project on track, you should collect specific feedback from all stakeholders in a single location: “Telling the writer that ‘this doesn’t work’ doesn’t help to advance the project. What specifically doesn’t work? The tone? The word choice? If the writer’s using the wrong word, specify why it is wrong . . . and suggest alternatives. You don’t have to rewrite it perfectly—that’s the writer’s job—but do provide the information needed to fix it.”

6. Ensure version control. With multiple versions of the same deliverable being created and shared by various project stakeholders, it’s easy to lose track of which version is the latest—often leading to frustration and extra work. Consolidating feedback helps to ensure version control, but there are additional simple steps you can take. If you’re collaborating via email, for instance, employing a standard naming convention (e.g., ASSETNAME_CAMPAIGNNAME_v1.doc) decreases the likelihood of version-control issues. Collaborating in the same document online—in Google Docs, for instance—is another worthy solution.

Want to get the most out of your investment with an outside content provider? These best practices can give you a running start.

P.S. All of these best practices are baked into the Content Bureau approach. It makes life easier for everyone—myself included.

By Eric Wilinski