A journey through content

Since forming The Content Equation in 2016, I’ve worked with a variety of different clients, ranging from a Big 4 accountancy firm and a sports national governing body through to an exhibition venue and a background screening provider.

Naturally, every one of them has had very different requirements but, in each case, we’ve managed to bring out engaging stories which make their audiences sit up and take notice. Here are just a few of my favourite examples.


Generating content

Article writing

In supporting KPMG’s Executive Exchanges programme (a networking programme for senior executives), I had the chance to interview both Jeremy White, editor of Wired magazine, and Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister. This was KPMG being bold enough to produce magazine-style feature articles with their keynote speakers, rather than relying on a traditional post-event summary piece to send out to their client base.

These were exciting pieces to write, albeit somewhat nerve-racking as my own knowledge of their particular field of expertise was very limited. Nevertheless, I found the results highly readable. The content gave rise to both feature articles and supplementary video, adding to a suite of content with other high profile business figures on the Executive Exchanges micro-site.

Not every article needs to be a feature article though. I’ve always liked the idea of an advice piece, such as this example for consultancy firm Maisha & Co, or – even better – a good old-fashioned, deliberately provocative soapbox piece. This is top-of-the-funnel stuff, designed simply to grab someone’s attention.



Web content

Moving away from article writing, I’ve worked with several businesses who want to improve the content on their website. This typically poses an interesting challenge as their initial instinct is to talk primarily about what they do. Clearly, this is important but I’ve long argued that they should also focus heavily on why and how they do what they do and to tell more engaging stories along the way.

Background screening firm Verifile was one of the first that I did this with. Talking to the company owner revealed a fascinating story about the events that inspired him to establish Verifile, which now features on the About Us page. The subsequent insights into how his team do what they do, how they’re different and why they’re passionate about their work all found their way into the high-level pages that focus on the importance of screening, the emergence of post-employment screening and the need for speed.

Add to this the industry pages that aim to paint a picture of industry-specific screening needs and throw in a conversational tone of voice that steers clear of the corporate norm and the result is an engaging and easily accessible web presence.


Bringing a philosophy to life

This idea of articulating an organisation’s business philosophy is something I’m always keen to investigate when starting a new web content project. Another example can be found here at Hyman Capital. Organisations like this (financial services, consultancy, high-end advisory etc) typically shroud their content in impenetrable language – which is why I like being able to change the tone in bringing to life their corporate philosophy.

It’s the same lighter, looser, more conversational tone that can be seen deployed across some of their sub-pages as well as, even more pleasingly, in the senior leadership profiles which – written in the first person -  bring out the individual passion for what they do. I think I like using that tone here even more than I normally do because it’s so unexpected.

And finally in this group, there’s Formus Pro, a Hereford-based provider of CRM solutions. Their ‘brand story’ is played out in full on their site, articulating why they do what they do, why they employ the type of people they do and why they believe so strongly in configured, rather than wholly bespoke solutions.

Add in the back-story of their company founder and deploy the same conversational tone of voice that you may, by now, have spotted I’m quite a big fan of - and you have an engaging piece of content.



The editorial calendar

Staying with Formus, my time with them was limited; an in-and-out project to help upgrade their web content and to lay the groundwork for their future in-house editorial activity.

It’s a significant challenge maintaining levels of editorial activity with no dedicated in-house resource. Part of the solution lies in the creation and maintenance of an editorial calendar; a long list of possible story ideas, alongside a commitment to turning these into high quality content assets. That’s a challenge that Formus have risen to fabulously well, using their frontline staff to generate content including advice guides, software updates and industry developments.

That can be harder than it sounds as it often requires something of a cultural shift and requires people to step outside their usual comfort zones. In today’s content-saturated marketplace, generating high quality, engaging material has to be part of business-as-usual, not something that’s dipped into now and again when people have got some spare capacity. It’s how you keep conversations going with your client base, after all. For a relatively small organisation like Formus to manage this so smoothly is a big feather in their cap.


A very different type of client

Another organisation where the value of establishing an editorial calendar soon became apparent was Volleyball England. Prior to working with them on a retainer basis, their communications had been transactional (e.g. announcements to members) and very much driven from the inside-out.

Over the course of the retainer, we turned this around, swapping out the rather corporate content for something more akin to a lifestyle magazine; something more likely to hold the attention of thousands of volleyballers up and down the country.

Generating this content was hugely fulfilling, partly because of my own connection to the sport but partly because of the scope it provided for telling real people’s stories. As a sucker for a good extended feature article, it’s perhaps no surprise that my favourite content examples from this client fall into this category. These include the series we prepared with England’s leading beach volleyball pairs, our ‘Women in Volleyball’ stories (as part of the This Girl Can campaign) and the incredible story of the coach who stumbled into being the coach of the Georgian national sitting volleyball team.

For further variety though, check out this other myth-busting sitting volleyball piece as well a ‘fake round table’ article with a handful of clubs who’d performed well in the Logo Wars competition, talking about the value of their branding, even in amateur sport.


Flicking through commercial content

Report writing

Coming from a background in professional services, I know that a lot of large organisations put a huge amount of time and effort into writing big, set-piece reports. Research reports, thought leadership, white papers; call them what you want. There are thousands of these things out there, jostling for attention in a very crowded market. Making them stand out can be very hard.

I’ve worked on more than a few of these during my career – and have always tried to make them look a little bit different. Going back to my in-house days, we experimented with something called Fast Forward; a series of publications in which consultants were given free rein to opine on how businesses might change in the future, thinking about topics such as nano-corporate structures or human capital.

I think it’s fair to say that people didn’t quite know what to make of these at the time, although they did generate a fair bit of attention and even gave rise to an event template, in which clients were invited to debate these topics in front of a live judging panel.

Having crossed to the other side of the fence, I worked with KPMG to produce their healthcare sector report, Take me to your Leader, a publication focused on the importance of developing leadership skills. This report was unusual as it was ‘insight by interview’. The traditional approach to such reports is to go heavy on the data and then provide some accompanying commentary and – hopefully – some insight. The latter part of the equation isn’t always guaranteed though, which is why it was great to see a heavyweight professional services firm prepared to try something different.

Yes, this approach means that it’s more about opinion than data – but when that opinion comes from highly credible figures such as Sir Robert Naylor (then of University London College Hospitals) or Sam Jones (the Director of New Care Models), you rather have to sit up and take notice.


Nothing wrong with having an opinion

More recently, I also helped write the Skills Matter report, looking at the skills challenges facing the UK. Again, this one was interview-driven but exclusively with KPMG people this time. Whenever someone says, “but these are just people’s opinions”, I remind them that these are the people they’re prepared to pay handsomely to secure their support and advice. I’d suggest it’s worth being reassured that they really do know what they’re talking about.

Also, it just makes for more engaging content, as evidenced by the KPMG series of “Reimagine…” materials (some of which I did work on). Senior figures, encouraged to come up with disruptive, radical solutions to contemporary public sector issues – and without an explicit sales message in sight. It’s a different breed of content to what we typically produced 10-15 years – and that has to be a welcome development.

Of course, that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. For organisations with a preference for research, facts and figures, they can still be used to tell an engaging story. The trick lies in working with credible experts who can provide genuine insights and – again – loosening the tone to avoid sounding like a corporate automaton, as per this 2018 ghost-written example for Canada Life.

Not all the content I’ve helped produce is publicly available but more examples are available on request....