I was recently at an event in London attended by some significant players in the business investment community. I found myself talking to one of them about an airline in Africa he was looking to buy into with the aim of making it the major carrier on the continent.

He asked me what I did and I went into my elevator pitch about the strategic handling of digital content and its governance. I could see his eyes beginning to glaze over until the point when I asked how robust the airline’s systems (human and technical) were for collecting and storing passenger data.

I pointed out that if he wanted the airline to become a major player, that type of content was as important as passenger safety in the air and this wasn’t simply a question of IT. Suddenly his eyes came back into focus.

Waking the lion

Attracting the attention of the C-suite is like the story of the mouse and the lion, where the mouse wins the undying gratitude of the lion but only after he pulls a thorn from its paw. If you want to get the attention of the kings and queens of the Big Business Jungle you need to demonstrate you can take their pain away.

The problem is that most activity around content doesn’t do this (IT possibly, but content, no). Or, let me put it this way: It just doesn’t present in a way that makes the relationship between content pain and C-suite paws clear. Okay, enough with the metaphor.

Why should the C-suite care about content (as much as I do)? Messaging, marketing and content strategy aren’t their pain points, they’re mine. But maximizing return on resource and legal compliance are, particularly in the current climate.

For example, a new Help section on a company website may take pressure off telephone support. What types of calls are the longest? Does the new online Help section address customer questions around this type of long call? Would adding images online help  (“to reset, insert the tip of a straightened paper clip here”)?

Illustration by Milo Winter via Project Gutenberg.

Content solutions for C-suite problems

We need to frame what we do in the context, not of content, but of the challenging business climate and the increasingly tight legislative noose being created by, among other things, the focus on antipiracy and the protection of privacy online.

We need to take a global perspective because the businesses we work with do. We need to consider the longer-term implications of the Leveson inquiry in the UK, or the impact of France’s tough antipiracy law on Europe as a whole.

We need to stop viewing legal departments as a source of frustration and embrace compliance. For instance, I look at ways to be proactive, such as offering to run a breakfast session for legal teams (croissants on me) around how content creators are interpreting current online legislation and regulation at the point of delivery. And I ask for input.

Content needs to get down to business

As content strategists we should be spending a little less time behind our desks and a little more time by water coolers, on various floors. We should be extending our networks to those that encompass national and local legislators to get a better feel for how future legal and regulatory changes might be developed or implemented.

It’s time to brush up on our business language skills and pay serious attention to the bottom line. For example, I’m developing a more detailed understanding of the key performance indicators used to track return on resource (so that I’m not just reporting clicks, but able to comment on the interplay between online investment and store footfall and human capital management).

At the same time, I try not to get too excited about a nicely turned phrase on the website (You can take the girl out of the journalist…).

There are lessons to be learned from other industries. Human Resources has raised its profile over the years and become increasingly important in a business context beyond hiring and firing.

I look particularly at the role HR has played in less “glamorous” industries, such as tobacco, where HR tends to be highly developed, offering a range of professional development opportunities, award schemes and opportunities for travel that allow tobacco companies to compete for the brightest and best.

HR got better at understanding what the boardroom needs and aligning what it provides to strategic business objectives. So can we.

Now… give me your paw.