April 3, 2023 Content Chat Recap: The Power of Saying “No” in Content Marketing—How to Manage Back

A Content Chat header image that says today’s topic is the power of saying "no" in content marketing—how to manage back, with guest Amy Higgins, who is @AmyWHiggins on Twitter.

Content marketing teams can easily become order takers if they are unable to push back on content requests. It can feel scary to say “no,” but it’s often necessary to protect your team resources and stay on course with your content strategy.

In this #ContentChat recap, Erika joins Amy Higgins, a strategic content marketing leader who specializes in B2B marketing, to discuss the power of saying “no” in content marketing and share real stories of how they’ve professionally rejected a content request—and what to do if you’re told to “just do it.”

Read through a few highlights from the conversation below, and listen to the full recording here.

Q1: Company executives and clients often have strong feelings about what the content marketing team should be doing. What are some common obstacles that content marketers face when trying to set expectations or push back on asks?

“That’s how we’ve always done it” thinking can hold your team back from improving your results.

A1: My least favorite obstacle that we face as content marketers is overcoming “that’s how we’ve always done it. #ContentChat

— Amy Higgins (@amywhiggins) April 3, 2023

A1b: For example, the obstacle of how to overcome the dreaded BOM…meaning the Bill Of Materials. Just because product markers love a good launch BOM, doesn’t always mean our audience will as well #ContentChat

— Amy Higgins (@amywhiggins) April 3, 2023

A1A: Agree with this. Also part of overcoming the objections is uncovering how much input the stakeholders really want in the project.

Hint: they aren’t always wanting to be as hands-off as they claim!#ContentChat

— Sweepsify 🎈 (@Sweepsify_) April 3, 2023

Amy says to fight off “big shiny object syndrome” by asking whether that big shiny object aligns with your business KPIs.

A1c: Big Shiny Object syndrome is an obstacle many marketers may face when setting expectations. Ask yourself first, will this big shiny object align to the biz KPIs? #ContentChat

— Amy Higgins (@amywhiggins) April 3, 2023

Too often, individual teams try to use content to push product benefits and sales messages (which often don’t make for engaging content).

A1: People who don’t understand content marketing and just want to push product benefits and sales messages. #ContentChat

— Andi Robinson (@hijinxmarketing) April 3, 2023

And some companies deprive their content team of their necessary ability to execute against the content mission.

A1a: Some companies view content creators as being part of a virtual agency. And as such, they view those in the business as the clients—and expect to own the strategy. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketer | Writer (@SFerika) April 3, 2023

A1b: But the best content teams have a content mission and tilt that need to be reflected in their work. Otherwise, it’s just random acts of content. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketer | Writer (@SFerika) April 3, 2023

Q2: Can you share an example of a time you’ve had to say no to a boss or client request? What was the outcome?

After researching what it would take to launch a podcast, Amy had to push back on a CEO request by explaining how much effort it would take and that it would not achieve a primary KPI.

A2: The CEO of our business unit asked us to do a 4-part podcast episode. After careful research and consideration, I said no. The podcast did not align with our team’s KPIs. #ContentChat

— Amy Higgins (@amywhiggins) April 3, 2023

Erika used email campaign data to push back on a stakeholder request.

A2a: I had a stakeholder who had done a specific email series several years in a row, and requested to have the same campaign executed again. Armed with the series’ results as compared to other emails, I was able to hit the reset button and take a new approach. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketer | Writer (@SFerika) April 3, 2023

We’re not always successful in saying no, however. Listen to the recording to hear more examples (and potential horror stories) from Amy and Erika.

A2b: But I haven’t always been able to successfully push back on waste of time asks, like all-hands-on-deck last-minute April Fools content… #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketer | Writer (@SFerika) April 3, 2023

Q3: Where do you think some of the disconnect starts when it comes to people making content requests that don’t align with the content strategy?

A lot of people confuse the word “strategy” with “plan.”

A3: It depends on the person. But I think it starts with the word “strategy” being confused as a plan. A strategy includes more than content assets, but the who, what, where, and how. #ContentChat

— Amy Higgins (@amywhiggins) April 3, 2023

Content teams have to actively bring every department into the content strategy and showcase what they’re doing and why. When individual departments don’t know how their function fits into the broader content strategy, then the content team will face more challenges.

A3: Different functions each have their own view on the messaging, which is fine and understandable. The disconnect comes when they don’t see how their function fits into the broader content strategy. #ContentChat

— Andi Robinson (@hijinxmarketing) April 3, 2023

A3a: If the content team is benig inundated with orders for content, it indicates the team is being seen as a service provider and not a strategic team. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketer | Writer (@SFerika) April 3, 2023

A3b: It can take time to educate stakeholders on the importance of having a defined content strategy, but that’s an important first step to taking back control of your content pipeline. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketer | Writer (@SFerika) April 3, 2023

Q4: What strategies can content marketers use when they need to manage expectations with a client or internal team?

“If you have a new content request, you always have to think about the ‘yes, and.’ Yes, this is a wonderful idea. And does it align back to our team KPIs? Does it align back to our business goals? Can we execute this with our current resources? If we can execute it with our current resources, can we publish it with our current publishing timeline? Look not only strategically at ‘how does this fit back into our goals,’ but project wise, ‘how does it fit into the management of our resources,’ both people and money.” – Amy Higgins

Always refer to your content strategy and agreed-upon goals when managing client or team expectations.

A4: When managing expectations , go back to the strategy itself. How does a new request align with the team’s KPIs and business goals? #ContentChat
you can have a plan without a strategy, but a strategy without a plan is a story unfulfilled.

— Amy Higgins (@amywhiggins) April 3, 2023

A4: I prefer to have a marketing or content strategy that I can point to, and within that strategy, key objectives or goals that we’re working toward. Then, if the request doesn’t ladder up to those goals, we have solid ground to back up our “no.” #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@mg_content) April 3, 2023

A4: In some situations (it doesn’t work at all places), RACI charts can come in handy here, too. Some orgs don’t like to take this extra step, but it can be especially helpful in large orgs. #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@mg_content) April 3, 2023

Use data to explain your past performance to set realistic expectations.

A4: Data is always a good place to start. If you have data to back up your request or point of view, it can be hard to argue with. #ContentChat

— Andi Robinson (@hijinxmarketing) April 3, 2023

Q5: How can you workshop a potentially ‘bad’ content suggestion to make it better?

Look at every content idea from the lens of your customer. If a suggestion is “bad,” how can you align it with your audience’s needs?

A5: Woo! I love a good brainstorm. Look at the “bad” suggestion and think of how it could align with your audience’s needs. How can you steer the idea to meet those needs? Always ground yourself with your audience first. #ContentChat

— Amy Higgins (@amywhiggins) April 3, 2023

Ask questions to understand the meaning behind the content suggestion. This will help you understand how to adjust the idea while still addressing the core need.

Q5: Ask questions. This will help the person who suggested the bad content understand for themselves why it should be changed. You will get a better result if they come to the conclusion themselves than if you dictate it. #ContentChat

— Andi Robinson (@hijinxmarketing) April 3, 2023

Explain the cost involved to create a piece of content. This can help you scale the idea back or explore the best channel for the content.

@sferika the expense and cost angle is a great one to take here. It’s always been effective when I bring up how expensive redoing content/marketing can be, even if you’re an in-house marketer. #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@mg_content) April 3, 2023

Listen to Erika and Amy workshop an anonymous real example—trying to build awareness in the space but jumping into product messaging too soon.

Q6: OK, you’ve pushed back, explained your rationale, pointed out it’s off mission for your content org and you’re told to “just do it.” What can you do to meet your and your stakeholder’s expectations?

If you’re forced to take on a new content request, you should accept the work but explain how it will affect your other deliverables

A6: When you are told to “just do it”, even if it’s a bad idea, always use “Yes, and” when setting expectations. Yes, and we’ll need to redo resources to accomplish it. Yes, and our Q3 goals will not be met. Yes, and we’ll want new goals to help measure success. #ContentChat

— Amy Higgins (@amywhiggins) April 3, 2023

I love this approach. It’s also a great way to explain trade-offs when it comes to other priorities that have been put on your team (esp. if it’s a small team). “Yes, and we’ll have to push this email campaign because of it.” #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@mg_content) April 3, 2023

You may need to revisit your content goals to align them with the type of content you’re consistently asked to create.

A6: If they are insistent on content that is not aligned with your goals, then let them know you will need to change the goals. If they agreed to the goals at the start of the project, telling them they need to be changed will help with expectations. #ContentChat

— Andi Robinson (@hijinxmarketing) April 3, 2023

Q7: How can content marketing leaders build a culture where creators are empowered to share ideas and express concerns about the content strategy?

Embrace feedback.

A7: The big F word – Feedback. It goes both ways. As a leader, it’s our job to lessen the big scary side of feedback. Feedback is part of the creation and strategic side of working together. It should be open and honest. #ContentChat

— Amy Higgins (@amywhiggins) April 3, 2023

Love this. I think it’s important we ask for it more often, too. Make a point to ask for feedback regularly regardless of where you are on the “ladder.” The more you ask, the more comfortable people will feel giving it/receiving it. #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@mg_content) April 3, 2023

Set clear expectations.

A7: Set clear expectations for the entire team. Transparency. Good communication. No idea is bad as long as it ties to the campaign goals. #ContentChat

— Andi Robinson (@hijinxmarketing) April 3, 2023

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