Every Friday since the pandemic shut things down in March (here in the U.S.), we’ve highlighted communicators and marketers who at first were trying to figure out which part of the sky just fell on them in My Hot Mess. Then we shifted to those who are crushing the pandemic with Survive & Thrive. Now it’s time to get back to business, even if it’s not totally normal. We’re going to do that with an Ask Me Anything series—an elevation of our previous Spin Sucks Question series.
Today, a Spin Sucks Community member asks how to create content when subject matter experts don’t cooperate.
Welcome back to another Ask Me Anything, which is a new series where we talk to our friends, our viewers, and our community. about what they would like to know. The whole point is to stump me. If I don’t know the answer, I will ask one of my smart friends to join me.
Let’s take a look at the mailbag.
Today’s question comes from a Spin Sucks Community member. She asks:
I really struggle with how to create content when our subject matter experts won’t. They say they want to write articles, but they never deliver on time. They cancel meetings I schedule with them. Yet my boss wants me to use them in the content we do create. I don’t know what to do!
Create Content with One Weekly Meeting
This is a tough one! It is one of the hardest things ever. It doesn’t matter if the subject matter expert is the CEO, a scientist, a tactician, a product developer, or myriad other experts—they all want to help, but they almost never come through.
It’s not because they’re terrible people, either. It’s because, just like the rest of us, they have day jobs and they have to prioritize. As much as they want to help, they don’t have the time. And, let’s be real, content creation is challenging for those of us who excel at it and are paid to do it. Asking someone who doesn’t do it every day is akin to asking them to rip off their arm and then sew it back on with their good hand.
But we have a solution!
It’s called the weekly editorial meeting. Just like a media outlet has editorial meetings, your content team (or you) should, too.
The meetings we have with our clients are with every subject matter expert in the organization. For some clients, that’s just the CEO and, for others, it’s a team of people from every department. This is a meeting they are required to attend weekly…as part of their job (we’ll come back to that in a minute).
These meetings are no more than 30 minutes and we spend quite a bit of time on our end preparing for them. That’s so we can get as much out of the SMEs as humanly possible during that time. We prepare topics for the week, we look at what’s happening in the news and in the industry we look at trends, and we prepare questions based on the expert.
There is an editorial calendar that’s completely fluid and updated consistently. We have our key messages and we have our list of questions. Then we go through it as fast as we can. We use those conversations to define what the editorial is going to be for the next week, the next month, or even the next quarter.
In some cases, the stuff that we’ve planned out is exactly what we use and, in other cases, it falls apart.
This past Monday, we went into our editorial meeting with a client and everything ready. But 20 minutes before the meeting, Pfizer announced they had 90% efficacy on a COVID-19 vaccine—and that threw all of our plans on its ear. We had to start from scratch for the week and we actually ended up publishing less content than normal because of it.
The point is this: give yourself a starting point and create as much process as you can, but also be willing to be agile and flexible, especially when something happens in the industry that you can respond to in a timely and interesting way.
The Meeting Has to Be Required
The weekly editorial meeting works. There will be some meetings that one or two people miss. Some meetings will be canceled. And other meetings, you’ll have a full house and get more ideas than you know what to do with.
But here is the secret to having success with this: the meeting has to be required. It has to come from the top—and it has to be scheduled by the big boss’s assistant. It cannot be your meeting. If it is your meeting, people will skip it. But if it’s the head honcho’s meeting, they will know it’s not a meeting to be canceled or skipped.
During our onboarding process with a new client, this is one of our requirements. If they’re not willing to do that (and we know they are because it’s a question we ask in new business meetings), then we can’t be successful. If you work inside an organization, you have to help your CEO understand why this is imperative—and have them schedule the meeting.
Then blow their socks off every week with how prepared you are and how efficient you are with their time.
It’s not easy. It takes a lot of forethought and planning and time on your part, but it works incredibly well in getting what you need out of the people who are the experts inside your organization.
If you have a question for a future AMA, you can drop it in the comments here or join us in the (free) Spin Sucks Community.