“Think big(ger): Turning content strategy into a company value” – Gerhard Arnhofer at Confab

Confab Events logoI’ve been relentlessly blogging the sessions I’ve watched at Confab 2013 in London. A few people have tweeted or said to me in person how useful they’ve been finding these write-ups, so thank you for that. I was doing the nursery run this morning, so here are my notes from the first session I saw when I arrived — Gerhard Arnhofer. At Confab. Not at my daughter’s nursery. That looked like mostly dinosaurs and play-doh.

“Think big(ger): Turning content strategy into a company value” – Gerhard Arnhofer

Gerhard Arnhofer was very entertaining when talking about his journey to build a content strategy for Univadis®, a medical content portal from Merck/MSD.

Univadis homepage

The Univadis® homepage

Gerhard’s background was as a paramedic, but he said that with his own two hands he couldn’t make an impact on healthcare worldwide. This role allowed him to do so. He explained that, like many services, Univadis® had started in 2001 as the result of a digital strategy that probably read in its entirety as “We must do something online”.

By the time he got involved it had become a monster. 20 different content management systems — “because as you know they are cheap” Gerhard quipped — 250 content streams, and 20 corporate legal entities suggesting helpful “improvements” to disclaimers and terms and conditions and so forth.

And then Gerhard’s boss said to him “Can you make a global digital content strategy for Univadis® in two months”. Gerhard said his over-riding emotion at this point was “Panic!”

He then took us through what he thought were some of the key bits of the project, and one of the things that shone through was “hire experts”. He said that Merck/MSD were much happier putting together a bespoke content strategy team that featured a few specialists from various different agencies, than they were in hiring a full service agency to deliver the whole project. And passion was a real key. Gerhard said if choosing between two people to work on content strategy, he’d always pick the person with the most passion.

They ended up making a 250 page content strategy cookbook. It sounds like it went into meticulous detail on how content should be styled and written. It does make me wonder if we will eventually get a wave of people promoting “Lean content strategy” or “Agile content strategy” moaning that people are putting too much effort into “documenting the damn thing”, much as IAs have historically been prone to do.

A couple of things Gerhard said resonated with me and some projects I’ve worked on recently. One was not being afriad of re-use. Gerhard said it was pretty typical to rock up to a project and immediately announce that everything that had gone before was crap, and start afresh. But the bean counters in an organisation, he says, will argue, “Hang on. We’ve invested millions of dollars in this content over the last few years. And you are telling me that today we just write all of that off?” Gerhard said it was important to work out what could or should be re-used.

He also said that automation always paid off in the end, because every single manual intervention costs money. Reports, newsletters and analytics were especially ripe for automation.

Evaluation is important. “Sooner or later,” Gerhard said, “someone will knock on your door and demand to know why this one individual piece of content was or wasn’t included on the site anymore.” For Univadis® they had started assessing the content on a score-sheet with 40 or 50 KPIs like traffic levels, dwell time, retweets and so on and so on. Ultimately, though, what mattered was dollars. They ended up scoring content on cost. Anything costing less than a $1 a click was fine. Anything between $1 and $5 a click needed investigating. And any content costing over $5 a click needed to go. They found some content that was costing them as much as $200 per click.

Gerhard’s project moved the site from having 250 content streams to “just” 60, and got them down to one common content platform architecture, something he said he could never really have envisaged achieving. They also saved $4m in the first year. A success by any measure.

Having said that, they haven’t got all of their content strategy nailed – this Google description could do with a bit of a brush-up…

Univadis in Google

Univadis in Google. Ooops.


My next blog post will be my notes from a great session by Sarah Richards talking about Gov.UK.

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