I’d like to start with a glimpse of the animal world, if I may. It might seem strange, but nature provides some great examples of ‘business partnerships’. Take cleaner fish. These thumb-sized critters wait patiently in reefs until a bigger fish, a stingray or even a shark shows up.

Suddenly, the shark relaxes its movements and opens its gills wide. The cleaner fish get to work, nibbling parasites from between the shark’s gills, nostrils and even the roof of the mouth. Far from eating the cleaner fish, scientists think the host animals submit to a good cleaning because they enjoy the tickling sensation.

I mention this animal wonder because it applies to what Novus does every day. No, we don’t loaf around street corners muttering, “Clean yer nostrils, sir?” But we do enter into symbiotic relationships with our clients. We stick to them like glue and form a partnership that benefits us both. But it takes trust and openness.

Opening Lines of Communication

Our best bonds are when brands step up with an internal editorial resource. This is someone who can see projects with an editorial eye, feeding us with information we need so we can craft the strongest content strategy possible.

When we started Novus Asia just over five years ago, we positioned ourselves as editorial experts, people who come in and help a brand tell its story across different platforms. Back then, we thought a big area of competition for Novus would be big in-house content teams. And yet that isn’t happening across Asia, because of cost and limited resource.

That’s understandable. It’s hard to build a team of content specialists that can work easily across multiple platforms. We’ve been building ours for half a decade, and we still learn something new every day. It’s difficult.

Quieting the Cacophony

When we’re working on a project with many stakeholders that surround a brand — a digital agency, media agency, and PR agency, perhaps — it can be a tad chaotic. When multiple agencies try to own the content, the content can suffer. Too many cooks, as they say, spoil the broth. Or too many cleaner fish make a messy shark.

But it’s the same story within a brand. Internally, you’ve got marketing teams, communications, product guys and more C-suite executives than you can count. Each comes with their own opinion on what the voice of the brand should be.

Unfortunately what tends to happen is that it’s whoever shouts the loudest that tends to get the loudest share of voice. That’s not always the best way of creating a content strategy or maintaining the content. Shouting competitions are great for migraines, bad for business.

And now that our projects often involve multiple markets and languages, the process is becoming more and more complex. Now, the briefing process is becoming more important. It’s not just about the start of year briefing now, it’s about weekly briefings.

That’s why it helps to have a person on the inside. You need someone who can pull all of that information that’s going on within the brand, distill it and brief our content teams on what is to be produced. And then, consolidating feedback that comes through various channels within the brand, and feeding it back to us. It really smoothes the process to have that in-house interpreter.

Say What?

And it’s a process that needs smoothing. If not, the results can go pear-shaped faster than you can say symbiotic shark cleaner. The bigger the organisation, the more confusing the game of Chinese Whispers.

According to a study by Siemens Enterprise Communication, a business of 100 employees spends an average of 17 hours a week clarifying bad communication — and that’s just internally. Another study found that 57% of business projects failed due to breakdown in communications. Having an internal ‘translator’ is a failsafe against that.

That’s why I changed from seeing an editorial content specialist within a brand as a threat. We’re now over the moon when we find out that someone really gets content in the heart of that brand.

The first time we realised the importance of having someone on the inside happened four years ago. We were — and still are — working with a giant health-based brand that runs an enormous amount of marketing campaigns across the region, and the world. But the content strategy was happening in isolation. It wasn’t linked to what they were doing in a marketing point of view. A set of articles linked to specific issues we created was published in May, and a product that precisely worked for that topic was launched in September.

That was a huge missed opportunity, but we didn’t know about it because we didn’t have someone who flagged it to us. Now we have someone who goes into all the strategy and planning meetings, so our content is linked with marketing.

Steaks and Storytelling

Sometimes the symbiosis is just about sharing your brand’s great stories with us, so that we can share them with the world. It’s like handing us a grimy nugget of gold, still covered in earth — that’s all we need. Armed with great raw material for a story, we can polish that to a gleaming slab of bullion. That’s what has happened with another brand we work with, a luxury hospitality company. We’re lucky to have someone on the inside who will put us in touch with the stories that really shine. They connect us to the right people — be it their heartwarming longest-serving employee or a concierge with the secrets of the best bars in Paris.

That’s a vital asset to any brand. Because every brand has a great story. Like Morton’s Steakhouse. In 2011, a hungry business traveller tweeted this cheeky message as he prepared to fly home.

“Hey @Mortons – can you meet me at Newark airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours? K, thanks. :-)”

Two hours later, a tuxedoed waiter greeted him with a still-warm 680-gram steak, prawns, potatoes, bread, napkins and gleaming silverware. As the astounded customer later marveled, the following sequence of events would have had to occur: a Morton’s employee had to spot the tweet, get the idea approved, whip up the meal, and drive 38 kilometres to the airport.


Many Ears Make Light Work

That meaty story, ladies and gentleman, would win my loyalty to a brand for life. And every brand has one. But unless there’s someone with their ear to the ground inside the organization — who also thinks with a storyteller’s mindset — chances are we won’t hear them.

Because of their undeniable usefulness, these people become an extended part of the content team. And our content team becomes an extended part of their marketing team. In the shark-eat-shark world of content creation, that symbiosis makes finding a brand’s voice go all the more swimmingly.

Content Creation is a Two-Way Partnership

BY Simon Cholmeley

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