“It’s not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”

This quote from W. Edwards Deming is very Darwinian. Change, adapt, and survive. Or don’t. There’s no middle ground. That’s true whether you’re leading a content team, a Fortune 500 enterprise, a small business, or anything in between. Change is inevitable, constant, and now happening faster than ever before, thanks to information technology power doubling every two years. You can choose not to change, but you’ll be left behind. Survival isn’t mandatory.

I don’t have the silver bullet to guarantee your survival, but I will share some advice based on my experience at AT&T to help you and your content teams adapt and maybe even look forward to change.

Don’t Worry. Be Happy.

Full disclosure: I used to be a huge worrywart. I’d lose sleep thinking about all the permutations of how things could go wrong, or at the very least, not as planned. I probably nearly gave myself an ulcer on more than one occasion. While I could adapt to change, I didn’t do so without wasting precious time thinking about the negative possibilities.

Then one night a few years ago, I had an epiphany. I won’t bore you with the spiritual aspect of said epiphany. I also won’t tell you what made it happen, because I don’t have a clue. All I know is that suddenly something clicked and advice given to me many times over the years finally resonated. “Don’t worry about things you can’t control.” While easier said than done, there’s no doubt it’s one of the most sound pieces of advice I’ve ever been given – and it’s the foundation of my three-point philosophy on change.

  • Embrace change.
  • Look for opportunities.
  • Don’t worry about things you can’t control.

Let me explain how this philosophy helped me so it has the potential to help you.

Embracing Change + an Opportunistic Mindset

I started my career as a project manager and followed that with a role as a requirements analyst. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that my content leadership journey began. My boss at the time took a job in a new organization, leading a writing and implementation team as part of an internal creative agency. She asked if I was interested in trying something new. Because I was ready for a new challenge, and in the spirit of embracing change, I said absolutely!

On my new team, writing and implementation were part of the same role. My team was responsible for working with internal stakeholders to understand project requirements and writing content to fulfill those requirements. We were also responsible for publishing the content to staging and production environments.

To evolve our creative processes as the complexity of our CMS architecture increased, the decision was made to make the writing and implementation/publishing of the content two separate and distinct roles. We had several very strong leaders who were experts at implementation, but I saw an opportunity in a lack of leaders to fill the writing roles. I spoke with my team’s leadership about becoming part of the writing team, setting aside HTML and JavaScript for the time being. Within a short time, I progressed from a writer assigned to a few projects at a time to lead writer, responsible for overseeing projects for a small group of contracted content writers.

Seeing a Leadership Opportunity Emerge

After almost two years in the lead writer role and because of some organizational changes, another opportunity presented itself. We were doing some restructuring and created two distinct writing teams, one supporting all sales and merchandising projects and another writing for self-service and support efforts. Because my focus for the past four years had been services and support, I was a logical choice to lead the latter.

Fortunately for me, not only was there an opportunity to bring on some new talent, we also had some well-established writers on the team who were committed to providing the best experience possible for our customers. What still needed to be established were updated editorial and tone of voice guidelines, and workflow enhancements to increase our efficiency and improve our ability to impact the overall customer experience.

This reorganization coincided with a greater emphasis on agile development. Now that we had all services and support writers on one team, we could create subject matter expertise in parts of the customer journey, i.e. login and profile, billing, payments, overview, and support. This also provided for greater content consistency from project to sustainment, because we primarily had the same writers working projects and post-project maintenance requests. This resulted in fewer requests to prematurely overwrite content or add/edit content that was inconsistent with the broader experience.

Embracing More Change: Bringing B2C and B2B Together

The next major shift was the result of another reorganization, this time bringing together our B2C and B2B writing teams under the same leadership team. This allowed for a great partnership with my peers on the B2B side of our content team and increased collaboration across projects, impacting consumer and business customers alike. We made it a goal to improve consistency in content by kicking off a joint effort to revise and consolidate editorial guidelines.

This joining together of the two content teams also created an environment where we could leverage the size of the team to plan for strategic efforts, including training to prepare for the future of content. It also offered strength in numbers when we needed to push back on subjective content feedback.

Things We Can’t Control: The Winds of Change Blow Again

About a year after merging our B2C and B2B content teams, there was another smaller restructuring with a focus on marketing and merchandising. From a content perspective, it meant my team was now responsible for the customer journey outside of merchandising. A centralized design and content team with a laser focus on marketing our products and services was created, allowing for a core leadership group to provide better oversight of campaigns.

For us, it meant we needed to be increasingly diligent in reaching out across teams to ensure consistency in messaging for products and services, the marketing of which was handled outside of our team. It prompted us to revise processes for creative reviews, add more organizational diversity to our editorial board and related discussions, collaborate cross-team on legal and other reviews, and revise workflows for approvals. More than anything, we had to learn to communicate almost anew, ensuring that we included subject matter experts on new products and services created, discussed, and described mostly without our input.

While each pivot had its own challenges, this was the most significant to date in the amount of coordination, communication, and coaching required. Team members that we’d formed close work relationships with were now technically on another team, dealing with their own challenges. We provided support to the best of our ability, while also focusing on improving what we could outside of the upper funnel, such as building frameworks that accommodated merchandising and product education while also emphasizing self-service and support.

Current Status: Work in Progress

Organizationally, B2C and B2B are now two different business units. We still communicate with our B2B partners to maintain consistency where it makes sense, but our charter is consumer-only.

As a company, we’re also intensely focused on digital transformation. As far as our content team, we started our transformation a few pivots ago. Nearly every industry you can think of is being impacted by machine learning and artificial intelligence. Content creation isn’t unique in that it’s being disrupted, but we’re making our distinction by how we approach transformation.

Vast improvements in natural language processing capabilities, the increased need for personalized content, and the need for content beyond what we currently created required that we change how we think about – and create – content.

We partnered with Content Science and enrolled our content teams in the Content Science Academy, helping our team evolve from our existing content writing, editorial, and strategy roles to the content roles of the future: Content Designer, Content Analyst, Content Strategist, and Content Engineer.

We’re engaged in several pilot efforts to improve our content workflows through content modeling. As an organization and a content team, we’re more focused than ever on making decisions based on data, both qualitative and quantitative. We’re conducting more frequent A/B and multivariant tests to help validate content and design variations, and as a creative team, we are getting more involved in defining what it is that we test.

Additionally, we’re developing a unified content strategy to continue shifts to culture, processes, and content capability. As you’d expect, this is a partnership across many teams whose charters are omnichannel. It’s an opportunity to define a joint vision and outline the steps needed to get there. It will require us to change nearly every aspect of how we approach content creation today, from how we’re organized to the tools we use and the teams we partner closest with. We’re embracing change, not worrying about what we can’t control, and looking at disruption as an opportunity to improve and streamline.

Change is the Name of the Game

The stakes are high in this ever-changing environment. Companies are investing heavily in digital transformation, analytics, automation, and content. If you want to meet the needs of your customers, if you want to compete with competitors new and old, and if you want to thrive and survive, you must embrace change. You must be vigilant in looking for opportunities constant change brings.

Or don’t. Because survival isn’t mandatory.

The Author

Cory Bennett is a St. Louis-based digital and content strategist, and Associate Director – User Experience at AT&T. He’s been with AT&T for fifteen years in various roles and currently leads the Consumer Digital content team, a talented group of strategists, writers, and editors providing content across AT&T’s many digital properties.

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1 Comment on "Survival Isn’t Mandatory: Leading Content Teams During Change"

4 months 7 days ago

Great overview, Cory!


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