3 for and 3 against centralised content generation

Centralised content generation – or creating a hub for many publications to generate content – is on top of the agenda for many content generators. It’s been in operation for many years in some publishers for other functions and it’s time to take hard look at why it works and does not work.

Functional or brand specialisation?

In management speak centralised content generation creates functional specialisation: those doing the same function are collected together. The traditional option is product or brand specialisation: those working on the same brand are together.

 

The old way was brand specialisation, with its problems of costs; the new way is funcational specialisation, with its own problems
The old way was brand specialisation, with its problems of costs; the new way is funcational specialisation, with its own problems

Number 1: it’s cheaper

Here’s 3 reasons why centralised content generation works as a functional specialisation:

  • It costs less. This is the great driver. If you can pool content generation over many platforms and brands then the costs go down. We have seen that with content layout and other functions such as sub-editing of copy. And this can all be quantified, adding to the argument for it with hard numbers in cash.
  • It can be faster: better that one person writes the story and can put it in many different brands at the same time than many are working on it at their different speeds.
  • It can enforce corporate standards rather than brand standards.

These are the types of arguments which have led to Hearst Digital and others go for it.

Number 1: keep the voice of the brand clear

Here’s 3 reasons why central content generation does not work because brand specialisation is better:

  • No member of a hub, working over several brands, can get the right voice for their brand. Each brand has a position in its market, talking to its audiences over different media with its voice. Nobody on a hub can recreate these voices who is not in the day-to-day process of generating content for that audience with that voice. It therefore creates a mush of content, not a brand tone. Do you want to enforce corporate standards and a corporate voice rather than a brand voice? Few consumers of content – readers, listeners, viewers etc — consume because of the corporation behind them, they consume because of the voice.
  • Who prioritises the content the hub produces and for whom? Hubs are skill-specific organisations spread over many brands, called a matrix structure, serving different clients internally. The old way was to have a “silo” structure with people only generating content for their brand. The hub has been used in the past for website skills and has led to a lot of issues of who gets the best service. Is the best service given to those who have the best relationships with the hub or those who most need it? Content generation is a creative business which does not easily take to complex management, and matrix management is complex.
  • Where will responsibility be held for the content generated by the hub? Any legal, ethical or regulatory questions are focused on the brand. Could an editor of a brand say “it was the centralised content generators who produced that story and therefore not my responsibility?” They could say that, but legally they are personally responsible.

Hard reasons — money — versus soft reasons — voice

You can see that my 3 arguments against centralised content generation are longer than those for. This is because the 3 against rest on softer issues than the key issue of why centralised content creation is being introduced: money. It is hard to quantify the risks of getting the voice wrong, prioritisation issues and responsibility issues. But it is easy to see how much money can be saved. There is no real way to assess the risk of losing the voice of a brand but many ways to count the pennies saved. And there is too much pressure to save the pennies to stop this trend.

More coming

So content generators need to work around the weaknesses of centralised content generation. More on this soon.

 

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