Overcoming Silos to Get Content Approval [Podcast Episode]

Amanda Milligan
By Amanda Milligan
May 5, 2020

When you need approval for something that involves a lot of department, you may need to find a way to break through the siloed structure.

 

via GIPHY

Laurel Miltner, director of digital strategy at Orbit Media, explains how she navigated these barriers and got the content buy-in she was looking for.

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In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Tips for getting content strategy approval across silos
  • How to align different departments for cohesive messaging development
  • How to articulate the type of feedback you want from a colleague
  • How to use data/testing to find the right solution among varying opinions
  • The role and importance of a project manager 

Related resources/links:

Transcription:

Amanda: This week I'm very pleased to welcome Laurel Miltner, the Director of Digital Strategy at Orbit media to the show. Welcome.

Laurel: Hello. Thanks for having me.

Amanda: Of course. Thank you so much for taking the time. Well, I'm really excited about this conversation because it's going to cover the topic of silos. Something I think is pretty common at a lot of, especially bigger organizations, where different departments operate, well too independently, and don't really know what's going on across the company, which can lead to some struggles, especially if you need cross departmental approval. So, let's just dive in right in. And I want to start by asking you. Well, first of all, I know you work at Orbit Media now, but when we've spoken before, you talked a little bit about your past experience. And I think you're going to recall a lot of that for this discussion as well. So, do you want to talk a little bit about your career history?

Laurel: Sure. So, I've been in the industry since like 2006 or so, and I have mostly focused on being on the agency side of the house. I was with a marketing agency in Cleveland, Ohio for about seven years to begin my career. And then I took a break to go to the client side or the corporate side for the last six years or so before I joined Orbit about six months ago. And in that time, I was working with J-lo, which is a commercial real estate company that is global. It was very out of my wheelhouse when I started there, because it is huge, and I was coming from an agency of about 10, but I really wanted to explore what it felt like to work through red tape. It was one of my biggest drives, to go on the client side and just understand how decisions are actually made there, and then how you work through them, and where strategies work and where they don't, and why great ideas sometimes fall through the cracks. So, we will probably be talking a bit about that today. And I feel like gaining that experience has just made my ability to consult better now that I am back on the agency side, you know, so much richer and just has such a better level of understanding of what the inner workings of our clients really look like.

Amanda: Yeah, and imagine that being in that situation, and having to get those approvals yourself was extremely insightful. 

Laurel: Yeah. 

Amanda: And this could be based on your own personal experience, or what you've heard, but what do you think are the most typical silos, organizations, which departments do you think are the most separated? Or what do you think listeners are dealing with most commonly?

Laurel: Yeah, I mean, it really varies by company size, right? But I think it's the very least in marketing, we've always got like marketing and sales, you've often got different parts of the business that are operating a little bit independently. So, whether you're focused on a particular geography, or you're focused on products versus services, or maybe B2B clients versus B2C clients, enterprise clients versus smaller clients, different industries that you may be targeting. I think almost any size organization, even smaller ones, to some degree, you're going to run into some level of issue of just, you know, even if there's people operating more independently, just to bootstrap and get things done, you might not always be communicating as effectively. So, I think, yes, it certainly comes down to silos, and it comes down to different budgets and different goals and different strategies and different P&L's, but the biggest way to get through all of that in my experience is focus and collaborative communication.

Amanda: So, I think the word silo kind of has a negative connotation mostly because it does prohibit some of that communication a lot of the time, if there's not. Some kind of a process set up where people can be talking about what's going on and the kind of approvals they need. Are there any other downsides to that kind of, even if it's an accidental structure?

Laurel: Oh, I would say, one of the biggest things I've seen is inefficiency in work. There have been multiple times in my experience throughout my career where you find out someone's doing something very similar to somebody else, or you're working on something that already exists, but it was on a shelf from three years ago, and you don't have the institutional knowledge to know that it's there, dig it out. So, I think the biggest thing is inefficiency. And then that leads to lost costs, largely from a human resource perspective, which, unfortunately, is sometimes the most difficult to quantify, but can have huge effects. And you can have, I think, massive returns if you can, think through and break down the siloed approach through a more collaborative content strategy,

Amanda: Right. And the reason why I really was looking forward to doing this episode is because I think all of these topics really on this podcast can be frustrating for people when they're--So, I feel like it's always hitting a little bit of a nerve when people listen to this, like, yes, I know, it's what we deal with every day. And I'm excited to hear from you, what I love to do is kind of how people walk through, times they've experienced something similar, and how they faced it. And what they did to, even if a lot of the times there isn't just like a clear-cut solution. It's not like you just figure it all out magically. And everyone's on the same page, but I'd love to hear an example of a time when you had maybe a content strategy or an idea that needed to face this structure of silos, maybe needed to get approval or Buy-in or had people contribute across a company. What was that experience like for you?

Laurel: Sure. So, I would say one big one was, I spent about a year and a half or so of my last couple of years at J.L.L, working on a global website redesign and redevelopment project, which also included a complete overhaul of our content strategy. And kind of the way we wanted to structure the website and speak to the audience and approach the content. So, we had to talk to everybody. Like I said, it's a large organization, it's extremely well established. And sitting on the digital marketing team, which is where I was in the team that I lead. It was one of the areas where we actually did get insight and coordination and collaboration across the entire organization, because there weren't typically digital specific marketers across the organization. So, we had folks coming to myself and to my team to bring their ideas or messages or strategies to life online.

So, when we were redoing the sites, we had to talk with everyone really across the organization about how we want to talk about this. And one thing that we were doing was because it's such a segmented organization, and there are so many service areas that really do kind of operate independently and a lot of cases, we wanted to take the message off a level and speak to the audience needs versus the services that we provide, which meant that in some cases, a page would be talking about three or five or even 10, what we would consider internally like distinct service lines, but we can all really come together to provide a solution for a client need or for a client project. So, that was one case where it just like I said, it required, you know, we had lots of phone conversations, and because it's a global company conversations at weird times for some people, but we started at the beginning, we started at, you know, what are the core kind of values that you have, in your part of the organization? What are the core benefits that you provide the clients?

And as we started to see those come to fruition and realize how much similarity there was, and that there were similar talking points and similar themes that we could weave together, it provided an environment where we were able to get people on the same page and get people to give us approvals. At some point in a large project like that you kind of need to say, tell us if something's inaccurate, versus if there's something that you just personally have, like objection to. But, you know, again, through collaboration and honest, open discussion, and you have several layers of discussion we got there.

Amanda: I'm glad you mentioned that because I think that's something that people skip doing a lot. And I've heard this even just like every day personal life with like asking people for advice, or if you're just like sharing information, like prefacing it with this is my objective like, this is what I'm actually intended to do by telling you this information. And this is what I want out of it. And I'm glad you mentioned that and workplace setting because it's like, it's hard, just as human being we want to contribute. And we want to say how we feel about something, especially when it's related to our jobs and we want people to say, we just need factual approval on this, rather than tell me everything you think about what we've achieved so far, can go a long way,

Laurel: Especially for yes, I completely agree with you. And especially for website copywriting. There are the nuances that a lot of more traditional professionals and even marketers may not understand just regarding, like optimization and SEO. So, the language that a company or its people may use internally sometimes doesn't really translate to what people are searching for online. So, that's one area where I think when we have these kinds of discussions, we can lean in on our expertise to explain why we're seeing something the way that we are, but then also making sure that we're not losing the brand voice or the way that the sales folks will communicate about that with the audience, but finding a creative and clever way to combine those two things. So, we are able to get in front of the audience when they're searching for something, but also have a consistent message that will follow that customer throughout their journey once they do get to the place where they're making a phone call or getting an email follow up for something that they've acted upon on the site. 

Amanda: How does that actually play out practically like, I'm sure you kind of had an idea that people wouldn't necessarily understand inherently if they don't work in SEO, why things were worded a certain way. So, is it a matter of like, having that conversation upfront, like talking about what your perspective was? Or did that come later? Like, how did that discussion unfold?

Laurel: Yeah, I mean, this is a discussion I have every day with all of my clients, and it's one that I've had probably throughout my entire career, since I started doing optimize copywriting, like way back in the day. You know, I think a lot of it comes down to the data. I am a very data driven marketer; I think because we have that at our fingertips it can help tell your story. But there's also the reality of emotion that goes behind and goes with any content that's being created for, like you said, for your part of the business or for your job, you know? So yes, I think it's having that part of the conversation upfront and explaining what it is that you're bringing to the table and like, why you're the person that's kind of corralling the team to do this, and what the goals are of the content or the site or the page or whatever it is that you're working on. And then, certainly there are times that you make compromise this. But I would say that at those times, being clear about what the decision was and why and maybe what the other options were, and then using data to prove if the final decision was the right one, or if maybe it's worth testing, you know, A/B testing or multivariate testing is a great way to help make a case if there are varying opinions and find the right solution. 

And then, I would also say, there is even, if you're working with folks that aren't as digitally savvy, it's very common to come across people who are searching for themselves online, they're going to Google and they're trying to find themselves. And when they can't find themselves, that's when you can kind of bring that conversation back to the beginning and explain, you know, here's where we were talking about X, Y, and Z. And this is the reason we're doing these different things. And, in some cases, we've done things where we create like two landing pages, one for kind of how the business talks about things and what they might be searching. And when we approach it more from an audience perspective, and either test them against each other, or just kind of let them live together for different use cases. And that's fine, it's just about I think, being creative to find the right solution. If you do run into consistent challenges and getting the results that you're looking for.

Amanda: I love so many things and what you just said, I love, just like leaning on the data to make the case for you. Testing it out, like you said, having different landing pages. I also love what you said about providing options, rather than necessarily leaving something open ended. So, instead of saying like, there's a bajillion way we can do this. Let's talk about them all, coming to it from, this is what our team has provided with our expertise, a few options and why we went with one over the other, I think really helps get people on board rather than thinking about just the generalities. And then the fact that you say you have this conversation every day because it really highlights, just this isn't like a woman thing. It's part of your job, like it's part of every marketer’s job. It's the way we think, it's not the way that almost anybody else in the organization thinks and it can be a pain sometimes, but it really is something that we have to do kind of indefinitely and using these strategies, though, that you're talking about can make it much more seamless and efficient I would think,

Laurel: I think so. And, I think it's always important to start with the goal, right? If we know what we're trying to achieve, as we set out to accomplish something, then it's very easy to measure your success against that, if you're trying to get people to get to your website and take a desired action, know what that is, and what that looks like, before you start putting pen to paper or doing that virtually. Because then, you will know, if you are meeting what you set out to achieve, and if you're not, then that's when you can shift strategy and have the more difficult discussions or have the more data driven discussions to make the changes that you need to see, to do your job, to meet your goals.

Amanda: I want to backtrack a little bit just to kind of sum up what you're talking about, because I want to frame it in terms of the challenges that you face. So, it sounds like one of those challenges was having people all look at it from the same perspective, like instead of thinking of it on the service basis, or maybe what they personally are working on. The fact that you framed it as, let's think of our audience personas, let's think of the people that we're speaking to, and rally around those things, and you start to see those commonalities. Does that sound correct that that was kind of your solution to that problem, where you just basically reframed the whole thing for people. And it was easier to get the buy in that way? 

Laurel: Absolutely. 

Amanda: Were there any other challenges you face when it came to get a bunch of people at an organization on board with something? 

Laurel: I mean, so many.

Amanda: Okay, we could do a five-episode series.

Laurel: I really think you kind of hit the nail on the head earlier when you just said, it's these people's livelihoods, right. No one is wrong in this discussion. And people do what they do because they're expert at it. So, when there are different opinions or different approaches, no one's wrong in that discussion, it's just about how you come together to do what you need to do for the audience. And sometimes because especially, you know, at large organizations or organizations that create a lot of content, that stuff can just get really unwieldly. So, you have to look at ways to collaborate and kind of make compromises or find collaborative solutions versus putting all of the things out there and creating an environment that just gets really messy and really unwieldy and really difficult for your audience to find what they're looking for. So, at some point to me it's like a business necessity of getting people around a table or a virtual table to figure out what we're trying to achieve collectively, and how we each have a voice on that.

Amanda: So, if somebody was about to encounter this kind of a situation, maybe it's their first time or maybe they've done it a million times, but they've struggled with it. They're about to go into a project that's going to need a lot of people to be involved. What advice would you give them in terms of like, literally what that looks like? So, is it that you need to set up meetings with people? It sounded like you had done it interviews with people in a way to get a sense of where they're coming from and what they are going to care about. So, like, do you have any advice to them as to what they should do right now to better set them up for that success?

Laurel: Yeah, I tend to approach things where you want to get Buy-in across the board before having like the giant meetings. So, maybe that is a kickoff with everybody initially, or maybe it's individual conversations with people just to make sure that they all are on the team, they get what we're trying to do. Again, I think, coming together around your objectives and your goals, first and foremost. So, you always have something to anchor back to, is really crucial for finding success. And then, I think one thing I've learned throughout my career is that having a solid project manager or at least a project management approach, is extremely valuable in just making sure that conversations are done thoughtfully, they're led positively, they are well documented, you're recording things, you're taking good notes, you're sharing those notes, and any key decisions are clearly documented. When you have a lot of people in the room, it's really easy to forget exactly what was said or exactly what was decided and why. 

So, having a way, whether that's a human partner or like you figure it out yourself or just a way to get all those things in writing or on a recording. So, that when someone says, why did we go this way, or I thought we were doing this? You have something to go back to, that's where I think I've personally at sometimes gotten really spun up, and you lose time and you lose momentum, and you can lose a little bit of like, faith in the process without those tools. 

Amanda: That makes a lot of sense I think. So, I'm going to ask you something and it's because I've experienced it in my past organizations. Does it feel like you're choosing your battles? So, like sometimes like it's almost inevitable, you're going to get pushback from somebody multiple times. But you know what, you know, when do you decide to go to bat for something? And when do you decide to acquiesce?

Laurel: Oh, I think it's just a case by case scenario. I mean, absolutely, you're always going to have to pick your battles. I think there was one time that decision was made that I very strongly disagreed with, about kind of an overall content strategy for our website. And I remember my leadership had said, this is the decision. And I said, I am going on record right now to tell you that I think this is the wrong decision. I don't want to get into the details, but I made my case, it was decided like way above my paygrade, that that was not the way we wanted to go. I said, I am going to do with what we have decided, but I think this is a terrible idea. And then unfortunately that thing went forward, we did find out that it was a poor decision and we had some back tracking to do. But it was very easy to get back on track because we've had the discussions about why we went one direction, why maybe I thought we maybe should have gone a different direction. And then we had some of the work done to go in the direction we ended up pedaling back to. So, we're able to get back on track pretty quickly.

Amanda: That speaks to your point about keeping track of everything and keeping tabs on all those ideas. It's really interesting to see that play out. How did you deal with that frustration of seeing that happen?

Laurel: It was just one of those things that I think that sometimes you just have to shrug your shoulders and say, all right, well, that's the way it is. Anything you deal with in life you're going to run up against roadblocks or obstacles or just things that don't go your way and that's okay. I was really happy that we were able to explore other options later in the game and I was very glad that I had stood up for a thing that I believed in, because when we realized that that's the direction we needed to go, I think the folks that I was working with, were able to understand my passion for the direction that we wanted to put into them too. And they trusted me at that point to do it.

Amanda: Yeah. And I can definitely imagine that you felt like you do what you could, right? You voiced your opinion, you didn't just stay quiet about it, knowing that it might even be overruled, but you did your job. And I would assume that would kind of help you feel a little better about the situation.

Laurel: Totally. And I mean, it's not, again, I don't think it's about anyone being right or wrong. There are a lot of opinions, and there are a lot of different ways to approach things. My passion is to do what I think is best for the people that we're trying to serve. And so, for me that's the audience of either the business I'm working for or the client that I'm working with. And really give them the best experience possible and be empathetic and be thoughtful about what they're looking for and why they're in a place and what they need there. 

So, if I can keep that as my own personal anchor, then that helps me navigate anytime there is a discussion that goes in a different direction or a time that I need to decide, is this the time to make a stand or a time to say, let's do your thing and see what happens. Or let's do my thing and see what happens. I'm wrong plenty of times, I don't want it to come across like that's not the case. But again, having your anchor of why you're doing what you're doing, what you're hoping to get out of it, and then testing the results. And being able to iterate and improve and change and test. That's like one of the greatest things about working on the internet. You know, it's a website, it's not a book. So--

Amanda: I'm going to show you things on the fly.

Laurel: Yeah, you can make changes and you can test things and you can see how somethings sticks. And you can fix it if it doesn't stick the way you want it to. 

Amanda: Right. So, the question I asked at the end of every episode is, what do you think are the biggest mistakes people make when they go to get Buy-in for a content initiative?

Laurel: To me, I would say in my experience, it's not having goals, you've got to have a reason to do something, and you've got to be able to showcase what you expect to get out of it. And as far as you can take that to the ROI discussion, I think it's really valuable. And that doesn't always have to be clear dollars and cents, sometimes that's really challenging. Sometimes, you're working with sales teams that don't use the CRM super well, or the platforms aren't connected, and you lose line of sight. But even just doing some back of the napkin math around available target market or search volumes for things that you're trying to target and what that could correlate to and then what that could turn into from a business perspective. That in my experience has always really helped make the case for, we're setting out to achieve this and here's as close as we can tell you, is what we think that this will in fact achieve for you, if you put some faith in us. And here's also like, kind of what we'll do to test and iterate and improve, If we don't hit the mark, initially.

Amanda: Yeah, that's an interesting point. Like, it's not just, okay, we either hit these metrics or we don't. It's how we evolve once we get this first batch of insight. 

Laurel: Yeah. And I've also found a lot of success in chunking things out, especially if you've got like one of those big ideas. What's the first like minimum viable product that we can release? And get out into the wild and start testing and playing with to then make the larger investment on top of it or expand that pilot.

Amanda: Yeah, I love that. So, Laurel, knowing the goal of this show, do you have any recommendations for who should be guests on future episodes?

Laurel: Oh, my. That's a great question. Let me give that some thought and get back to you.

Amanda: Sounds good. I love asking you that, because I just get to hear about people I've never heard about, you know, and then what they're doing. So, I always ask all my guests to see if they know anybody. But thank you so much for taking the time and sharing your insight and being on the show. It was a pleasure.

Laurel: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

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