Calling all marketing people who work with content people, and all content people who work with marketing people

Update: I wrote this post and survey with last year’s CS Forum in mind, but this year I’m bringing this talk to Confab Central in June! Between now and then I’d love as many contributions as I can get.

If you work in marketing, or with content, you can tell me all about it and help me with a cool thing I’m doing. Please?

Awesome news: I’m speakingI spoke at CS Forum in Melbourne, this October! last year! I’m I was really stoked to be in the line-up again after four years, and only slightly intimidated by the company I‘mwas in.

Even awesomer, this June I’ll be at Confab Central with the latest version of the same talk, which is called Content people and marketing people: It’s complicated. The idea came from the way I’ve worked as a content guy in three companies, each with very different ways of structuring their marketing and content/digital functions, but none of which seem ideal.1 Is this relationship destined to be painful, or are there ways to make it work? I want to ask around, find out, and tell a big roomful of people all about it.

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Talking Author Experience with the guy who wrote the book about it

When I first met Rick Yagodich in 2012, we got talking over lunch about his ideal CMS. I may have been slightly hampered by a karaoke-related hangover at the time (thanks, CS Forum), but as Rick raced through his incredibly detailed plans for keeping information in its context, for putting references and cross-references at the forefront of information management, and for pushing content presentation way down the list of jobs a CMS does, I realised that this needed more than a chat over a meal to explain. “He should write this down,” I thought. “Maybe then I could keep up.”

One very simple idea was at the heart of things, though, and that was to make the job of authoring and maintaining content as simple as possible. The actual experience of being an author hasn’t been taken seriously enough, which causes a lot of common problems with content. That was something else that I though Rick should write down.

Two years later, bingo. Author Experience: Bridging the gap between people and technology in content management lays out all this and more. My copy arrived this week, but by then I’d already read a draft version (and found myself mentioned in a footnote. Mum! I’m in print!).

I’d also chatted with Rick about introducing AX to the enterprise. Like most of the larger problems we content people face (or imagine ourselves facing – this was very much a theoretical discussion), a lot of it came down to interpersonal stuff, and politics, and money.
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One thing we all know about workflow: No-one knows enough about what’s going on

It takes a team of people with a range of skills and knowledge to create our web content. The way we work together and organise the tasks that go into creating content is, in sum, “workflow”. Approvals, stakeholder engagement, work-tracking and getting feedback on draft content are all aspects of workflow.

Problem is, there’s a standard form of workflow – the sign-off process – that makes it difficult to collaborate properly with all the people who contribute to making great web content. Continue reading

The value of work, or Telling idiots how to do simple things

This is the first post I’m sharing from my “500 words” experiment earlier this year. I wrote the original version early on April 10th. I’ve since changed jobs.

What I do is pretty easy, really. Sometimes I say that my job is telling idiots how to do simple things, which is mean and wrong, but like all good self-depreciating lines contains a small but important truth.

“My job is <lie>telling idiots</lie>how to do <truthgrain>simple things</truthgrain>”

Everyone else in the office knows a whole lot of stuff that I don’t. I depend on them to do all that “other stuff” that isn’t my job, and which I can’t do. They’re not idiots, and I don’t tell them what to do.

What does feel true, to me at least, is the “simple things” bit. It feels like my work is pretty straightforward stuff, which means I’m a good match for the role I have. It feels like I’m just doing really obvious stuff that anyone could do. It’s difficult to imagine that other people rely on me to do that “other stuff” that isn’t their job, and which they can’t do.

Simple things are only simple because I know how to approach them. I struggle to see that, objectively, my job isn’t simple. I forget that most people couldn’t turn up and just start doing what I do. And then I end up believing the “idiots” bit, which is bad.

Simple things

I don’t make great things the likes of which the world has never seen before. I’m not labouring at the intersection of inspiration and genius. I’m doing shit like editing things and trying to structure a lot of information in a useful way. Even if what I do seems obvious to me, I’m “adding value” without changing the world.

Sometimes I add value (that’s the last time I use that cliché, I promise) by doing things that aren’t obvious to other people. I do stuff that they wouldn’t have thought of themselves. Hell, that’s why they pay me – because not everyone can do it. This carries the related but opposite risks of arrogance (“look at me improving your shit without even trying!”) and forgetting my own value (“no, don’t thank me; all I did was make some really simple changes”).

As far as this next point is concerned, it doesn’t actually matter whether I’m mentally magnifying or minimising what I bring to my team. What can happen next is that I fall into the trap of undervaluing the people by judging them on their ability to do my job. How weird is that? Oh, empathy, you elusive bitch.

Judging my workmates on the wrong criteria like this can, if unchecked, lead to me thinking that I’m the smartest guy in the room. This is bad for my easily-inflated ego, bad for my motivation and bad for the way I behave. It’s also bad for the work I do. If I’m pretty sure that I’m the best one around, I’m not going try so hard to impress anyone else.

So I guess that the point of this is to remind myself to value other people in the right way, not the wrong way.

Or maybe it’s that I should get smarter, get better at things, and start doing work that doesn’t leave me kind of unimpressed with my own abilities. I’m not smart or skilled enough at anything yet, but that would be pretty damn cool.

But that sounds like effort, and maybe I don’t know what I want to be good at. Maybe because I don’t really appreciate what I’m already good at, this might be a rabbit hole without an end. Or a rabbit.

I’ll keep thinking.

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This is 594 words long, with an average reading grade of 7.3.

The “500 words” thing

In March this year I tried to get into a new habit. The idea was to start every day by writing something about 500 words long – not checking email, not reading anything, but writing. Creating.

It didn’t matter what I wrote about, so long as I did it. These pieces weren’t for anyone else to read. Sometimes work came up, though, and sometimes I might even have been onto something when it did. I’ve been re-reading some of my older “500 words” pieces and decided that maybe they’re worth sharing. So over the next few weeks I’ll dig a few them out, dust them off, give them a bit of an edit (I am not a morning person: typos and poor prose abound), and post them here. I’ll tag them all “500 words”.

So far:

Web accessibility: Because even if your company doesn’t want to, it has to

Web accessibility is self-evidently a good thing. The more people who can access and understand your content, the better, right? But that doesn’t mean that getting people to come on “the accessibility journey” with you is always easy. It sounds difficult, the pay-off isn’t always easy to imagine, and for some people it seems like a touchy-feely way to make your website somehow less sparkly. These excuses are all wrong, but that doesn’t mean no-one believes them.

Some people you just can’t turn into a massive champion of accessibility. Sorry. Some people don’t particularly care – they just want to get stuff online in the most painless way possible. If you’ve exhausted your friendly options, the next logical step is therefore increase the pain that inaccessible content causes them.

In the corporate world there’s at least a chance that your company already has a policy that supports accessibility, even if no-one’s really following it. Invisible policies are easy to ignore, but by drawing attention to your company’s own rules you make it harder for people to force through bad, inaccessible content.

The request: Publish an inaccessible PDF. Now.

I’m settling back into professional life in New Zealand and I still don’t know the web industry’s regulatory background too well. So today I decided to look into it from the point of view of a web content guy who works at a bank here. (Not a huge stretch, admittedly, since I’m a web content guy for an Aussie bank, but they say you should write about what you know.) Taking a common problem, how would I deal with a request to publish an inaccessible PDF?

Let’s assume that the job is urgent, the stakeholder powerful, and the content difficult to extract into any other format. In short, doing things the nice way isn’t an option today. When the way of the carrot fails, one must know how to wield a stick. In this case, what can you do? WCAG 2.0 isn’t a binding piece of legislation, and the best-known national standards only apply to governmental websites.

Digging out a reason to say “no”

Luckily, banks have already made the exact stakeholder-beating stick that we need – it’s just not immediately obvious. Here’s the trail I managed to piece together solely from public websites. For a big, established industry it’s not unusual.

Companies, as part of an industry group, have made a broad promise

I started with the banks themselves.

BNZ’s “Supporting communities” page has a section about “Making banking accessible to everyone” (link updated 14/10/2016, quote updated 24/2/2017), which says in part:

Together with the New Zealand Bankers’ Association and other New Zealand banks, we’ve supported the introduction of voluntary guidelines to meet the needs of elderly and disabled customers.

[Emphasis added. You’ll see why soon.]

Westpac is similar:

We’ve also worked in cooperation with other New Zealand banks and the NZBA to back the introduction of customer service guidelines for our elderly and disabled customers.

Like the others, Kiwibank’s Code of Banking Responsibility tells us that they’re going to follow the NZBA’s lead:

To help ensure we meet our obligations to New Zealand, Kiwibank has signed up to the Code of Banking Practice, which sets out best industry practice and what banks will do for customers.

Worringly, I couldn’t find anything on ASB or ANZ’s websites about this sort of thing (unless you count ANZ’s Australian site, but in this case I don’t). But, just like the others, they’re members of the NZ Bankers’ Association (NZBA), so they’re not off the hook.

Still, all we have are “support”, “best industry practice” and “guidelines” for serving people with a disability. This isn’t much use if you want a solid reason to send a PDF back to where it came from. We need details.

Follow the trail back to the industry group

The NZBA guidelines that our banks “support” and “back” start with the Code of Banking Practice. The code’s introduction, paragraph 1.2c, says:

We will recognise the needs of elderly and disabled Customers to have access to banking services and we will use our reasonable endeavours to enhance access to those services for these Customers.

This broad commitment is better, but we need to know what “reasonable endeavours” we have to take. Is it reasonable to hold back a lump of inaccessible content? Helpfully, the appendix clarifies that “reasonable endeavours”:

Means necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed…to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others.

Now we’re getting somewhere, especially with that “necessary […] modification” and “equal basis” stuff. But if we’re composing a strongly-worded response to a company senior we still need more.

The industry relies on existing standards

By creating guidelines for the way they should do things, industries are often trying to avoid direct government regulation. This means that “voluntary” guidelines are often written in the style of legislation – strong, detailed and official-sounding.

In this case, unsurprisingly, the Bankers’ Association hasn’t come up with its own web standards. Instead the Voluntary Guidelines to Assist Banks to Meet the Needs of Older and Disabled Customers, paragraph 5.10 [edited below] commits banks to:

consider…use of W3C web accessibility best practice standard, and the accessibility-related New Zealand e-government web standards and recommendations.

We’re getting close to our slam dunk here.

The “New Zealand e-government standards” have been renamed the New Zealand Government Web Standards. The “Technical” section of these standards requires us to aim for WCAG 2.0 success criteria AA, and also adds a few NZ-specific standards (known as the ‘New Zealand layer’).

In the case of the PDF problem, the New Zealand layer is directly on our side, too: “You may publish your document in any format only if you provide an accessible alternative.”

The lesson: What sounds like an empty corporate crap is a lot more than that

This all began with a watery-sounding start along the lines of “support for the introduction of customer service guidelines for elderly and disabled customers”. That’s not exactly a convincing line to quote back at a forceful, disinterested stakeholder. But by following a path through a few dense documents we’ve ended up on incredibly solid ground – an explicit commitment to WCAG 2.0.

This electronic paper trail tells us that all the major banks in this country have all promised to aim for AA compliance with WCAG 2.0. Even though the accessibility statements on their own websites can seem weak (or aren’t even there to start with), a little bit of digging gives us web professionals some very staunch support when we push for accessibility.

So the message to our difficult stakeholder isn’t “we’d rather not publish this document, because some people won’t be able to read it”. Instead it’s “we’re bound by NZBA standards as well as national and international web requirements. All of these things prevent us from publishing this document”.

This is all public. If you don’t do the right thing, someone else will

Everything linked and quoted above is out there on the web. If you don’t make a stand for accessibility and keep your company in line with the promises it’s made, you can expect that one day your customers will pull you up instead. And they’ll have much less reason to be nice and polite (not to mention non-litigious) when they do.


Disclosure: I work for the National Australia Bank (NAB). BNZ is part of the NAB Group, and for a few months now I’ve been working alongside (but not with, or for) some of BNZ’s web team. The example of a grumpy stakeholder pushing an inaccessible PDF is, despite its incredibly realistic appearance, fictional.