News & Views

The fine art of planning spontaneously

As my colleague Arjun Kashyap aptly noted not long ago, it’s the time of the year when everyone’s busy making plans for the next one, and content calendars are a big part of that. These plans will be exhaustively discussed, carefully constructed, subject to rigorous reviews. And when 2020 finally comes, more than a few will be abandoned completely when the real world stubbornly refuses to cooperate.

That may sound cynical, but years of bitter newsroom experience have shown us it’s true. The best-laid plans to publish a wealth of insights on, say, navigating the trade war can be laid to waste if a certain global leader suddenly declares a trade peace with a barrage of grammatically suspect tweets, or (even more likely) a completely unexpected, utterly unrelated matter suddenly becomes the thing everyone wants to talk about.

Recent discussions with some of our clients have underlined how the inherent fragility of content plans is the cause of much hand-wringing. If you’re aiming (as you should) to publish on topics that are fresh and attract a high degree of interest, you’re in effect chasing a constantly moving target. When change is relentless and the news cycle is more like a news torrent, planning out what you’re going to say or argue months in advance can seem a little, well, silly. After all, an idea for a research report or video explainer that seemed bold or prescient when it was first vetted can be rendered obsolete overnight.

Plans may be tricky, shifting things,  but the only thing worse than a dated content plan is no plan at all. Rather than abandoning calendars altogether, we tend to argue for a change in approach, based on the following principles:

*Calendars are living documents – We all know change is constant, yet there’s still a tendency to finalise calendars at the beginning of the year and consider them etched in stone.

It’s important to view content plans as constant works in progress, and to set aside some time each month to review and update them based on the latest assessments of external realities and internal priorities, as well as any recent lessons learned. This helps pinpoint trouble spots and ensure your blueprint is a basis for continuous learning and strategy, rather than a relic from a distant time that ends up hobbling the organisation by forcing it into actions that no longer fit.

*Base plans on broader trends, not the ‘news’. As 2019 draws to a close, stock markets are on a tear, commercial property in Hong Kong looks like a questionable investment and the US and China seem tantalisingly close to a ‘phase 1’ trade deal. Factoring any of these ‘truths’ into content plans for the first quarter would be a very risky proposition, since precisely the opposite might be true a few weeks (never mind months) from now.

One can, however, predict with some confidence that well into next year it will still be difficult for investors to extract value out of the stock markets; that there will be fundamental questions about the future of Hong Kong’s economic model; and that the US-China economic rivalry will shift to new fronts. Tying content plans to the broader macro themes or forces behind the day to day developments, rather than current realities or expected outcomes, can help ensure they remain relevant for a long time to come.

*Analysis is (generally) more valuable than reportage. Designing a content calendar primarily for speed and keeping clients up to date is also rarely the right way to go. A commercial enterprise, no matter how nimble, is never going to be able to match the pace of traditional or social media when it comes to informing people about the latest happenings in fast-changing spaces like fintech or fiscal policy. The best thing to do is accept that, and build in time to create considered analysis that helps an audience cut through the noise – of which there’s an excess these days – and grasp the real significance or broader implications of a news development.

Let’s say there’s a change to China’s accounting regime that’s all but certain to kick in on a certain date. When that day comes, you could rush out a rapid-fire article that basically re-announces a reform that everyone knew was coming … and add to the pile of articles (and tweets, and posts, and e-mail alerts) doing precisely the same thing. But an in-depth commentary or podcast discussion that examines the likely implications of that reform for the most affected sectors, even if it’s published a couple of weeks later, would have a much higher chance of standing out, and fostering dialogue and engagement.

To sum up, content is not a race; nor is it a volume game. What decision-makers (and everyone else) crave now is insight, rather than simply more information in an environment that’s already saturated with it. Content calendars that reflect this are not only more likely to survive the year intact – they also have a higher chance of creating genuine impact.

 

 

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