6 crucial boxes to tick when looking for a content production partner

04 Jul 2017

6 crucial boxes to tick when looking for a content production partner

You’ve set out an ambitious content creation plan that’s going to give you a search rankings surge and boost your conversion rates. The C-suite are on board in theory, and you’ve only one thing left to handle: finding a stellar content production partner.

To meet this need, brands are typically either struggling along with a limited in-house team – with all of the accompanying challenges around expensive fixed costs, lack of capacity, team fatigue and churn – or seeking an outsourced partner to boost their capabilities.

But with every agency, marketplace and collective claiming to ‘do content’, it’s difficult to separate the actual specialists from the pretenders – especially when their pricing appears competitive. However, if you want to choose a content production partner that will deliver what you’re looking for the first time, rather than an option which ultimately proves to be a false economy, these are the 6 key differentiators to look out for.

1. A scalable approach to briefing

Russian nested dolls, also known as matryoshka , are used metaphorically, as a design paradigm, known as the "matryoshka principle" or "nested doll principle". Producing high-quality content at speed and scale requires a sizeable team, which raises the issue of maintaining consistency of output when tens – or potentially even hundreds – of different content creators are involved.

A seasoned content production partner will insist on building scalability into the foundations of the project brief – interrogating the requirements to ensure all the tenets of the brief are clear, practical and unambiguous, for easy application by hundreds of writers and editors.

Your content production partner must delve into your brand guidelines, distill the key points and explain how to represent them linguistically. If they don’t, consistency is impossible to achieve at high volume – resulting in increased delays, amends and rewrites.

2. Rigorous testing before production

Plenty of our clients have horror stories of receiving huge volumes of useless content, which they have to invest hours into getting fixed. That’s why it’s essential to stress-test the brief before starting production on large batches of content. This is what we call a sample phase: a smaller run of pieces that represent a cross-section of the overall project (i.e. are on different topics, content types or languages).

The output of the sample phase ensures all stakeholders are on the same page from the start. For example, does your definition of ‘wit’ match that of your content production partner? Is there anything that you originally asked for, but on reflection no longer want? Was anything missed during brief development? Investing sufficient time in ironing out these points at the early stages enables speed and scale, and is critical to the overall success of a project.

3. Investment in training

Creating a robust, technical brief is a crucial step, but not enough on its own to guarantee success. Trusting your team to reliably implement the brief – on every piece, in every batch – requires training. Otherwise, you’ll rack up extra time and cost by adding in excessive review steps at each stage of the production process.

Training dozens of content creators spread across time zones, languages and cultures to replicate your brief perfectly is no mean feat. At Quill, we test content creators for their suitability against a brief prior to production, then deliver comprehensive training and ongoing feedback throughout the life of the project, to combat fatigue and maintain consistent quality standards.

Make sure your content production partner can explain, in detail, how they can guarantee every person working on your project has the same understanding of your brand and brief.

4. Editing and quality control

English language practiceFirst things first: if a content partner doesn’t incorporate an editing layer in their production process, don’t use them. And if their editing layer is described as just ‘proofing’, again, don’t use them. They might catch typos, but they’re unlikely to bother fixing more integral issues like jarring tone of voice flaws, filler content or – for localisation – inaccurate translations.

If they do offer a more comprehensive editing layer, ask what happens before this stage. At Quill, we have implemented a review step in which the editor can request amends from the writer (if needed) prior to editing – ensuring that the editor is not rewriting the content, and enabling the writer to address issues and improve their craft.

According to Dr Tom Stafford, a psychologist at the University of Sheffield, “Our own typos are hard to spot because we know what we meant to write, and so this gets in the way of seeing what we actually did write.” So if editors are having to rewrite work, they’re probably not able to do their job properly – which ultimately impacts the quality of work received by you, the client.

5. Full freelancer management

Freelancer marketplaces have their appeal, offering easy access to a pool of talent you can turn on and off as needed. Such marketplaces – or, indeed, an in-house freelancer – might be a suitable option if you’re producing a blog or two per month, but when you need to produce hundreds of product descriptions or guides each month, it’s likely that you’ll need a freelance content creator team of at least 30.

It’s at this tipping point that management overheads start to shoot up and you need (minimum) one full-time head just to co-ordinate the freelancers. As content volumes increase, this requirement for management resource only increases – and for most businesses, this is an unsustainable drain.

It’s therefore important not to underestimate the resources, time and cost associated with freelancer management. A quality content production partner takes this operational challenge off your hands, using a combination of technology (automated workflows) and freelancer-specific management techniques to drive efficiency and create economies of scale. They should take total responsibility for finding, training, coordinating and maintaining quality in the team.

6. True content specialism

The best content production partners are experts in exactly that: producing exceptional content that has a tangible impact on your P&L. They don’t claim to be pros on social media, PPC, brand strategy, or any other mix of marketing tactics that suggest they’re a jack of all trades and master of none.

Instead, they have invested in developing internal processes – and, critically, enabling technology – that allows them to deliver thousands of pieces of content in short timeframes, without compromising quality, attention to detail or consistency. The Quill Cloud platform (our proprietary technology) is designed to remove the friction from high-volume content production, by eliminating inefficient, error-prone manual processes and introducing automated workflows, freelancer management and quality controls.

When looking for a new content production partner – or weighing up whether to keep production in-house – all of the above should be crucial boxes to tick if you want your strategy to deliver maximum ROI for your business (and keep the C-suite happy).

faviconQuill was purpose-built by Ed Bussey, a former CMO of figleaves.com – one of the UK’s first pure-play internet retailers, to solve the exact problem you’re facing right now. We’ve spent years focusing purely on how to produce high-quality content, at scale and speed, for retailers who know that good content is the difference between surviving and thriving, and who care about how their brand is reflected at every stage of the purchase journey.

With hundreds of freelancers delivering work for over 170 brands, at an accuracy rate of 99%, we like to think that focus has paid off. If you’d like to have a chat about your needs and find out how we can support you, please fill out the form below to request a call-back.

Kit Gilbert @ Quill ContentOperations Director @ Quill.

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