Promoting, Safeguarding, and Selling Your Writing Team’s Value
Editor’s Note: This was the feature article in this month’s TechCom Manager newsletter, reprinted here with permission. Click the previous link to subscribe to the newsletter.
by Kerri Barber
Typically, a technical-writing department is staffed by some of the most highly competent writers available. As a manager, you know the value your staff brings to the organization. You take pride in being valued contributors with an innate ability to get to the nitty-gritty details of complex product information and service offerings–all while saving time and operating costs. You know that your team helps make your business run efficiently and effectively. But can you prove all this?
Unless you are continually touting the value your team brings to an organization, you are likely to find yourself repeatedly left out of decision-making aspects of project management. It doesn’t take a tough economy to create the right environment for your staff to become victims to layoffs or outsourcing. As a manger, your role is to develop an internal marketing plan that helps protect your team and promotes your team’s value within the organization.
Any marketing professional will tell you that the goal of advertising copy largely includes elements to educate, inspire, and activate. You need to be advertising your contributions in the same way within your organization. There are many ways to help prove the value of your organization specific to your industry, but I will outline a few tactics using a marketing model approach to help you get the positive collaboration you deserve.
Educate Your Organization
It is imperative that you are able to effectively educate decision makers within your organization about the complete service portfolio your team offers. This can be particularly important if your team is staffed with technical writers who also have developed project- management and content-management experience. Perhaps you also have talented presentation designers or graphics artists whose skills are not widely known outside of your department. Professionals with related but diverse skills increase the opportunity to promote cross-functional value that may not have been recognized or effectively showcased in other projects.
Meet regularly with each of your team members to assess where their interests are and if they have been developing skills outside of the company through volunteer work or other projects. If you are able to leverage their external interests into projects within your organization, you gain the added benefit of employee engagement in a high job satisfaction measure that goes beyond the normal routine. In the long run, these efforts help boost your management potential and reputation within the company, plus help provide a climate conducive to getting the best efforts from your staff.
After you have identified the complete scope of work your team is capable of managing, you will have a better picture of the value proposition you can present in your marketing efforts.
- Begin making a simple list of the skills and abilities you are willing to offer to help in your advertising efforts.
- If your organization is using SharePoint or other internal applications, consider developing a skills and talent wiki and/or an Intranet site from which to showcase your team members and the value they provide to the organization.
Inspire Decision Makers
Decision makers usually have two characteristics in common:
- They have limited time.
- They focus on the bottom line.
You will need to cater to both of these in your internal marketing strategy. An effective way to do so is by targeting areas where your team can help create efficiency expressed through costs savings in an ROI (Return On Investment) approach.
ROI will be a key indicator of proving your value. The most basic example is in the call center service operations model. Megan Burns, Moira Dorsey, and Angela Beckers explored this model on behalf of Forrester Research in a report titled, Need To Cut Costs? Improve The Web Site Experience. Using an analysis of companies employing call centers for customer support and the costs of running each call, they found that improving content on a service web site as well as the written content provided to call center agents reduced costs measurably while increasing overall customer satisfaction1.
Their findings indicate a staggering opportunity to reduce costs by allowing customers to manage services issues themselves using easily accessible and improved web content for technical support, rather than having to call the service center for every issue.
“Our research shows that average call center costs are $5.50 per call, and we’ve seen that numbers go as high as $50 per contact. In contrast, a conservative estimate of the average cost per Web self-service transaction is $0.10. If your call center costs are that high, deflecting even 10,000 calls can produce almost $500,000 savings annually…”
The best part of using this ROI model approach is that the entire program can be represented in a simple cost/value chart that communicates, at a glance, the bottom-line value that good writing brings to a critical business function.
The research also offers advice for those looking to incrementally tackle big projects like the venture they studied. For example, if you partner with the call center manager to identify topics that require the longest service calls, you may discover a savings opportunity hidden in a simple editing project.
“The first secret of customer experience ROI is that a small change to a big number is still a big number. For large firms, even a 1% to 2% change in call volumes can translate into a huge number of actual calls and thus a very large cost savings.”
Highlighting the success of projects like this can inspire key decision makers to find ways to partner with your team in order to uncover cost savings within their own departments. You may even consider scheduling time with division leaders to help them identify areas where your team can have a big impact. If you behave like you lead a team of problem-solvers while highlighting your team’s strengths, you will be recognized as more than just another team of contributors within the organization.
It’s not enough to have your business partners think highly of you as a professional. You want them to NEED you in the planning process!
Believe it or not, there are managers out there who still think technical writing is just a mere function within a process flow to complete a project. On occasion, you may have noticed that writing assignments have been tasked to marketing teams under the assumption that one good writer can manage just about any different aspect of business writing.
To help change the way your team is perceived, begin to highlight the intrinsic value you have in cross-functional engagement. A prime example is the scope of your work which entails managing diverse function in a collaborative approach. Your relationships across the enterprise and ability to leverage them highlight your strength to division leaders who value a team that can facilitate efficiency throughout the organization.
Libby Craver, a technical writer with Written Designs in Nashville, TN, expresses this value in her post on Write Now (Feb 2011) as a unique skill inherent to technical writing groups.
“We must stop thinking about simply authoring content and start thinking about how we help to convey technical information throughout the organization. This is where our real value lies. Many people can write these days. We as technical communicators set ourselves apart by understanding how to bring the various pieces, parts and people together to craft documentation that facilitates learning at every level.”
In the same way that advertising campaigns rely on an emotional push to help get a consumer past the consideration stage and into the ‘needs and desires’ stage, illustrate how you can help others begin to realize greater benefits by bringing your team’s assets into the project earlier. Show them how placing you in a stronger leadership and consulting role lends itself to helping to promote collaboration, savings and a smoother process flow. Emulate the tactics of effective advertising and you will prompt your business partners to seek you out for communication advice.
Sell, Sell, Sell
After you have begun to codify the way you think about your team’s role within an organization, you can then begin to effectively sell this concept to others. Some activities to consider include:
- Present your team’s contributions and highlights at internal education initiatives like an informal Lunch and Learn program.
- Host a virtual open house using your internal web site.
- Solicit input from upper management on how to better promote your team.
- Engage your marketing contacts to help craft a solid message that you can distribute in company newsletters or email blasts.
- Invite key business contacts to lunch and/or schedule exploratory meetings with them.
Precede each meeting with a visual aid. For example, highlight your team’s successes and abilities through a one-page, interoffice teaser ad. Visual collateral is always a very effective tool to keep your capabilities in mind following a presentation.
Test the landing page to ensure it is working effectively. Think about how you want to “sell” the person entering this page. If someone walked into your store and you knew what they wanted, you would direct them to exactly what they need. Do the same thing with email. Make the offer clear and effective on the landing page, too. Your conversions should soar.
Your goal is to take every opportunity to convince your colleagues that your team plays an integral role in the overall success of your organization’s projects. If you continue to repeat the message and drive value through measurable performance, you will be successful in changing perceptions within your organizations. This change will not only significantly raise the visibility and capabilities of your team, but also reduce the ongoing risk of layoffs and outsourcing.
- December 1, 2008 ©2008, Forrester Research, Inc. Reproduction Prohibited
- Write Now Blog, Liby Craver, Wednesday, February 23, 2011
About the Author
Kerri Barber is a freelance Interactive Communications Specialist and Marketing Consultant working in the Chicago area. Kerri has served as a key member of the Public Relations and Communications team at such Fortune 500 companies as NCR Corporations in Duluth, GA and Baxter Healthcare Corporation in Deerfield, IL. Her clients span the globe and range from midsize businesses looking to gain a greater market share to large companies seeking to better communicate and engage diverse teams. Kerri also coordinates and conducts training programs to improve client services, conflict resolution, and process-improvement techniques. Kerri has completed studies in Phi Theta Kappa’s Leadership Development with Ohio Senator Tom Roberts, and has served as Communication Chair of the Professional Resource Council in Dayton, OH. Currently, she serves on the Board of Directors for a non-profit children’s advocacy group and is a member of her parish Communications Committee assisting with digital communication and Web engagement for the home-bound.