Dave Pelland Writing and Editing
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Insights on Content Production and Marketing

Posts in Content Production
Timing Your Conference Thought Leadership

It's common for services firms to launch thought leadership initiatives at industry conferences and, on the surface, that idea makes sense. Your clients and prospects, the industry press, regulators and other people you’re targeting or engaging with are in the same hotel (or at least the same city), so releasing thought leadership at the event can be a good way to attract attention.

But the traditional benefits of thought leadership -- building or enhancing relationships by providing a reason for your professions to reach out, along with highlighting your insights and expertise -- can be diluted if you release that content during a busy industry conference.

Just as you’re targeting your audience and the media during the event, so are your industry peers. You’re going to face a lot of competition for conference attendees’ attention as they are hit with a deluge of thought leadership, meetings, hallway conversations and social events on top of the conference program itself.

Instead, it's more effective to design the production schedule so your content is ready to release about 10 days to two weeks before a conference launches. That’s still close enough to the conference that you can leverage your content during the event, but it allows your prospects and clients, as well as key reporters, to access the content before they’re slammed with conference activities.

Ideally, your content should launch the week before the week before a key conference. Most attendees are busy the week before an event clearing the decks before they travel, so targeting the week before then allows you to get their attention and set the tone for your conversations at the conference.

If you’re releasing a whitepaper via PDF, for instance, your audience will have time to read it before they leave or while they’re traveling. Your professionals will have deeper conversations about your content and insights than if you hand them a paper during the event, and your content will be in the marketplace while your competitors are scrambling to have their publication ready for the event.

You’ll also gain more time to produce related content, such as videos, podcast interviews and social media posts -- to extend your message’s shelf life during and after the conference.

Releasing your thought leadership before an industry event allows you to gain the benefits of capturing your audience’s attention and participating in the conference’s conversations while reducing the risk of your insights being lost in a swarm of competing content.

Creating a Strong Version Control Process

One of the common frustrations with collaborative content projects is a breakdown in version control - a problem caused by three members of a project team revising the third draft of a document while someone else is making further revisions to the second draft.

This challenge can be difficult to avoid without coordination of the drafts and, in many cases, manual comparisons of drafts to unify everyone's edits.

Effective version control is like a sports referee - it's most effective when you don't notice it. The people contributing to the project see drafts flowing back and forth smoothly, and may not realize or understand the work that's involved in coordinating the drafts and making sure that everybody's working on the latest version.

The most common cause of version control problems comes when members of a thought leadership project team -- say, subject matter experts at a services firm, marketing professionals and an outside writer -- are swapping drafts of Word documents via email.

Those subject matter experts, whose insights are critical to the document's content, are contributing to the project in addition to their regular duties. In a lot of cases, they're working on a document while traveling or in a hotel room, so it's easy for them to disrupt the smooth flow of edits and drafts accidentally.

Let's say Sally, Rick and Steve are consultants collaborating on a whitepaper. They each receive a draft on a Monday from their marketing professional, Bob. That evening, Sally sends edits to the rest of the team. Rick then makes further edits to Sally's revisions, while Steve sends some changes to the unrevised draft.

Now Bob, or the writer supporting Bob, has to blend these changes -- most likely into Sally's draft -- to create a new version.

Interesting variations on this theme include Rick submitting untracked changes to a Word document, or Steve sending edits to half of the document on Monday night with a promise to send more changes later in the week.

Process Over Technology

Technology can help improve the version control challenge in some circumstances. Large engineering or law firms, for instance, that depend on people collaborating on multiple iterations of files, often use document management software that allows one person to edit a document while locking out edits from other team members. This preserves everyone's edits in one document so they're easy to review and discuss.

On a more basic level, firms can use online word processing tools such as Google Docs to enable collaborative, real-time, editing of one document that can later be exported into another tool for layout.

This approach can streamline the overall process, once people get past the somewhat unsettling effect of seeing someone else make changes to a document on their screens.

But some firms don't allow access to online word processing tools, or the firm may rely on swapping Word files out of habit. When you're trading Word files, you need a process to help mitigate the risk of people losing control of who's doing what and which draft they should be doing it in.

File naming conventions, such as some using the "save as" command to add their initials and the date to a draft as they edit it, can be helpful -- but you can't assume people are going to remember or apply those standards. Some will, but you'll also get files back with the same name you sent out.

Instead, it's helpful at the start of a project to talk about how you'll be exchanging drafts. Looking back at the consultants we mentioned earlier, it's more effective for each subject matter expert to send their changes to the marketing professional for integration, instead of to everyone.

The marketing professional can then integrate the suggestions, highlight any comments or questions, and circulate a new draft.

Define Coordination Roles

Probably the most effective way to reduce the risk of version control confusion is designating someone to coordinate which versions are being circulated and keeping track of which version is the latest. This can be a confusing job, but someone is going to have to do it.

If you're a marketing professional who's working strictly with internal resources, you're probably the best person to handle that role. If you've engaged a contract writer to provide editorial assistance, feel free to outsource the version control coordination to them while you maintain overall project management responsibility.

If you're the outside writer, congratulations -- you've just picked up a role. Perhaps the best way to think of this contribution is as a value-add service that you're providing to your clients. It's potentially a pain, but it saves a ton of confusion and allows your client's professionals to focus on what they know and do best.

Regardless of who is coordinating those changes, it's important to accept or reject the edits, add any comments or questions, and send a new version that's as clean as possible. Sending tracked changes to two or three versions of the same document results in a colorful mess that's all but impossible to decipher.

If worse comes to worst, you can use Word's "compare document" feature to examine everyone's submissions against a master version, then combine those into what then becomes the latest working draft.

It's not ideal to have to resort to this feature, though, when a well-defined process for revising and sharing your edits can reduce the risk of version control problems derailing, or at least delaying, your thought leadership initiatives.