Adrie: Everyone in content knows the feeling of being less than happy with a piece of content that they've just made, but that feeling unfortunately doesn't always stop there. You might even feel it at a critical career juncture. Enter Perfectly Content, the podcast, I'm your host, Adrie Smith content strategist at Foleon.
In every episode, we'll be joined by a guest to explore a real life scenario where they tackle a content challenge and that nagging feeling of less than perfection, we'll hear about impactful content, stronger strategies, and more inspiring brands so that we can all become a little more perfect and more content.
Hey, everyone. Welcome to perfectly content. Really excited today to welcome Jonathan Davies from Happeo to the show, we've actually overlapped quite a lot. Professionally I've come to him with some challenges that I've faced in the past, and he's always had really. Insights and answers. I invited him here today because he works in a really interesting space, which is the intersection between content and internal comms.
I think most people who work in content have grappled with internal comms, assets and campaigns, so really excited to hear his insights. So welcome, Jonathan, if you could give us a quick introduction to what you do and your self.
Jonathan: Cool. Thanks for having me. I'm really excited to be here. So my name is Jonathan Davies.
I take care of communications and content and some product marketing stuff as well. At Happeo, I've been doing that for almost three years now. Been working in content and communications for a little bit over eight years now. And I just, I don't know. I really love what I do. I don't know how else to put it.
I think that a journey in contents has been an interesting one. And I think that this is one of those fields within marketing, where you really need to know your stuff. You know what I mean? I always used to joke that content marketers are marketers who know what they're actually talking about. Uh, yeah.
So no offense to any other marketer out there because you're amazing at what you do. No doubt, but we got to get down into that nitty gritty. So yeah, let's get fun, but I'm guessing that's where we'll end up anyway. So yeah, I'm just really excited to be here.
Adrie: yeah, of course. We'll happy to have you, so I know in your LinkedIn, you've had internal comms journalist as your title before, but your actual role is global communications, manager.
Could you explain a little bit about what you do at Happeo?
Jonathan: Yeah. So when I was hired at Happeo, oh, we, I think we were a little less than 30 people at the time and we're at around a hundred now. So that's changing quite a lot. When I joined, I basically joined us as the person to take care of content. Then it was a person to take care of growth and a person to take care of branding and creative aspect of it.
And they all sat under our CMO, Lydia, and obviously as your company grows, that changes and evolves. But one thing was very clear from the start is that back to Ayansu, our CEO is really passionate about releasing good content as a brand because he sees how important it is to make an impact in the market, but also to help prospects really understand what they can do with your product, but also within the industry, depending on which side of the funnel you're working in that type of stuff.
So I had a discussion with him and he basically said, look, I don't want to give you the title of like head of content or content writer or something, because you know, you're going to be talking to people all the time and, and. You know, much more important. So I want a title that will make people speak to you.
So I said, well, cool. You can give me the title of CEO. And for some strange reason, he thought that wasn't a great idea. So then we settled, I consider myself a journalist for Happeo, rather than a journalist for a newspaper or something along those lines. Right. It's kind of where that brand journalism idea came from.
I think some people tried to make that into a thing rather than being a content marketer, but I, yeah, that's, that's kind of how that came about.
Adrie: Well, it really positions you as an expert in internal communications. Right. But also somebody who's creating content.
Jonathan: Yeah. Which, you know, I think it's fair. I used to do internal comms myself.
It's just, you know, part of the whole spectrum of communications and marketing and that type of stuff. So. What I wanted to write, because those would have been the things that I really needed when I was doing the job back then. And then, yeah, I guess that communications aspects just always there, the journalism aspect makes sense.
There's always this big discussion going on in a world of content, right? Everything you need to put out needs to add value to the person who's reading or receiving the content, depending on the medium you're using. So approaching that as a journalism is a little bit more of a statement of, Hey, what we're putting out here has been filtered through several layers to ensure that what we're giving you is really valuable.
Adrie: Well, I totally buy into the concept of you having your content marketers actually be journalists, right? Actually talking with people who are experts on that topic as well as being an expert themselves.
Jonathan: And I also think that that is exactly what helps you form. Like a real vision on the target group, in the market that you're working in.
Right. If you're a content marketer and you're just putting up content so that you get found in Google versus. Really taking the time to put some thought into it, put some research into it, piece together, a whole bunch of sources that may be used really academic language when the people who could benefit from those sources, don't, you know, those types of things like that's kind of your job, right?
Do some desk research and pick out the interesting things from Mackenzie, Harvard business review, whatever, and then supplement that with quotes from people that actually work in the field and then put your own vision into that, create something unique out of it. And as you go. Your own vision becomes much more encompassing and way easier to communicate.
That's definitely my journey.
Adrie: Definitely a cool perspective on content marketing, and it's just a way of researching and a way of understanding your market. So let's dive into it. I know we briefly discussed a kind of problem that you see in this intersection of content and internal comms. We spoke about C-suites and stakeholders requesting internal comms contents, but that's not really strategic, so I won't get too far into it.
Let's hear it.
Jonathan: Well, to be honest, I think that the problem with an internal comms isn't that much different from what content marketers have faced in the past as well. It's just that content marketers, when you get to a higher level automatically to demands for you to have strategic ability become much, much higher.
So there's a little bit more maybe pressure to develop those. Versus internal communicators who just get overwhelmed with requests and never really get the time to kind of get there. So within content marketing, what I've noticed is that you're usually fighting to create balance between the story that the company wants you to tell and the value that it adds to the person receiving the content.
Right? So you've got to find that balance in between almost everything that you do. An internal comms kind of faces that same challenge. Depending on how it's positioned within the company. One of the biggest problems within internal comps not slam the main difference is that there's not always a very strategic approach to how we should do this.
And so that means that people can literally come to you say, Hey, I've got this article that I want to send. And maybe it's not great, but you don't have the tools to say no to that yet, because you want to be seen as helpful because you want to be seen as valuable and it's a logical instinct, right? It's an immediate way to show value to somebody.
So if you do something for them and they're happy with it, fantastic. It doesn't measure down it's business results. So it's. How you kind of create that vicious cycle of just pleasing stakeholders versus actually doing something that can have an impact on the company. And in order to get to that point, the missing link between where most people are within internal comms now versus where they want to be is really understanding how to develop a strong strategy.
That helps the business forward and not just the stakeholders who want you to send messages because internal communicators are not senders of messages. They should be at a higher level, more like business partners or facilitators, good communication. They should own that cultural. Aspect of the company, rather than for example, HR, which very much comes to the transactional part of the employee experience.
Right? So hiring, firing, onboarding that type of stuff, internal comms should be much more focused on culture. And that's also where that good old quote comes in. Culture eats strategy for breakfast. So we know that if, if really, really intelligent and well-researched people make these claims that there's an inherent business value to it.
So then how do you show that? And again, that's where that strategy part.
Adrie: All right. So I want to go back to something that you said at the very beginning, which is balancing the story versus what the company wants you to say or to create. And this is a challenge that I myself have experienced and I'm sure other people have as well.
I would just love to hear your experience with this particular issue.
Jonathan: Yeah. So when I did internal comms, Ran into this. A lot of the times, my problem with lists when it happened is okay. People come to request content. My gut says, it's nice that they're requesting something, but I don't see. The inherent value of it.
So for example, I had just created a kind of internet platform slash internal blog for a company that I used to work for. And we were really heavy on communicating our, our corporate values and aligning the stories that we were telling to those values so that people could understand it's not just a slogan, it's actually how we live it.
And then stakeholder would come in with just random requests that didn't necessarily. Add a whole bunch of value. My experience with that is that I was a little bit lost because I know inherently, this is not a good thing to do. I'm struggling to articulate why this is not a good thing to do beyond in my gut.
I don't feel that that's a great thing to do, and I don't have some sort of strategy behind it that I can show to this person requesting the article to say, Hey, listen. I might do something about it, but it's going to be low priority or I'm not going to do it because right now our priority is on this because of that strategy, which has been signed off by XYZ important stakeholders.
So there's no question about what the actual priority should be. Right. So when that happened is sometimes I would face the argument of, okay, now I'm trying to argue what my priorities should be. And maybe the person in charge of who requested articles from you was either the CEO or the VP of sales of that company CEO's and VP of.
They are great talkers. I am not going to out convince them. It's just impossible unless I really drilled down on those facts and I just didn't have those yet. And I think that that's the biggest difference in is really learning to articulate why things are a good or a bad idea, and actually developing the strategy that has sign off from important stakeholders.
So that there's acceptance around what is our priority or what is not.
Adrie: So you've already touched on a bit of the solution to. Yeah, balancing more of the story versus what your company actually wants you to say. And it obviously starts with strategy. I mean, that's also music to my ears, but going into a bit of the practical details around this, I do think that you need C-suite sign off on a lot of these things before you can even get started, or you need your stakeholders to trust.
How do you start generating that level of trust?
Jonathan: Yeah. Great question. So one of the best quotes I heard about getting leadership on your side, isn't that you don't get leadership on your side. You get a leader on your side and that leader can help you get more leaders on the side. And that's how you create that kind of snowball effect.
So depending on who you report to the first person within a leadership position is likely going to be the head of that department or somebody above that. So let's say that you're an internal communicator and you sit with an HR department, which is possible, the ones, the higher level of stakeholders that you could have easier access to would be the CHR.
Depending on your company, right? Or maybe there's just a VP of people and success, or however it is that you want to call it. So that's the person that at first tried to get, and I try to get there through, a person who is directly above me. So that could be a manager or director, depending on how well you're positioned.
So convince them that this is also a good thing for them to do, then get them to involve higher level leadership. Higher level leadership is convinced, and you can use their input to adjust your pitch on your strategy. Adjusted. Help them or get them to help you set up meetings with other people that you absolutely need on your side.
And that could be, I don't know, within internal comms that could very much be to CEO, but it's a long journey to get there, but it could also be people from adjacent departments that have a vested interest in it. So sometimes that could be marketing sometimes that could even be IT or operations.
Adrie: So then am I right to think that you really have to tailor your pitch for a team to really emphasize their interest in your cause?
Jonathan: Yeah. I mean, the pitch needs to be global enough so that everybody would understand it. So don't tailor it down to the point that you get lost in details. And, you know, for example, the chief of sales is not going to care about the it requirements of a platform. Communicating across. Right. So don't go that far, but yes, absolutely.
One of the most important things within any piece of marketing or sales that you do is the what's in it for them factor, right? It's always thinking about what do they get out of this? And if you don't articulate that, and if you just try to throw this kind of tailored or templated standard pitch to everyone, you're just not gonna get.
Adrie: Yeah. Then I'm curious, who was the hardest stakeholder for you to convince?
Jonathan: Ever? Ooh, uh, definitely at any company that would have been the CEO and particularly also to COOs because COOs are, are, tend to be very operational they're, you know, higher level of. People essentially. So they know everything about everything.
It's the amount of detailed knowledge that they have is crazy. So if you really want to pitch something to them, well, let's say a strategy for your content, or let's say a strategic approach to your internal communications. Then you really, really need to do your homework. And also anticipate in advance, which details they will try to argue around.
Like, that's one of the most important things that I learned when pitching to COO's and this might not be super relevant for people that do internal comms, but I've had this as a content marketer. One of the most important things I learned is. Put too much detail in the pitch that you're putting out there, because the more stuff that you put in there to more arguments, this person on the receiving end can develop.
So really get down to the core of it, trim the fats, flesh out the details when necessary, but that's usually when people ask questions, right. And that that's your opportunity to come back.
Adrie: Okay. So then if you're going to trim it down, what then would be the core of an internal comm strategy?
Jonathan: Okay. So the court run internal comms strategy.
It is, it should not be based around an internal comm strategy to be based around a business priority or a strategic initiative. Right. And most companies will announce this. Usually have to start up a year and they'll have, okay. These are our four key strategic initiatives for the year, and there's going to be at least one that is focused around something that has to do with people, culture, or transforming the way that we do business.
Right. And transforming the way that we do business could, for example, mean that you're positioning yourself in the market differently from how you used to, in order to do that successfully, your people also need to convey that message to. And clients, which means that you need to get them aligned.
Fantastic, perfect realm of messaging for an internal communicator, because the strategic priorities shifting the way that we do business. So maybe you want to position yourself as a premium service instead of a prize fighter. For example, Fantastic. Go for it, because then that strategic initiatives clearly tied to something that the company very much, once you're going to create a lot of messaging around, what does this mean?
How do we actually do it? Best practice, examples of people that did it, employee storytelling of people who are embracing this, or actually just went out in the field and repositioned themselves. And now won deals because of it, you basically choose a narrative and you start spotlighting content that blows that up instead of only making it yourself.
That's usually a great way to approach it.
Adrie: All right. So let's get into a few of the details in order for you to actually launch this kind of a campaign that's strategic and has content that's actually built for it. What actually needs to happen? What would you first start?
Jonathan: Well first. Okay. So find that strategic initiative that you can align your strategy to, right?
That can create a strategy that makes sense that has some measurable so that you can prove some sort of form of success within internal comms. That usually means you'll need to have some sort of analytics for whatever platform you're distributing your message across. So with content marketers, Google analytics is your friend.
Yay. With internal communicators, it's likely going to be a social internal. Some sorts. Right. But then secondly, what you really need to do is survey your people because that's the difference between content marketing and internal comms is that there aren't really conversion points in the same way, right?
You're not downloading a white paper, leaving your details. Then a sales guy ends up calling you and you end up buying the product because you're so amazed in an ideal world within internal comms. It's more like you introduce a topic of conversation that say you were sending a piece of top-down. People embrace that the conversation starts happening around it organically.
And you can start to see that in your analytics. Great. But now, which type of business results did that yield, what was the use of sending that message? So let's take our previous example of you want to position yourself in a market differently? One of the things that I would want to test is that if I sent out a message, is this message actually understood.
Can people use this in their daily decision-making process? The information that we as a company are feeding to them and a great way for doing that is surveying. Right. So just actually asking your people, Hey, so did this increase your understanding of, you can just simply do like a Likert scale type of thing or rate it from one to 10, whatever it is that you want to do, at least that way you have some sort of semblance of, Hey, what's what's going on.
When it comes to the actual content that you're putting out, that's the difficulty we have internal comms. It's going to depend on. The company that you work for. So that's internal columns, right? Your audience is different. Every time you go to a different company, some companies respond extremely well to videos.
Others might prefer blogs. Others want a mix of everything. For example, research has shown that people from the baby boomer generation vastly prefer email as a communication method. And if your company is literally full with people from that generation, then it would be a missed opportunity to not use the channel.
The problem is if you're communicating. In a way that you're trying to create a cultural shift. So again, that example of repositioning yourself in a market that also requires a cultural shift. You can't just say, here's what we are now. And people need to converse around that subject. You need to see which topics of conversation live with people.
What they're running into. And for that transparency is key and emails are just not transparant.
Adrie: Right, but just to go back to some of the formats, I think you've really touched on why multimedia campaigns across both internal comms and content strategies are really important in order to reach people and to convince somebody and to get your message across, you need to make sure that you are communicating in a format that they will understand.
That's why I think you really do need to break down your message across different formats so that you can reach people where they are. People just consume content very differently.
Jonathan: Yeah, no 100%. And I think that that's also where. Especially with an internal comms, the power of repurposing content really comes into, right.
So repetition is the key to success. We've been all forms of communication because people are just not going to get it after only one message a message can have multiple formats. Let's say that you did an internal podcast as an interview with your CEO and part of that internal podcasts and the interview that you did to be an excerpt of.
Here's the global message that we just want to put out almost like an internal press release. Cool. Great. That's one format. Then we've still got a, have the ability to link back to that podcast, but maybe also based on questions that were submitted in audience Q and a, before we recorded that podcast, you can actually interview a particular employee.
Why did that question come up? What happened there? And then spotlight that piece of content you can create snippets from that one thing and distributed over time. All of those things are possible. I think that that content marketers have known this for a long time. Content is really expensive to create in the form of time, in the form of resources, whatever.
So the more you can repurpose it, the better it is. And you know, one podcast is never just a podcast. One video is never just a video in one blog post should never be just one blog post. It has no power if it is.
Adrie: Right. So that's exactly it. If you only ever create that one video or one blog post that someone requested, you're never really going to make way towards an actual strategy.
So I guess what I'm asking at this point is what can you actually expect when you start to actually tackle this challenge? What are the key things that you need to do, or at least that made an impact for you?
Jonathan: Well, first off on a super useful clearing my calendar side, you have a, and I hate to use this stupid, tired, old metaphor, but still you have a stick to beat people with when they say, Hey, I want to send this message and you can actually refer to their strategy and say, this is not aligned.
So I might do it, but it's not going to be prioritized. So that's, that's a very practical use case. I bet that there are people listening to this that are struggling with it right now. The other one. Of course, and that's much more impactful and much, actually much more important for you your career and your role within the company is that you actually get to show some results that'll pertain to a business priority.
Right? So again, if we take. Cultural shifts, you know, the shifting your positioning, that type of stuff. If the messages that you're sending are being received really well, and it's increasing the understanding of the initiative that the company has put out, EG positioning yourself as a premium service instead of a prize fighter.
Fantastic. Then you can actually show our people now much better understand what it is that we want to accomplish as a business. And as a result in their day-to-day decision-making process, the things that they're doing are much more aligned with what we want them to do. What's the result of being much more aligned, less wasted work.
In other words, our people are more productive because of our initiative and the company will care about that. So that's the difference, right? The difference between this I'm talking about, Hey, our campaign led to our people becoming more productive. They have a better understanding of what, the direction of the business and where they want to go.
And because of this, we'll be able to grow faster or cheaper episodes, faster, whatever it is. Versus I sent out a message. It got a hundred likes. Those are two complete worlds apart. And that's the biggest difference between understanding strategy and how to use it on just doing something for.
Adrie: Yeah, it's interesting.
Well that you bring that up, that it is just a bit more rewarding to be able to link your work to the overall business success. I think that's definitely going to be more rewarding as an individual.
Jonathan: I mean, you know, it, look, it's also rewarding to have somebody say, Hey, thanks for polishing this message for me.
I appreciate it. But. You know, that's like a short term dopamine spike right there. Fantastic. You've achieved something. And in a week's time, nobody's going to remember it. And the key to sustainable success is to actually develop something that has an impact on the overall business, rather than an impact on a particular, maybe important, but still just one stakeholder.
Adrie: And I think this lesson really extends across content. You don't necessarily have to be working on internal comm stuff. I think the difference here is really transforming yourself from an order taker to really a consultant and an expert in what you do.
Jonathan: Yeah. I think that if I look at what I do at Happeo now is I frequently get pulled into late stage conversation.
Prospects by my sales colleagues, because they want me to come in and consult them on how to form their internal comms strategy, specific to what it is that they're doing. And that's not something that I've seen a lot of content marketers. Do, you know? I've heard people say that. You know, some tech companies would call a value consultant, for example, and to be honest for us, it makes complete sense to do that because I've been working with the strategy from day one.
I've been putting it out there, I've been developing it. And because of, I can show chunks of results rather than individual ones. That means that my company starts to trust me. That means that my company starts to involve me in much more important things. Just that one blog post, which can still be really important because maybe it's a really massive statement that you want to make, but it's impact is always going to be limited.
And for the longevity of your own career, who wants to make the most impact possible wherever you can.
Adrie: Yeah, totally agree. I mean, there's nothing that you can disagree with there, at least in my opinion. So my last question for you personally, what has been one thing that's really impacted. Either your career in content or the way that you see content and why?
Jonathan: One of the things that to me was most. Valuable and challenging to work on was a maturity model for our industry. And I'm not necessarily a big believer of maturity models that, you know, end up in one stage and then that's it. Yeah. We've, we've reached utopia. It should be kind of this cyclical journey, you know, Kaizen principle, I want to constantly improve, but making that maturity model really shed light on how powerful content can be for the entire business when it's done well.
So a it's a great piece of external content. People who are in the top funnel can see it and understand which stage they are and what they need to do to get to the next stage B. It can help your customer success departments to take clients from situation a to situation C and clearly showing what situation B is to get there.
It can help salespeople. A narrative around what it is that you're doing. And I mean, theoretically could even help your story towards investors or how you differentiate from the competition or something along those lines. So I think that was the most rewarding piece that I, I worked on because I could see just how much, or how useful that was to our company and to the people that are fans of the brand.
So it was really, yeah, I'd say that. Sure.
Adrie: Well, thank you so much for joining me here today Jonathan.
Jonathan: My pleasure. Thanks for having me. It was really fun.