This post provides a summary of what I’ve learned about managing the creative writing process whilst writing for the Tilix Blog and working on the development of several digital properties in the GB energy supply market. The topics covered are:
The key lesson I have found is that process and procedure does not stifle the creativity. In fact being organised helps produce quality content. This is somewhat like how the brakes on a car can help make driving at fast speed safe and comfortable.
Regardless of the type of content, Tilix uses a four stage workflow. This seems to work well for project managing most content creation jobs.
For larger teams each stage may follow a strict step by step process because input from a broader range of stakeholders (e.g. legal, PR, graphics) is required. However, for a small team the approach can be more fluid.
Regardless of whether the process is lightweight or heavyweight, content always moves forwards in an iterative and incremental manner. An agile, adaptive approach is necessary because there are invariably a number of obstacles and challenges to overcome before the content is ready to be published.
Content mapping is a visual technique that helps organise the content of a website. Content maps help in the exploration and visualisation of the content of a whole site. The process of mapping and the map itself are essential elements of professional content management.
The most basic content map is a bullet list. More sophisticated approaches include highly stylised mind maps or grid layouts.
Tilix has worked with a number of challenger suppliers in the GB Market advising them on their licence obligations and digital engineering imperatives. From this experience, we can see that the foundational content for most suppliers fits into the following basic map:
Tilix maintains a library of templates and style guidelines for the above content. The firm also tracks how a number of different suppliers treat each piece. I find it interesting to see the repeating patterns and diversity within the market.
Each item has its own particular facets. For example, complaints is a regulated process and will require much more rigour to produce than say the content for the careers page. The content creation process must provide a level of flexibility. We have found that the Tilix approach can consistently produce the right result, on time and to budget.
It’s normally the case that content is produced in batches or series. Here the editorial calendar plays a vital role in managing the creative process.
Editorial calendars have been used within the print industry for centuries to manage the publication of books, magazines, and newspapers. Internet publishers use them to organise content and ensure it is published at regular intervals.
It is possible to use a paper calendar, a spreadsheet, or software integrated with desktop publishing software. Whatever approach, it usually tracks story ideas and the production calendar as well as recording the history of published content.
Tilix uses Trello to manage content creation for our own blog and client projects. Thereby each member of the team has access to notes, documents and the schedule as well as a powerful communication channel with colleagues. This tool is particularly valuable in controlling progress of each piece on the editorial calendar and provides a convenient way of maintaining a holistic perspective.
Tilix chose Trello due to its cards and lists where information can be both stored and shared in a way that is accessible and informative to other members of a publication team. A Trello board has many different functions, including checklists, labels to colour coordinate each piece of information, due dates, attachments for documents linked to each card, and a members list, where each member of the team can see who is responsible for each card. Tilix uses Trello to queue work and track progress to completion through five lists on the board:
Info & Reference: The cards here help describe the process and provide stylistic guidance.
Backlog: This list captures future content ideas. For the Tilix blog, the backlog includes 3-4 months worth of content.
Queued: Content listed here has been assigned to an author. The brief and due date is agreed between the author and the editor (aka product owner).
Work In Progress: This list identifies all of the content currently being written. These pieces are shared via Dropbox and go through a peer review process before being prepared for publication. For the Tilix blog, the team strikes a careful balance between publishing too early and publishing too late. The general mantra on the Tilix blog is: if in doubt publish and be damned! For client websites, it is prudent to take a more careful approach.
Recently Done: Content listed here is published on the Tilix website. The Tilix team share comments on newly posted blogs through hypothes.is.
Tilix uses the fictional business ACME Energy as a narrative device to demonstrate the businesses processes, technology and content that are necessary for a licensed supply business to operate.
The screen shot above shows the editorial calendar for ACME Energy when it was just starting out. Get a hi-res version here.
The Trello board shows how the content is primed for production and work in progress is focussed on the Careers page. I look forward to publishing a series of blog posts which deep dive into these ACME Energy content items. This will include: