Creating content in uncertain times

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Here’s how our content creators are adapting to work in a constantly changing world.

Constantina Demos and Georgia Lejeune

There’s no denying we’re living through unprecedented times during the COVID-19 pandemic. As many of us are finding new and innovative ways to work from home, stay connected with friends and family and keep both physically and mentally healthy, brands are also trying to understand the role they play with consumers and how best to approach communicating with them.

As a typically creative bunch, our editors at Hardie Grant Media have needed to draw on every idea, skill and problem-solving device they have to adapt content to a constantly changing media landscape. Find out how our editorial teams have adapted to the changing needs of their individual clients and continue to create quality content from the comfort of their own homes.

Sophie Knox, managing editor of Health Agenda, on creating COVID-19 content…

As a private health insurer, HCF has been directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Planning content for the organisation’s triannual member magazine, Health Agenda, has proven a challenge, because Sophie and the team have had to deviate from their usual strategy so they can produce content that is directly linked to COVID-19.

They have avoided publishing content around distracting and entertaining people throughout the crisis, and are instead facing the situation head on, producing engaging content with a COVID-19 lens in both print and digital, while still remaining on brand and interesting to the consumer. “Our aim is to communicate which providers and programs are available to members,” says Sophie. “We focus on sharing the information members need to maintain good health (telehealth services) and physical health (working out of home), and also on the value of maintaining private health insurance in this climate (extra at-home services).”

As expected, writing about anything COVID-19 requires many interviews with experts, who have been hard to lock down. To overcome this issue, Sophie has reached out to experts that she would not usually approach for commentary. This has not only benefited the content but has also expanded her network.

Sourcing imagery is another issue Sophie has had to overcome. With social distancing rules in place, photo shoots are no longer allowed. “We’ve had to be creative with imagery,” says Sophie. “We’ve had to think about the next best way to capture the essence of our profile subject without that bespoke resource for the client.” With the help of her team Sophie has been deep-diving into image libraries, contacting left-of-field resources to find the shots they need and relying more on commissioning illustrations to continue to provide the client and consumer with engaging and original content.

Georgia Lejeune, editor of Zoos Victoria and managing editor of Flourish, on being flexible in a constantly changing world…

One thing has become clear to Georgia while working during the COVID-19 period – the only constant is change.

“It’s hard to create timely content when the situation is changing so rapidly every day,” she says. “At the moment brands really need to be flexible with all of the content they’re creating.”

For Georgia this means that editorial plans can be turned on their head at the last minute. As a content creator, it’s her role to find creative and positive solutions to the problems that lockdown has created.

For Zoos Victoria, Georgia is adapting the print magazine to live on a digital platform, which allows her to have more scope for the editorial plan than she would have had in a print format. “It means we can play around with embedding video content and linking to supporting articles and downloadable links,” says Georgia.

When dealing with a constantly changing environment, content must also be evergreen so that it remains relevant during and after COVID-19. Georgia acknowledges that information regarding the pandemic may be relevant today but not in a month’s time. Encouraging clients to produce content that is interesting, entertaining and potentially great for escapism is what’s important. “For my clients, creating content that is specific to COVID-19 doesn’t work at the moment”, says Georgia. “People are stuck inside and want something to do/read and we need to create enjoyable content that is relevant now and into the future.” However, brands still need to be careful that whatever they are promoting or talking about remains within social distancing and isolation parameters.

When creating content with longevity, Georgia has also found that the content has to work harder across more than one platform. “Where there was a focus on print before, we now need to come up with strategies that will keep consumers engaged online,” says Georgia, who is finding adapting to an ever-changing world more normal every day.

Jo Davy, managing editor of The Journal and Australian Educator, on tapping into audience needs during uncertainty…

“Both my clients are member organisations with fairly niche interests, but what they have in common with each other (and the rest of the population) is uncertainty around what their lives will look like tomorrow, next month and well into the future,” says Jo. 

The initial impact, for Jo’s two main clients (The Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance and the Australian Education Union), was to develop a communication strategy quite different from the original plan. “In the early stages of the crisis, we revised the content plan for issue two of the Journal, changing the angle for stories to make them timelier, and commissioning new stories addressing the impact of the crisis on specific insurance faculties,” says Jo. What was once a printed magazine has now pivoted to an online version. Jo and the team are also now producing digital stories for the organisation’s online Members Centre to help address short-term member needs.  

“All this uncertainty has forced me to think of content not in terms of what we want to say, but how we can be adding value for the reader during this time,” she says. 

Work on Australian Educator has also been a challenge. Educators across states and territories have been thrown into the deep end, continuing the education of millions of children through remote learning – something they have not been formally trained to do. “From a production perspective,” says Jo, “this proved challenging as the rollout of remote learning following school holidays left us only a couple of days to interview subjects and write the stories before deadline.”

Although this period of uncertainty has dramatically changed the way we produce content, it has allowed editors to home in on the raison d'être of the editorial they’re creating. In Jo’s case, it’s helped her ask some important questions about how the audience will benefit from articles during this period and into the future. “Is it answering a question? Providing them with an escape? Preparing them for what comes next? It’s a question that I’ll be asking with every piece of content I commission or create going forward.”

Constantina Demos, editor of The Star, on re-evaluating brand messaging…

The Star Entertainment Group’s revenue is based entirely on foot traffic. Since that isn’t possible right now, Constantina has had to completely re-evaluate the brand’s editorial content and strategy. “Initially we were printing an in-room/on-site guide for The Star, as well as 10 digital pieces a month. Now we’ve gone completely digital,” she says.

Her client has shifted its focus from bringing customers in to sharing and strengthening the brand’s profile. The Star is trying to use this time – when it has a captive audience at home – to profile chefs and demonstrate varied offerings. “We’re producing 15 digital articles for them a month, plus social posts, eDMs and videos,” Constantina explains. “We’re no longer focusing on offers, events and venues, but instead on building chefs’ profiles and staying in consumers’ minds so they’re ready when the venues reopen.”

Constantina has found that an openness to change is especially important during this time of uncertainty for clients. Holding tightly onto ideas and enforcing an outdated editorial strategy doesn’t help clients or editors to achieve their common goal – providing relevant and targeted content for the audience. “We’re so used to working to deadlines that have been set months ahead, instead we’re having to change work we’ve already started to suit the needs of the client.”

Constantina has found the physical distance from subjects particularly difficult to navigate. “Trying to get someone to film in the way we’d like them to with no prior digital experience is tricky, and so is drawing out the subjects’ personalities on camera. Some have no media experience so we’re working with each subject individually to help train them,” she says.

Although the process hasn’t been straightforward, Constantina has gained skills that she can carry into her normal working life. “I think I’ve become a much more flexible worker. Digital has given me the opportunity to be more flexible and still meet deadlines when creating quality content.”

Interviews by Constantina Demos, assistant editor, and Georgia Lejeune, managing editor 

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