How to Manage Your Content Designers

by LISA O

If you don’t have a professional background in content, managing those ‘word people’ can be an often frustrating and rocky road. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your relationship.

Happy managing!

Avoid dictation

When their work doesn’t fulfill project goals, avoid leading your feedback with, “What about saying it this way…” This is the equivalent of dictating code to a programmer line by line. It’s deflating for content designers and belittles the whole reason of why they exist.

Instead, aim for a reset.

Restate the project goals and purpose of their work, and what the end result will look like to the customer. This will help broaden their thinking , allowing them to get out of weeds and soak in the bigger vision.

And have some flexibility on first drafts, which are rarely ever viewed as final versions. Content designers are always, always prepared for multiple rounds of word tweaking based on feedback they receive.

Protect their expertise

Your ‘word people’ will hear from every single person in the company on how to phrase things differently. They’ll get conflicting recommendations, often from the same source, and most of them will be horrible.

Why? Writing is viewed as something that’s easy. After all, we do it every day. Email, PowerPoint presentations, and all the other trappings of today’s business make it appear that we’re all experts at stringing together sentences.

As their manager, you need to protect and evangelize their expertise. Loudly. And publicly.

Call them ‘the experts’ in meetings. Defer to them when everyone in the room is piling on the content recommendations.

Let others know that suggestions are welcome, and that your expert will weigh each one carefully. Surprisingly, content designs will consider every opinion. They aren’t dummies. They know great ideas can come from the most unlikely people.

See how smart they are? That’s why they were hired in the first place.

Let them obsess

Word people can debate the merits of a serial comma, or lack thereof, amongst themselves until they’re cross-eyed. Non word people will find this either completely hilarious or completely mad.

If you want a healthy and happy content designer, let them obsess. It’s their passion. Preferably, they’ll do it with peers. If they don’t have any, find them playmates (see Set up play dates below for more).

The outcome of all this obsession is, or should be, an in-house style guide. While it may seem like a lot of fussy nonsense, this guide sets the standard of all of your content. All of it. They set the rules for every single word that your customers read.

Let that last sentence marinate for a minute or two.

Now, don’t you think that serial comma is worth obsessing over?

Set up play dates

Content designers need solidarity. They must have like-minded peers to share ideas with.

This may come as a shock to a few of you, who see them as solitary creatures that prefer to scurry off to quiet places.

Well, that’s true too.

So let me clarify. Content designers, if not naturally inclined to do so, should be strongly encouraged to meet regularly with one other to discuss their work. And by strong encouraged, I mean told to do so.

They’ll resist, claiming that they have no time to meet other content designers or that they don’t need more opinions on their work.

What they don’t realize is that when they’re in a room together, content designers find common causes to champion: the em dash, the bulleted list, how to tackle an cross-sell, or how to phrase a concept in just the right way.

It’s magical to see how quickly they support one another, and how much energy they receive from regular meeting with peers.

Your business benefits too. Since they’re sharing their work with one another, your product or service will have a more consistent voice and tone. And you’ll see more creative content solutions, thanks to the combined expertise of your content designers.

Know their value

If you’ve never managed a content designer before, research what they do and why it’s highly valued in today’s business. A productive team member should never have to justify why they’re there just because you didn’t do your homework.

If you’re still flummoxed, be honest with your content designer.  And try a little humility. It goes a long way in these scenarios.

“Hey, I’m new to your discipline. Can you tell me a little about it?” is a much preferred opening line over, “So why are you here?”

Oh, and do this way before annual reviews.  You don’t want to be that manager.