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Guest blog: Content strategy vs status quo

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Travis Kelly, senior content designer at Public Health England (PHE), shares his team's experience of developing their content strategy.

Like in most organisations, the digital team at Public Health England is intent on fully bringing our organisation into the modern, digital world.

But there are hurdles in our way. Hurdles such as habit and what’s easiest. The digital team is often told ‘but we’ve always done it this way’, ‘I need this on the homepage’, ‘a PDF is easiest, let’s just do that’ and ‘we need a new app/microsite’.

So to help us win these discussions we’ve written a content strategy. The main purpose of which is to ensure that our content always follows best practice and is as effective as it can be.

What’s in the strategy

One of the main parts of the strategy is our content principles. This section states what we do publish - essentially things that have a user need. And what we don’t publish - such as FAQs, content that has been published elsewhere on GOV.UK or legislation.

In this section we also strongly discourage using PDFs. This will be a long road, but one we will undoubtedly march gloriously down in the near future waving smartphones full of readable content.

The strategy includes our content values. Two examples are:

Best platform

We will carefully choose the most appropriate platform to best meet the user need.

Getting it out

We will promote our content once published so that it gets to the people who need it.

These values and principles are statements that we can fall back on whenever we need to win an argument with colleagues about content design.

There’s also a section about ‘content lifecycle’. This includes guidance on choosing the right platform and planning, publishing, evaluating and iterating content.

And finally it includes a long list which documents all our known user needs ie. content that people need from us. These are supported by evidence and ways we can meet each need.

The benefits

The main benefits will be:

  • having better content that people want to read in the format that they want to read it in
  • having content that people are actually able to find through a focus on SEO and choosing the right platform
  • improving health outcomes as more people consume our content.

The challenges

We’ve developed this strategy alongside our colleagues in the communications, knowledge management and marketing divisions. Naturally we share a lot of the same views and values about what makes good communication, digital or otherwise. Our main challenge will be convincing the non-comms parts of the organisation that the content strategy is a good idea.

Because as we all know, everyone has an opinion on how to communicate things. But just because you’re on Facebook doesn’t mean you are a social media expert…(I’m not an expert on that either, by the way.)

As stated before, it’s the old habits that need to be teased out of people’s hands with convincing arguments, evidence, pleading - and then if all that fails, the stick of an omnipotent official policy.

So we’ve planned a lot of engagement and ‘onboarding’ along the way.

The right thing to do

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how good our health evidence and intelligence is if we can’t communicate it effectively with real people.

We need to do what works best for our users and gets our content read by the people we are trying to help, rather than continue to publish content in ways that are detrimental to both of these aims.

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  1. Comment by Graham posted on

    Thanks for this summary. As someone working through similar challenges in another public sector organisation, it would be helpful to see the strategy document in full. Is it available online? Thanks.

  2. Comment by Matt posted on

    Thanks for sharing this Travis, are you able to share your strategy?