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How the University of Reading make their Content Team central to the content production process

Ben Hubbard • 5 minutes

We interviewed Guy Pursey from the University of Reading to find out about the process they use to create content across the organisation, from the structure of the team to how they implemented GatherContent.

The University of Reading use a matrix team model to approach projects and power their content process across the organisation. This involves members of the Content Team, Student Recruitment team (who manage the print prospectus), Marketing Officers and Business Partners, and academics, all of who have to work seamlessly together.

How they used to manage content.

Before the matrix team model was implemented, all content was managed by the Student Recruitment team in the form of the printed prospectus. Online content was also produced, but was seen as additional and therefore wasn’t given the same attention as printed content. When the Content Team was formed, the first thing they looked at was bringing both the prospectus content management and website content management together. The Student Recruitment team used to source content directly from the academics, and publish this.

What does the process look like now?

Their process involves fortnightly meetings between the Content Team, Student Recruitment team, and other stakeholders. The international team, subject matter experts and business partners are also involved as needed. Because of the spread of stakeholders across the organisation, the sheer number of people involved means that it would be unrealistic to get everyone in a room together. The model has been put in place to help cope with the number of people involved in the process of creating or curating content across the organisation, and to ensure there’s a consistency across all the content types and formats created.

This in practice means that a Marketing Officer works with the different stakeholders, including forming relationships with the academics, who are the subject matter experts. They know the facts about the content of the course and the subject area itself, so these need to be taken into account when creating content. The Marketing Officers can then overlay the knowledge they have of the market, competitor institutions, and the Content Team can use all this knowledge to create or amend content accordingly. Finally, the content is proofread by everyone and checked from a legal and compliance perspective.

A chart displaying the organisation of the University of Reading Content Team and how they interact with the rest of the organsation

All of the responsibilities are set out up-front by a responsibility assignment matrix, displayed as a RACI diagram, mapping out who’s responsible, who’s accountable, who should be consulted and who should be informed for each task that’s ongoing. Below is an example of how that could look:

Screenshot from a RACI chart.
A partial screenshot of the RACI spreadsheet, showing everyone’s role in a project.

This means that everyone in the project knows who in the organisation they need to get involved at each stage, and avoids those team wide emails that can be common in big projects

How does GatherContent support this?

How GatherContent fits in with the content process has been shaped through various iterations throughout the project’s duration. One of the key features in GatherContent is the templates. The team can create templates of specific fields, and uses tabs for the different content formats. Each template will typically have three tabs:

1) Data (common content for both print and web, such as a course title).
2) Print (e.g. a page number, or a specific piece of content for the print version)
3) Web (the additional information for the web, such as extra content, and metadata).

The print tab is quite simple, and the web tab starts to collect together some more technical info.

The other big feature is the GatherContent workflow, which enables the matrix team model to work efficiently. It allows them to clearly see which content Items are at which stage of the process. The workflow contains 25 steps in total. The process evolved over time as the process was adjusted to suit everyone using GatherContent. To help simplify this, the states are colour coded to show which team is responsible for each step in the workflow. There are several cycles of drafting and fact checking. The content is then moved to a status which reflects the edits that need to be made. A Marketing Officer oversees the fact checking and liaises with academics to write the initial draft. The content is then passed to the content team to edit the content, and , then to the design team, then back to Marketing Officer to implement feedback and changes. The Marketing Officer is key to making the model work as they act as a facilitator in the process.
A screenshot of the workflow that the University of Reading use in GatherContent
The GatherContent workflow for a project. The colour coding allows each team to know which statuses they’re responsible for.

Why did they build the process like this?

The content team’s main aim is to bring consistency to all created or curated content, whether being published online or in the prospectus. Originally the content for print was being sourced directly from academics, and content for the web was being part sourced, and then edited. This meant the web content creation became reactive with the prospectus timelines and deadlines being set in stone, and therefore led to inconsistency in process, tone and accuracy between the two sources of content.

Differences in information between the two channels is accepted, so long as the web content is more up to date (it’s generally expected that the print version may fall out of date as information changes over time but that the web version of content can become a fallback for more accurate info). The issue in the past has been that the web wasn’t always providing that additional value that visitors might expect and sometimes, before they gave the whole process their attention, the print content would be the same or better than what was online. Each iteration of the project sees the two streams becoming more consistent.

Consistency is key, but the aim is not to produce the same content between the two streams. The user journey is central to this, for example a student might attend a UCAS fair or event and acquire a prospectus. Once they have browsed through that (anecdotal research from events the team attended shows that students still like to have a physical copy) at some point in the journey they will make the leap to looking online. The idea here is that the content found online builds on the content found in the prospectus. The online content hasn’t got the space constraints of the print edition, allowing more information to be shared. The importance here is to make sure the content is consistent, but the building on the different formats consumed through the user journey, as the content team understands it.

What benefits have been seen since the process was implemented?

GatherContent has been key in enabling the model to work for the university, but the model as a whole has been beneficial because they’ve seen more cross team working than before it was implemented. Rather than content being siloed within one team, having the content team oversee this process has made sure there’s now greater consistency across their content.

The content schedule is more rigorous than before, as the team creates more content for different streams, and more planning before deadlines has allowed for a smoother process, with clear checkpoints and ensure that different versions of content can be compared. This allows the content to be delivered in a calm way and for the team at the University of Reading are be able to take a step back and think how they can improve the content with each round, because they’re confident that the process takes care of the basics.

What issues did the team run into.

The main challenge has been resistance to change. There was some resistance there in the beginning, because a new model was introduced. This was expected because different people were taking ownership of different parts of the content but over time as the model has evolved slightly, and members of the marketing team have become coordinators between the subject matter experts and the content team, this resistance has reduced. The marketing team members have helped the subject matter experts adapt to a role where they controlled the content to one where they became instrumental in content, but it was refined by the content team. Everyone in the process has started to see the improvement in the content.

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About the Author

Ben Hubbard

Product Marketing Manager, GatherContent

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