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Corporate coffee table book to content campaign: a case study

N.B: This post was first published by the author on LinkedIn on 11 February, 2016.

It is very often said that time moves so quickly. It is also often said that the world of content marketing moves at break-neck speed. But does it? Really?

Despite the digital age changing marketing by the second, one communication exercise that seems to lag behind is the Annual Review (or ‘Report’ depending on where you’re from). In a large proportion of organisations who are duty-bound to produce an Annual Review it still takes the form of a heavy, glossy book with dozens of pages of glowing ‘yearly round-ups’, corporate portraits and stock photography. Once produced, it is destined to be placed on coffee tables in reception waiting areas and stored on dusty bookshelves in CEO’s offices, never to be read again.

A small proportion of organisations have let marketing in, with brilliant results (see Boston University, or the BBC). It is those organisations who have realised that the Annual Review isn’t a box that needs to be ticked and then promptly forgotten – it’s an important opportunity to build reputation and relationships with external and internal stakeholders.

Each year the University I worked for had produced an Annual Review to capture academic, student and research achievements, highlights of the previous year, in addition to a summary financial review. While it had progressed to a landing page and a short (outsourced) film, there were no goals in place to give the Annual Review purpose and no way to truly measure its impact.

In August 2015, with these challenges in mind, I was tasked with developing and putting into motion an ambitious plan designed to change attitudes towards the University of Surrey’s Annual Review. This began with pulling together a project team that included a designer, filmmaker, social media coordinator, internal communications officer, content writer and senior marketing colleagues.

Our first task was to examine exactly why we were doing an Annual Review and establish our goal:

To build our reputation and relationship with key audiences by developing an Annual Review campaign that is measurable, flexible enough to suit a range of audiences, and captures and communicates key information.

After taking a close look at who our key audiences were, what information they needed and how they wanted to consume it, three things became apparent:

  1. Our audiences are time-poor and a large document (either printed or in PDF) was not meeting their need to access the most relevant information to them as quickly as possible.

  2. The story of 2015 was made up of the achievements of thousands of people in the university, and therefore it is the staff that should be front and centre when it comes to sharing that story. We needed a new format for the Annual Review that gave them greater ability to share the highlights of the year most relevant to them to the audiences closest to them.

  3. A print publication was still necessary for events, conferences and meetings, but no longer needed to be the central focus.

With these points in mind, we planned a multi-channel, digitally focused content marketing campaign with a slimmed-down, glossy publication; a brilliant 3-minute film; a purpose-built micro-site; launch event; a series of infographics highlighting the key statistics and achievements to be shared on social.

And the results:

We received record levels of engagement internally with many asking for copies of the publication and requesting us to present at their internal meetings.

The day of, and following, the launch event we receive countless messages of congratulations and comments on how impressed very senior stakeholders were with the campaign.

On social media, the response far exceeded expectations with over 249,000 impressions, more than 29,000 post engagements for the release of the film on Facebook, and engagement rates of between 2.2% and 7.2% on Twitter.

Why it worked:

  • We took a B2B content marketing campaign mindset with the internal and external end-users at heart, rather than thinking about producing a book

  • The style was considered first resulting in true consistency across all elements

  • We received strong support and buy-in from senior and executive management levels

  • We established a project team with dedicated creative, content writing, PR and social media staff on board right from the start

  • The content was planned out together as a team at the beginning so that all campaign elements linked together

  • We integrated the launch with a major event

  • The execution of a strong internal communications plan which prepared staff for the Annual Review via a teaser film and team presentations, and got them sharing the final film and website

  • Sheer enthusiasm! All members of the team were motivated and felt they had ownership of the project

With a content marketing mindset, the traditional corporate coffee table book has huge potential to be an engaging, accessible and valuable part of the yearly marketing strategy. There are no excuses for allowing dust to gather now!

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