Eighteen months ago, Barclays UK decided it was time for a change.
In the past, the company took an average of six weeks to ideate, produce, and release a piece of content. It was a torturously slow process, especially in a digital arena that values speed. Today, it has cut its creative process down to a mere 72 hours. It was, no pun intended, an amazing turnaround.
So how did the massive financial institution do it?
In a highly regulated industry like finance, the creative process—including approval—can often lead to suffocating bottlenecks that ruin the effectiveness of content marketing. Barclays decided that the only way to fix the issues plaguing its content operation was to completely rehaul the way its digital team functioned. So the company changed from having a marketing team to having a newsroom.
Barclays UK now has an editorial board that meets every Tuesday morning. No longer do people work on a lengthy campaign basis, signing off multiple times before content goes live. Now, it’s a day-to-day operation.
Meetings that actually work
Each Barclays editorial meeting has a clear objective: The 12-person team debates three to five story ideas before agreeing to produce at least one piece of content by the weekend.
“We have to be very clear on the roles of different people in each particular session,” Mark Brayton, Barclays UK’s content marketing director, said. “Some people will have the opportunity to share their opinion, some will have voting rights, and some will be there to make the ultimate call. Defining roles upfront is key.”
Employees also take turns filling the editor-in-chief role. This person ensures that the team reaches a decision during the meeting and has ultimate sign-off power. Once everyone selects an idea to pursue, the output team is entrusted to produce the content without the hassle of multiple meetings and approvers.
Additionally, the compliance team is now involved from the very start, which is a key adjustment compared to the old process. “We explained that we wanted to bring the compliance team on the journey, and that our output needed to be as fully compliant and meticulous as it has ever been,” Brayton said. “Having those guys there at the genesis of the content idea, rather than just before sign-off, has revolutionized the time spent.”
A data-driven team
The newsroom began its revamped content operations by focusing purely on Barclays’s retail customer base, a demographic the organization knew very well. The change in focus worked so well that even Brayton was a little surprised.
“I probably underestimated the power of using data as our creative muse,” he said. “The sheer impact it has had on—not only engagement—but also on the way the organization thinks, has been both impressive and really positive.”
One of the first examples of the customer data in action was for the Mortgage Market Review (MMR), new mortgage rules implemented in the UK in 2014 that fundamentally changed the way people assess real estate affordability.
“There was quite a lot of sensationalism, particularly in the tabloid press, around what MMR meant in the marketplace,” Brayton said. “There were stories suggesting that lenders would start asking people about their diet, for example, as part of their lending criteria. It quickly became apparent from our search data, social listening data, and calls to our centers that customers were asking questions about it.”
The editorial board saw an opportunity to take the lead and dispel any myths.
“We bought this data into the Tuesday morning meeting, debated the key findings, and talked about what information was available already,” Brayton said. “In the same session we commissioned a video to be shot the next day and distributed it across our owned, earned, and colleague channels.”
The entire process took 72 hours.
Keeping a finger on the pulse
In July 2015, Barclays saw another clear opportunity to make its mark. The interim UK budget was the biggest financial news story of the week, as people expected the government to introduce policies that tied to the promises made by the Conservatives during the general election.
“It could [have been] a very radical budget that had far-reaching consequences for many Barclays customers,” Liz Stephenson, marketing communications manager at Barclays UK, explained.
Within 24 hours of the budget speech, Barclays had published two articles, one for its core customer base and one for its more affluent “premier” customers.
“The articles specifically addressed customer interests and concerns by listening on social media to public reaction to the budget, and angling the articles accordingly,” Stephenson said.
Arguably the biggest opportunity for Barclays to test the effectiveness of its newsroom approach was in the aftermath of this June’s historic EU referendum, a vote that had a profound effect on the finances of Barclays UK customers. The company felt it had a duty to help its customers understand the implications—and people wanted information fast.
In just one week, the newsroom created 18 pieces of content in the wake of the Brexit vote. Detailed explainers like “Could the government’s new Help to Buy: ISA help you save?” offered insight and advice on new initiatives, while multiple videos were created for different customer segments, each designed to provide reassurance and an initial response to the most pressing concerns.
“The aims of the content were to increase brand trust and customer engagement,” Stephenson said. According to Barclays, the average time spent with Brexit content was 4 minutes and 16 seconds.
Evergreen content is important to just about every digital publication, but with a more agile creative process, Barclays UK has the flexibility in place to make sure all of its content is relevant to its audience before news gets stale.
“It is about constantly optimizing the approach,” Brayton said. “We will continue to look at how we adapt and change our content strategy, content plans, and content pillars to ensure we bring it to life.”