Content Therapy is Managing Editor’s monthly advice column, where Paul Chaney responds to your questions about the messy dilemmas content marketers face in their work. We are (obviously) not licensed therapists.
Can I Avoid Laying Off People On My Team?!
Dear Content Therapist:
I’m the owner of a content marketing agency that specializes in helping tech companies with all their content needs. We’ve been operating for the past six years, and my team has grown from just me and my co-owner to 10 people. Things have been great, but the uncertainty of the economy is starting to rear its ugly head. Clients are asking for fewer services, and other potential clients are nervous to start a partnership, especially with the risk of laying off their employees. At this moment in time, we’re able to keep all our employees, but I’m worried that it may not be enough. What can I do to maintain our financial stability, and how should I prepare for the real possibility of losing some of my team? — ANTI-LAYOFFS MARKETER
Paul Chaney: You’re right to be concerned. The number of layoffs at tech companies is shockingly high, and you already feel the “trickle-down” effect.
Your circumstance reminds me of the business fable “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Dr. Spencer Johnson. You’re probably familiar with the story: Four characters live in a maze and love cheese. Eventually, the room where they find the cheese no longer has a supply of the delicacy. In time, three of the characters search for cheese elsewhere, while one stays in the room, hoping cheese will soon reappear. It doesn’t.
The moral of the story is that if there is less cheese than there used to be, search for it.
How does that apply to you? The word “pivot” comes to mind. Turn away from your sole focus on the tech sector and embrace the idea of serving other industries.
There are any number of reasons a company should pivot: The market demands change, the business model becomes unsustainable, or, in your case, clients need fewer services.
Find other industries that aren’t similarly affected. What industries are burgeoning? Are there other types of technology companies you could approach? For example, those specializing in artificial intelligence appear to be on a growth track. What industries closely align with tech and need what you offer? Also, you may have to buckle down and become more aggressive with your sales and marketing efforts.
Regarding letting people go: Obviously, you want to explore every other avenue first, including those I recommend. Commit yourself fully to that end, and determine that failure is not an option.
Someone once said the only constant is change. To your credit, you are anticipating what could happen. Now, it’s time to adapt and “move with the cheese.”
Plot Twist: Meeting Your Hero Just Went Left!
Dear Content Therapist: We’ve recently started working with a content marketing expert on a new guide with accompanying video, social posts and new graphics. This person is well-known in our industry, and I look up to them. But you know what they say about meeting your heroes? Well, they were right. From the beginning, it was as if working with me was a burden to their entire existence. This evolved into being ignored, my ideas stolen and getting overruled on many suggestions that would have helped the campaign. And now this person has approved content that many of us agree will have the opposite effect. I don’t want to do anything to mess with my career or my co-workers, but with my name also attached to this, I feel like I need to speak up. I’ve tried to talk to them but have been shut down repeatedly. Should I bring this up to my boss? And if so, how do I broach this conversation in a way that won’t come back to bite me? — THE VERY, VERY FRUSTRATED MARKETER
Paul Chaney: It sounds like your “hero” has become an anti-hero.
My initial response is to raise the red flag and talk with your boss. This is (or could become) a perilous situation that demands your immediate attention, especially given that your name is attached to it.
Regarding your approach, just be honest. Explain the situation, including the fact that you’ve made repeated attempts to speak with the client to no avail. However, don’t take the client’s slights personally, as that bias could creep into the conversation and prejudice your boss’ opinion of the situation.
Another option is to ask the account manager who secured the contract to speak with the client. Having other people who’ll advocate for you is never a bad thing. Their influence may carry a greater weight.
While the responsibility for content creation lies with you and your team, you can’t be held liable for what the client chooses to do with it, frustrating though it may be. Speak to your boss and/or the account manager, get their input, and take comfort in the knowledge that you did everything you could to make this right.
One more thing: It’s OK to hold someone in high esteem, but be careful about elevating them to hero status. They, too, have feet of clay.
Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for advice from a licensed mental health provider, health care provider or legal professional.