How to find the Optimal Balance Between Central and Local Content Teams

This post has originally been published on NewsCred’s Insights content hub. This is my original version. It includes content and references that had to  be removed from the company’s blog. 

One of the most critical aspects of going global with a content marketing strategy in a large and complex enterprise is finding the right balance between central and local organisations. In fact, just deploying a content marketing model across multiple regions – even if it has been tested successfully in one country – will simply not work. You need to plan, find the right global to local balance, pilot and then scale at global level. In most regions, like Asia or Europe for example – with dozens of different countries and languages, – it is unrealistic to make content work for each individual market.

Basic Definitions

Let’s start with some definitions of key terms that we’ll use in this article:

  • Central organisation or program: it’s the corporate (or “head”) organisation that sets marketing strategies and provides guidance, processes and tools. It might relate to corporate marketing programs.
  • Local: refers to regions or countries where the company has a local presence – local presence doesn’t necessarily mean the company has a physical office in each country. In large enterprises, marketers might refer to countries as markets, geographies or “geos
  • Global: refers to global or cross-regional programs or to the combination of regions or countries where the company has a presence.

In general, it is the company’s organisational setup and business model that further defines the content marketing model. A very centralised organisation will tend to create strategy and most of the content at a central level and cascade to the countries without providing much flexibility. The opposite model is generally in place for decentralised organisations, or within organisations with strong localised country cultures. In this case a central team might help establish a shared process, but the countries will fully own strategy and tactics, including content creation.

I have seen both models either succeed because of good processes and teamwork in place between central and local teams; or fail because the enterprises were not prepared enough to internally support a proper global content marketing launch.

Three models for Global Content Marketing

A global content strategy usually reflects the type of business you are working for, the size of the opportunity for your business in each market, and the types of content that your audiences in those markets expects. It also needs to list your available resources. Success in global content marketing involves matching the right organisational structure to your content strategy and ensuring you have content-producers where you need them.

In many cases, a global content marketing program is the very first tentative of collaboration between central and local teams. In these cases it also represents the beginning of a much wider relation between global and local and is a signal of a deeper transformation taking place internally. The initial situation usually include one or more of the following challenges:

  • There is neither a documented strategy, nor an established process behind content and digital programs, at central and local level;
  • Some elements of the full content marketing program might be in place but without a proper (documented) strategy/process;
  • Internal collaboration is a challenge; global-local collaboration is still not in place;
  • There is no established content marketing measurement framework and marketing is not fully accountable for sales results;
  • CMO’s global meetings have been established, but no operational editorial boards or cross-regional mechanisms are in place yet.

Centralised Organisations

In the case of centralised organisations, it’s the central team that sets strategy and directions; the local organisation will generally execute. An understanding of the type of content that you need to produce in each market should inform the content resources that you recruit at a local and regional level – and the agency relationships that you put in place. You’ll need to decide whether content resources need to exist for each market – or whether a regional hub is best placed to liaise with your local teams, – and create and adapt content based on their needs. The role of the central team may shift as the program matures. In early stages of a program, the flow of information is often outwards, with the central team leading content production and strategy. As global content programs mature and flourish, the emphasis of the central team shifts to providing guidance on building local content skills and competencies.

One of the models working well with most of the large enterprises I work with is the concept I call the “Content Centre of Excellence” (CCE) or regional champion. Instead of trying to create and control all content that a big company produces – especially global content – the CCE is a team that promotes best practices and adds transparency to content production and distribution processes. There should be a CCE team present in each region. This way each country is going to have a regional centre responsible for local content creation and support. Overarching strategy will still be delivered by the central team.

Decentralised Organisations

In the case of decentralised organisations countries or regions usually take the lead from a content creation and often from a strategic standpoint. I have been working with cases where the local teams were so independent, in term of competencies and resources, that there was no reason to involve the central organisation even with the definition of the overall content strategy. The central team provided branding templates and guidelines, but the strategy was defined at local level. This is of course a challenging case (and one I would not recommend) – the risk is that each geography will go with its own specific content marketing program. The ideal situation would be to have a central team that sets up processes and directions with the countries managing local strategy, content creation, budget and resources.

Global decentralised content marketing programs might require different personas for each country, region or business unit. Pam Didner in her book “Global Content Marketing” suggests to find common challenges between global and local personas: she calls it the “band-aid” compromise. This is needed so that local teams get to use central team’s content instead of creating their own.

Often this happens when central teams have a very unclear understanding of local markets. There is visible fear that the local teams might not deliver the corporate messaging correctly, but there is also not enough knowledge and understanding at central level about the local markets to provide directions or take corrective actions. Central teams are afraid of testing and piloting programs – if the programs fail then the country will lose its trust on them and will be “lost forever”.

Ideal Organisations

The best place to be usually is in between a centralised and decentralised organisation, with the central team acting as a leader and the countries adapting the centrally created content to match local customers’ needs. Global should set goals, and regional team should decide how to reach them. Creating content centrally and allowing the countries to fill in the gaps might represent a good solution as many businesses require local languages and this means that countries will need to take ownership of the localisation process.

I love the way Pam Didner defines in her book the relation that the central content team has to establish with the geographies: a relation of “servant leadership.” She writes: I attribute the success of our partnership to one important factor: headquarters’ role is to serve. This echoes Robert K. Greenleaf’s 1970 essay, “The servant as Leader”. He also coined the term Servant Leadership.

When I was VP content marketing] at Schneider Electric, the central team owned the strategy for B2B and B2C content. We created content, guidelines, and distribution packages. The countries, then, could further edit the content to adapt it to their cultures. The content guidelines linked to shared content rooms, samples, and suggestions in terms of timelines for content publishing. In addition, we provided documents with recommended do’s and don’ts.

Big Rock guidelines
Example of content guidelines for pilot countries.

Executing the Content Marketing Strategy

Headquarters or central teams are often frustrated because regional execution is not following central strategy, branding or campaign directions. On the other hand, regions are very often annoyed at the central teams because they move too slow and the message and content they are producing is not resonating with local personas and local audience.

While strategy might sit in central or local teams, based on the company organisation model, in both centralised and decentralised organisation the execution is in general moved to (or expected to be run by) the local or regional teams. In case there are no local teams in place (this might happen in small countries), the central team will need to secure execution by hiring local agencies or partners.

This model works well in both cases (centralised and decentralised) for the following reasons:

  • Local teams and dynamics are usually much faster than global ones because of their lean nature
  • Local teams well understand what are the best local execution tactics: for example, they understand local distribution channels, the need for localisation, local events, the needs of the local audience, etc.
  • If products are highly localised, this model just makes sense
  • Local teams understand local/regional compliance laws and regulations. Regulatory oversight could be a big challenge, especially with companies operating globally and dealing with multiple jurisdictions. Compliance is critical in sectors like Healthcare, Pharma, Finance, and other sectors.

The level of headquarters’ engagement with the regional execution will depend on additional factors, not mentioned above, but could be simplified as regional or country experience and maturity. In fact, the role of a central team will be critical for the success of a new emerging country lacking resources and competencies. Also, when local teams suffer challenging budget conditions the central content team needs to take the lead.

My rule of thumb is: even in the more decentralised model, anything that represents a commonality (strategy, processes, software tools, personas, content) and is cross-regional should be led by the central team. On the other side, even in the most centralised organisation the central team should try to follow the 80/20 rule and give a chance to the local teams to create local and customised content.

All these considerations show how complex could be to find the right balance between the global and the local team and that only a good and continuous spirit of collaboration can solve issues and drive content marketing success. Whatever will be the customised content model, it has to be prepared with accuracy long before it goes live.

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