“Be a good editor. The Universe needs more good editors, God knows.” is a quote by the American writer Kurt Vonnegut—best known for the book Slaughterhouse-Five — and is also a passage I used to introduce the editorial guidebook for VEON.
When I first started at the international telco, I didn’t know what to expect from the disparate collection of telco operations and colleagues based in Georgia, Italy, Pakistan, Ukraine and Russia I’d be working with, but I knew what I needed to do: devise a content strategy and assemble local editorial teams, quickly.
Telcos aren’t particularly well-known for producing good content, which is precisely why we pursued a different path. We think more like a pop culture brand or magazine (which is my background), while, to use a technical term, we ‘stood on the shoulder of giants’, curating content from best-in-class partners.
Although certain regions have specific cultural sensitivities to be aware of, there are also guiding principles when it comes to producing content; and from the biggest brands through to the most fledgling of start-ups, the following has helped me deliver compelling content to users globally.
- Get organised. We launched in five territories with barely half a dozen content partners, initially using Google Sheets as a shared editorial calendar, Dropbox for sharing and content, and Slack for communication. By December, we had soft launched in a further five territories with dozens more partners and people to work with, so we needed a more robust calendar tool and turned to an enterprise version of Trello. You can have the best ideas in the world but without considerable organisation, you’ll struggle to effectively publish content to a global audience.
- This depends on your target audience and editorial goals, but I always advocate maintaining the balance between the credible and commercial. Skew too cool and you’ll alienate people, go the other way and, in our case at least, we’ll miss out on the millennial audience we want. I like to refer to this as the ‘Prince effect’, an artist who could play upwards of 30 instruments in a number of styles that appealed to the staunchest of beard stroking musos (like me) while simultaneously selling millions of records worldwide.
- We have a set of global editorial values and house stylings but I’ve always encouraged the teams to develop a local tone of voice. This is inevitable and imperative due to cultural differences between the likes of Italy and Pakistan, and not something that can, nor should be micromanaged from a digital HQ in London.
- Data is great but you also need an instinct for good stories. I don’t think this can be understated. Data has helped our team in Pakistan to understand the importance of local hero stories; three of the top 10 stories in 2017 contained the word ‘Pakistani’ in the headline. Yet it was instinct that helped our Georgian editor curate a story about a Dutch Vitesse Arnhem defender scoring a bizarre 40-yard own goal, which went on to become their most shared story of the year.
- Be a good editor and learn to say no. Focus on quality over quantity. The content cycle can be relentless and seemingly never ending. For some of the editors in the local and central offices, it’s difficult to reject content from a well-known brand or publisher, but by controlling quality early on we have built strong foundations for the future.