S.4 Ep.5: Protecting the Integrity and Messaging of Your Content

Sometimes there are so many opinions on what you should do content wise.  How do you be the gatekeepers and protect your content?  We sit down this week with Rachel and Coley of Blue Cross Blue Shield to talk through how they have done this!

Tell us about your methodology and your mindset for developing a theme and tying that into your content. 

Rachel: A big piece of it for us is feedback from previous events that we’ve done throughout the year prior. A big piece of what we do is tie in what our customers want to hear. I mean, they come to our events because they want to get “X” piece away from it, but we also need to really integrate that with what our business partners want to tell them. They want to hear “X” thing but our clients want to tell them “Y” thing – how do we do both to really appease both parties, while really staying current in the industry and making sure that we’re looking at what our competitors do and making sure that we’re giving a cohesive message that we want to give throughout the year. But we also need to match or exceed what others in the industry are doing as well so that we’re giving our clients and our customers what they need. 

You’re controlling messaging right?

Rachel: Yea, our team is very unique in that we are a small knit events team and our customers for our team are our internal business partners. But our team is really looked at as the subject matter experts… Our events team really develops what the content and the theme is going to be. We’ll sit down as a team and brainstorm together and we’ll come up with our top two choices. We’ll build out a full story line for that and then we present it to our business partners and say “what do you think of these?” And they’ll either say “well love this one over this one”, or for this year they said “we like 50% of this one and 50% of this one, can we see you mesh them together?” So then it became a really unique theme that we weren’t even thinking about to begin with. 

You are subject matter experts internally, How do you do that? 

Coley: I actually started at Blue Cross in August of this past year and before that I had been at third party event planning companies for the last 10 years. So developing content is something that’s completely new and foreign to me; something I’ve never had to do in the past because all of our clients were outside agencies that were hiring us to do a job. So I can do a food and beverage, AV, all of those things with my eyes closed, but content planning is something that is super new to me. So Rachel is actually our content matter expert for the events team. She has really great ideas and it’s really interesting to watch how her mind works and the things that she learns, listens to, and seeks out for information. Then she talks about it with our team and myself and the other people on our team volley back and forth to say “maybe there’s a hole here?” or “this isn’t fleshed out all the way”. There are things that we would suggest but the majority of the content build is actually comes from Rachel.

Rachel, you’re the guru? Tell us about that – how do you do it?

Rachel: You know, it’s funny that you say that… It was not a part of my job description, it was not what I signed up for, but I just started taking it because it’s so interesting to me. We had a meeting this morning and I was like 5 minutes late because I was sitting in my car like “I have this brain child!!” and if I don’t write it down it’ll be gone in the next 45 seconds because, you know, motherhood life. For me, I kind of listen to what the expectation of our business partners is. 

How do you decide on an outside keynote ?

Rachel: It’s so funny that you say that because I was doing that this morning. We wanted a specific keynote and we wanted to develop this content for this keynote for an upcoming event from the ground up. And this person doesn’t speak on this topic but, inadvertently, they’re an expert in it because they do it all the time – innovation and how to be an innovator in an organization that’s so deep rooted in contextual history but also such a fast moving environment. A really, really cool topic that’s super appropriate and relevant to the rest of our conference theme, but I was like “oh my gosh, how are we going to convince the CEO of a top company to speak on this? I’m going to have to develop this to make sure it doesn’t flop!” And then I was just kind of buzzing around LinkedIn and I found a podcast that featured a person that was speaking on this exact topic. And I was like “Woah! We gotta have him!”. So you just keep your ears open, you keep listening, and I think a big thing about what makes our team successful is were not afraid to ask the questions. We’re not afraid to present to leadership or the business partners, challenging them to keep things in line with what we’re saying. 

Coley:  And they appreciate it. They want to make sure that when we do these events we’re not having cross messaging or conflicting messaging in the way that you present it. Going back to the keynotes, our team also tries to go to conferences that are put on in the area that have relevant topics so that we can look. So even if it’s not a known keynote, but they’re a local CEO, that has a platform at a local conference, and we think their messaging is great and meets what we’re trying to put on at our conference. That can help us segue into developing that kind of content for us as well. 

How do you decide what will be industry or company specific stage time versus personal development stage time?

Coley: I think it depends on what conference we’re doing. If we’re looking at company messages, we have that kind of across the board at all of our events, it’ just depends on how much time and energy we’re spending on it based on whether or not we have clients there, whether or not we have a Q&A set up, whether or not there are agents there. The people who sell our insurance want to hear something completely different than the customers who are buying our insurance. And so what that looks like is that we try to highlight a lot of our point solutions that we have as an organization. 

How much of the speakers’ content to do work with them on tailoring to your audience? 

Rachel: So, I think that a huge piece of that is when you listen to something that they’ve already presented on before or content they’ve already developed, we obviously want to make sure none of it is contradicting the messaging we say the rest of the day. So it’s just becoming almost a subject matter expert in any of the keynote areas. I would say that’s probably the biggest piece we tailor. Just to make sure it’s not contradicting anything that we’re saying throughout the rest of the day. 

Have you ever been in the audience or booked a speaker where they didn’t deliver what they thought you were going to?

Coley: Yes. Or if you ask someone to come and speak – even like a comedian – and you ask them to keep it either business relevant or to keep it PG, and then they throw out a couple of f-bombs and in the back you’re sweating and hoping people don’t come for you afterwards. Or when they have a script and then they go off script and you’re like “this is not what we discussed!”. So then you have to throw things up on their confidence monitors like “shut it down, bring it back!”. I think for me the biggest thing is if there’s ever a Q&A. We try hard to vet what the questions are going to be as best as we can and ask people to submit them so that then we know that the response is going to be appropriate and that the question is going to be appropriate. We don’t ever want someone to stand up and ask something that would make any of our guests or internal executives feel like they’re put on the spot to answer something that they’re not comfortable with or prepared to disclose. 

Rachel: It absolutely mitigates the amount of risk that you have. We want to make sure that we’ve eliminated as much of that as possible. At the end of the day, sometimes during an event, you have to throw your hands up and just say “Jesus take the wheel, let’s go!”

Have you ever been in the position where certain people want to speak or have stage time but maybe it’s more about them being seen on stage than content they actually have to deliver to the audience?

Rachel: So I know exactly what you’re asking and I have kind of a different answer for you, if you’re up for it. I think if we plan content we identify that everybody is such an advocate for the message they want to share. So as we’re looking at our senior leaders to develop content, everyone wants a piece of that pie – rightfully so, that’s your job, to advocate for your program or your product or your message. So I think that’s a huge piece of what we do is we help to kind of filter that out and make sure that – you know that’s really interesting and how would we include it here. So similar to what you’re asking – less of people wanting to get their place on stage and more of people want to get their message out. 

Coley: and I also think it depends on which event we’re doing. Some people find what they’re doing to be the most important. And it can’t always be the most important. While it is important, it’s maybe not important or applicable to the messaging we’re trying to get across. I’m pretty direct. I try to make sure we’re prioritizing the message –  I always tell my team I’m happy to be the bad guy, in a way that, if we need to tell an executive no, I’m happy to be that person to not put anybody in that position. But then we need to have the “if’s, ands, whys, buts” behind it to make sure that they have an understanding and it always comes around… We have our opinions and we share them, but they’re not the end-all-be-all. So while we help develop the content, there’s still a rank ahead of us. So if we were to tell somebody that we don’t think it’s applicable and they really feel like it’s applicable and there’s the correct buy-in for it and we, at that point just say, OK great, we’ll do as we’re told and we’ll fall in line and we’ll make sure that’s what happens. We can build from there.

Rachel: I think it’s about compromise, too. And Coley you’re really good at this with a lot of our business partners, like “That doesn’t fit in here, but here’s where we could feature it.” So I think it’s giving respect that they are advocating for what they believe in and if it’s something that’s very important to them, where can we fit it in to make sense.

Coley: Our team really tries to have it be more of a collaboration atmosphere. So we bring the initial discussion and ideas to the table, and then as a group with our core business partner team we try to really flesh it out together. And they have no problem challenging us on things and we have no problem challenging them. So I think that that is kind of something that’s unique to how we work in our organization, because I’ve never been a part of something that is a volley back and forth to try to come to a compromise in such a unique way. 

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