How to prove the value your content

Trying to convince an organization to sign you up to write white papers, create a blog or shoot videos? Here are some ideas for proving your ROI.

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Singer Johnny Cash once took out an ad in Rolling Stone illustrated with a picture of himself flipping the bird during a performance at San Quentin State Prison.

His beef? Radio stations weren’t playing his music because they couldn’t pigeonhole it as country, rock ‘n’ roll, or gospel, says Melissa Rach, co-founder of Dialog Studios.

Content creators often feel similarly frustrated when dealing with organizations that don’t value their work, Rach says in a talk, “Content and Cash: How to prove the value of your content.”

But there are ways to calculate the business value of your content, and demonstrate the financial risk of failing to use your work. Rach explains how, backing up her points with lessons from the country musician.

Her session mainly targets outside consultants, but may offer wisdom for content creators who bill internally and must justify their time. It is possible to gain numbers that impress the green eyeshade types.

“We’re not trying to get to an exact number,” she says. “We’re just trying to reduce the uncertainty of the person who’s making the decision.”

Here are some tips:

It’s not personal.

No organization in its right mind says, “We want bad content.” When they resist closing the deal for your copy, videos or other content, it’s because they don’t know how to make a decision about spending the money.

Investing in content means not investing in other things, Rach says. Organizations often play it safe and worry they’ll make the wrong decision.

You can change their mind with numbers.

Your numbers needn’t be exact.

You may think spreadsheets in the business world are exact down to the decimal point, Rach says. But those spreadsheets are often full of projections and educated guesses.

Using assumptions to calculate ROI is not cheating, she says. People do it throughout the business world. They often just aren’t transparent, but you should be.

“So when we’re talking about measuring or valuing content, we’re talking about reducing uncertainty,” Rach says. “We’re just trying to reduce the uncertainty of the person making the decision.”

Do your homework.

Find out what their business needs are. What experience do stakeholders have with content? Is there a budget? Are there any related projects going on?

Then narrow down the need. Ask them, “Are you looking for an overall communications plan, or are you trying to work on something very specific?”

Rach has seen content estimates go wrong because providers fail to nail down what they’ll need to do. A consultant says, “Sure, I can I can audit your website,” thinking it’s 2,000 pages or so. It winds up being 20,000 pages.

Make all the costs and benefits clear.

If you are going to alleviate a whole lot of pain, or if they want something quickly, then you can charge more. For example, if you’re working on a pet project the CEO wants done by next Thursday, you have more leverage.

When estimating return on investment, Rach uses this equation:

Value = benefits minus costs.

Demonstrate the risk of not acting.

Let’s say users are so confused by instructions on a company website, masses of them are dropping before they buy the product. You are seeking the contract to rewrite the site.

You need to say the organization “Here’s the risk of your not doing this project.”

Example: based on the number of people dropping out, a company loses $216,000 in a given period. That’s the cost of not acting. Your proposed payment is $5,000. Stated that way, spending five grand looks a lot less risky than doing nothing.

Rach also multiplies each figure by the chance of success-say, 70 percent—but 70 percent times $216,000 still amounts to $151,200.

Tell your fearful contact, “You’re missing out on $151,000 if you don’t do this project.”

That way, if they question your numbers, you can lay out your methodology.

Explain how your work meets their business needs.

It doesn’t matter if there are blogs all over creation, Rach says. If the specific one they’re asking you to do brings in money, it’s worth paying for.

Tell a hopeful story.

Just because you’re talking dollars and cents, doesn’t mean you need to forget the lessons of narrative in communications. Create a story that highlights benefits, such as serving users better, augmenting efficiency, or beating the competition.

“What are the things that are meaningful to the people you are talking to?” Rach says. “Zero right in on those in your pitch.”


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