How to be a good Summerian

Communicators are the creators and the keepers of content. By doing this job effectively, we have the foundations to efficiently build content that keeps the story straight and authentic.

Thai Union‘s global director of sustainable development, Darian McBain, speaking on Thai Union’s Code of Conduct for Business Ethics and Labour / Image: Thai Union

It might not be the oldest profession, but the Sumerians had Masters of Tablets, and in eighth century BC, the King Ashurbanipal of Assyria introduced librarianship as a profession. In the king’s library, all tablets were catalogued and arranged by subject matter or information type, and each was given an identification tag.

Content tagging. In the eighth century BC. Wow.

For centuries, we have been taught the importance of content. More recently, we’ve been reminded of the need for authentic storytelling. All true. All needed. After all, people have been telling stories long before tablets arrived.

But all of this is easier said than done.

At Thai Union Group, we have been focusing on how to effectively use storytelling to support our story pillars: sustainability, innovation, corporate and brand reputation. To do that, we had to take a hard look at how we could effectively and efficiently build content that met our needs but didn’t blow our budgets sky high.

Remember the 80/20 rule

We started by making some rules for ourselves. First, we would concentrate on creating content that met the needs of 80 per cent of our constituents. For some of our markets, that meant they would get more than they had previously, and for others it meant they would have access to content they previously couldn’t afford. We were determined to make economies of scale work for everyone.

Second, we needed to think globally to locally and then locally to globally. What does that mean? The content had to be effective at each level, so while 80 per cent might be the same for all, we would leave 20 per cent for localisation as needed to be fully effective. For example, we would build editorial packages with 80 per cent the same content, and 20 percent localised expert quotes, endorsements and images. Creating once for many.

The 3Rs: reuse, renew, recycle

We also needed to think about content as packages of words, images, graphics, infographics, videos and animations that could be reassigned constantly into new uses —new packages, really. We had to figure out what languages, voices and tonality for editorial, voiceovers, subtitles, captions… well, you get the picture: a lot of complexity to get our content fully working for us.

For example, we decided that we needed to do a series of educational animated videos about specific fishing sustainability topics. No opinion, no commentary, just pure education. We looked at how to make these videos the most effective for Thai Union’s use, as well as for our brands. But in doing that, we recognised that these videos could also work for our retail customer’s online use.

Keeping this broader goal in mind, we built storyboards that met our educational goals and allowed us to voiceover in different languages and accents, and subtitle as needed. We then top and tailed the videos for each brand, effectively creating endless branded editions for global use across a variety of channels. We embedded them in editorials for use online and made them available by download for educational use.

GIGO: garbage in - garbage out

As we got better at planning our content and making it work harder for us, we decided to look at some of our existing assets. It quickly became a clean-up campaign, with more content moving to the archive cabinet than to the current pile. This was particularly true with corporate documents, including Q&As. So we decided to strengthen our documentation governance, using document ownership and ‘dead by’ dates, so they are discarded after a stated date and a new version retrieved. Typically, we republish documents every 60 to 90 days, or sooner if the situation warrants it. When dealing with evolving issues, this governance helps keep responses current and correct.

Sweating the assets

Now, what’s great is that we had all this content created for global use, made to be deployed easily, scrubbed clean for copyright issues, images all properly licenced, ownership established and we were feeling rather pleased with ourselves.

But wait a second. How were we going to take all of this wonderful content and make is available to our global team? How could we avoid having content ‘disappear’? You know, the: “Oh, I think that is on so and so’s computer…”. Or receiving emails and phone calls asking: “Hey, I am looking for a graphic or image representing xyz…”.

We needed to find a way to make the content fully searchable and available 24/7 to our global team. We looked at a variety of solutions and then finally decided to join the cloud crowd.

The cloud  met our needs for governance and easy search, for keeping our people safe with legal, licenced and approved content, and for peace of mind. We know where to find our well-tagged, well-ordered content, and we can put it to work in myriad packages - making our assets sweat.

Communications is the creator and the keeper of content. In those companies that still have archivists, ask them who they work with most and they will tell you communications. History matters, it is part of every story, so we have an obligation to guard it and keep it safe and searchable. Technology gives us so many methods to tell our stories in entertaining and effective ways, at a fraction of previous costs. We owe it to our companies and to the professionals that come after us to guard our companies’ histories, memories and assets. Communicators are always multitaskers, so maybe we just need to add creators, librarians, curators, custodians and historians to our list of titles.    

"Communicators are always multitaskers, so maybe we just need to add creators, librarians, curators, custodians and historians to our list of titles."   

On our journey to feeling like good Sumerians, we found the following rules useful in making our cloud a happy cloud.

How to make a Sumerian master of tablets happy

  1. Never, ever leave your video footage, either raw, a-roll or b-roll with your agency. For that matter, never leave any content assets with your agency. It is your asset, keep it safe. It is too valuable to lose and you will kick yourself (or your predecessor) when you can’t find it.
  2. Be a good Sumerian and set up your filing system logically with short manageable file names. What’s in a name? Only what you must have to recognise the content.
  3. Set up tags in advance. Do not let users make up their own. Add new tags only when there is uniform demand. Ok, this is about trust and discipline, once your team gets tagging going, you can ease up on this.
  4. Use really full descriptions of your content so users can find content easily (“CNY party” really isn’t going to do it,).
  5. The use of ‘Dead by Date’ documentation governance is important. Get that old stuff out and into archive.
  6. Use approval libraries to make sure you are always looking at the latest version and approving the final, most up-to-date version, for use; this will keep everyone safe and avoid publishing accidents (we hate those, don’t we?).
  7. Mark content for either internal or external use (another safety device: fences are good!).
  8. Encourage people to explore the content and build new packages and share (sharing is good too).

Are you feeling a little inner-Sumerian glow? Can you feel King Ashurbanipal may be smiling over your shoulder? Or are you just ready to be better prepared to meet today’s needs for excellent content, immediately available and cost efficiently prepared?

No matter which, I suspect King Ashurbanipal would be very proud.

Whitney Foard Small

Whitney Foard Small took up her current role as  group director, corporate communications at Thai Union Group in 2016; previously, she founded Crushed Lime Media in 2012, worked as senior counsellor and managing director at Allison + Partners, and worked as chief operating officer at Alliance for Financial Inclusion. Whitney is also a senior associate with CS&A International Risk & Crisis Management.