10 reasons to be kind to European content strategists

This post is a follow-up to a recent tweet in which I said:

“The biggest enemy of CS in Europe is the budgetary bloat caused by localization requirements. Right tech ends up being too expensive.”

I’m a lucky guy. In the past few weeks I’ve been pitching and/or working on projects that involve serious content creation. Just the kind of thing I love.

But I keep running up against the same wall: languages. There’s nothing more frustrating than coming up with great content ideas, only to have them dashed on the hard rocks of multilingual reality.

To avoid future headaches, I’ve scraped together a checklist of issues that I make sure to cover during the initial (pre-strategy, pre-creative) stages of the project. It never ceases to amaze me how often they are overlooked/underestimated by clients, strategists and project managers.

1. Translation

I’m not going do down the slippery slope of discussing the finer points of translation vs. adaptation vs. transcreation. I’ll leave that for another post. A much more mundane point is cost. The more languages you have, the more expensive it is – and quality translation even more so. However, another often-ignored angle is speed. Good translation takes time, making it tough to keep content fresh, relevant and responsive – which is what fast moving brand demand of web content.

2. Hidden content

Legends. Images. Video subtitles. Voiceovers. Motion graphics. Rollover captions. Forms. Prompts. Charts. Graphs. All these elements can contain textual content that will need inventorying and translating.

3. Metadata

When estimating translation costs, metadata are often forgotten. And what if there are metadata that need to exist for one language/location but not for others? How do you track it?

4. Accents & subtitles

When recording people speaking in a language other than their mother tongue, listen to their accent before sending the crew to film them. Also, remember that if you decide to subtitle your videos, the text will be impossible to read if the screen size is too small.

5. Location & language

Who gets to see what, in what language, and where are they located? Clients need to understand (even if they don’t want to) that translation and localization are not the same thing. Content in French may turn out to be useful in France, Belgium and Switzerland. But a French phone number for Belgian users is rude. Browser language and IP localization can help, but can also be a hassle when the site visitor is browsing when traveling.

6. Geolocalization & mobile devices

The problems are related to those in the previous paragraph, and are exacerbated by social media. Imagine, you’re a registered user of a brand’s local website. You’ve picked your country and language. But you’re traveling abroad and accessing the web via your iPhone with geolocalization turned on. You want to find the brand’s nearest store in the country where you are, but when you go to the Store Directory page all you can see are the stores at home. You get the picture. And this is just one of the problems I’ve encountered.

7. Approval process

This is the dirty underbelly of multilingual content creation. You need to figure out early on who approves what in which language. But this is rarely the case. In the giddy, heady days at the start of a project, no one wants to think about something as mundane as sign-offs.

Obviously, it’s easiest to work and approve all content in one language, but it’s not always practical. If you’ve interviewed someone in French, but written the article in English, in what language do you think they’ll be most comfortable approving the article? And the costs and delays generated by having to redo content (especially audio-video) because someone didn’t like it when they finally read/heard it in their mother tongue are enough to turn a great project into a giant fiasco.

8. Social media

“Oh, let’s set up a Twitter account for our brand.” And in what language will you tweet? I ask. Who tweets? Agency or client? What’s the workflow and approval process?

9. CMS

Does the existing one support localization? Which one to pick if they don’t have one? Have they budgeted for it? If you’re obligated to work with the existing CMS and it won’t support your ideas, it’s a recipe for disappointment. Oh, and don’t get me started on IT departments that won’t authorize certain kinds of content or that impose a crappy CMS.

10. Budget & Time

I’ve seen too many projects get the axe because the budget was just plain unrealistic. The client may have loved the creative, loved the concept, loved the UX, but it was too costly to be feasible. Get an idea of the budget as soon as you can. Ensure that there is no disconnect between ambition, technology and dinero.

Speaking of disconnect, one of the best ways to keep costs under control is to assemble a multi-lingual CS team that includes members from all the localities served by the site. But since many brand CS projects are managed centrally by head office, this is rarely the case. There is usually a strong disconnect between what HQ wants from the website what the countries want. If HQ doesn’t know or care about what the countries want, you’ve got yourself a red flag.

In my experience, US companies operating in Europe are notorious for underestimating what a content project will cost in terms of money and time, because they think in terms of one market and one language (two if you’re lucky). This is especially true when you venture out of consumer brands into B2B and internal communications projects.

So, the next time you feel like ripping you hair out on a monolingual project, spare a thought for your CS brethren in Europe.

PS: Like all lists, this one is incomplete and superficial, but it’s start. Feel free to add any other issues that you think might be missing in the comments. I’d look forward to hearing from you.


4 comments on “10 reasons to be kind to European content strategists

  1. Lise Janody
    September 17, 2010 at 8:02 pm #

    Sigh…and if the first translation process wasn’t enough, then the maintenance process is even worse. I managed a site (an extranet with regular, frequent users) that was published in 5 languages, and in theory, we were to have all our content available in all 5 languages at the same time. Of course, that rarely happened, so the English source site was always more up-to-date than the others. The result was that by the time we finally got all the content approved, validated and online, users had already accessed the English version.
    Sometimes they got around to the localized content, sometimes they didn’t. The whole thing was pretty frustrating.
    Anyhow, great article and great points. Hadn’t thought about the geolocalization issue, thanks for putting it on the radar!

  2. Alex
    January 7, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    What? Are you telling me I am not alone? Ohh what a relief!
    Imagine: I work for a Geneva-based secretariat of the UN (UNCTAD)
    and as per Member States’ decision, all content needs to be
    provided in all official languages (English, French, Spanish,
    Arabic, Chinese and Russian) simultaneously. Yes. But the reality
    is different: most of the time, English is the only language which
    is up-to-date. Mainly a resource issue, but also because top
    management doesn’t realize that language parity on a website needs
    a little bit of strategic thinking… Thank you for your


  1. Tweets that mention 10 reasons to be kind to European content strategists | RICHTEXT -- Topsy.com - September 16, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by CS Forum, Richard Thompson. Richard Thompson said: 10 reasons to be kind to European content strategists http://goo.gl/fb/WjAlU Feel free to RT […]

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    […] reasons to be kind to European content strategists – from accents to approval […]

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