How researchers get heard
Abstract lines

Why You Need a Content Pregame

After the third email, I knew we had a problem.

I also knew we were on to something.

My client had just published content advocating for the creation of a new government body to tackle a series of problems that afflicted a huge natural resource.

Easier said than done, of course. And lots of groups were already working to address one or two of the problems in specific localities. But none of them — NGO, government agency, university, or private sector — were attacking all of the problems at scale or systemically.

Or, so we thought they thought.

Now the client was forwarding me emails from people who worked at an existing government agency and thought they were tasked with solving these problems. A government agency the client had wanted to partner with.


The first forwarded email had mounted a passionate defense of the agency’s work (but not its outcomes).

The second and the third emails admitted that the agency hadn’t solved the problem, and basically said nothing short of political revolution could.

The problem wasn’t these reactions per se.

The problem was that we should have seen them coming in response to the content, and planned next steps.

I call that planning the pregame. The client and I had done a pregame for the content — but he had obviously missed the agency’s potential reaction. Now we were playing catchup.

Publishing strategic content is like playing chess: To consistently achieve whatever your goals are for the content, you need to see two to three moves ahead of the move you’re about to make, in order to make sure the move you’re about to make is the best one.

In strategic content, there often isn’t an opponent you’re trying to constrain and defeat — just people you’re trying to get on your side or have a dialogue with. But you still want to provoke responses from your audiences that can be channelled productively.

That result requires a pregame: thinking through how each of your audiences will respond to the content and perhaps tailoring your content to those responses as well as planning your post-publication outreach. It might require reaching out to some of those audiences before the content is published — so you’ve at least omitted the sting of surprise.

If you were a member of each of these communities, how would you want to have your messages broached, and why?

Understand that, and move accordingly. That’s the heart of strategic content.

Back to my client. We had a lot of work to do — but we were also onto something. The subsequent responses to the client’s content confirmed that the agency that thought itself tasked with solving the problems at scale didn’t think those problems could be solved within the status quo.

That’s an opening and a basis for dialogue about my client’s big idea— with the agency and others. That’s the next move.

Bottom line: The pregame doesn’t prepare you for everything. But it prepares you to think three moves ahead of publishing your content — which is already a strategic posture.