At this point in my career, I have contracted for many different companies, both large and small. Only one of those companies had their technical writers work closely with the marketing team. At most jobs, I never met the marketing team. This is unfortunate, because a well-written technical document should be considered to be a marketing tool as much as an informational tool.
At the company that did coordinate marketing and technical documentation, the teams worked side by side. They were literally seated within a few feet of each other. The work environment at this company didn’t have separate cubicles, but rather cubicles that contained entire groups. This created its own problems, but from a team-orientation approach, it kept people working together whether they liked it or not.
This company provided phone and Internet chat support for thousands of customers. It had several call centers, and probably employed more people for support than for any other segment of the company. Because of this, they paid close attention to what people called about, and they acted quickly to put solutions to problems on the web-site as quickly as possible. The company actively tracked the number of calls on every subject. This was a remarkable thing to me as a technical writer. At most companies, I rarely got any feedback from the customers about my efforts. At this company, I often knew within an hour whether or not my work had yielded positive results.
The department I worked in maintained two separate web-based help systems. One was a help system for technical problems and the other was a help system for purchasing/sales related problems. The second area was under the control of the marketing department, but I wrote the copy for both help systems. Occasionally, there were arguments over what could be said on either site, because, from a marketing point of view there were certain things they were willing to admit were problems and other things they tried to pass off as “features”.
The marketing department hated to admit anything was actually wrong with the product, even when the problem was clear. Because of this, I sometimes had to put my creative writing skills to work more than my technical skills. While this could make assignments difficult, the choice itself was intelligent. Any documentation created for a company and read by customers or press should be considered a marketing and public relations document, no matter what the primary purpose of the document is. Bad documentation can drive customers to other products, a fact that far too few companies recognize.
As I’ve said, however, this company’s coordination between marketing and documentation was an exception. It recognized the value of technical documentation AND it understood the marketing component of technical documentation. A few other companies I have contracted for took the time to introduce me to marketing, but I never worked directly with them. At many of my contracts I didn’t meet the people in marketing at all. This became a major issue at one company, when a product I spent a year working on was scrapped because marketing (once they were involved) determined that there wasn’t a sufficient market to justify trying to sell the product. Had the marketing department been a part of product development from the beginning, they would either have figured out a way to make the business model work or (more likely) the project would have been scrapped much earlier.
Generally, lack of communication between marketing and documentation doesn’t have such severe ramifications, but the case for communication is clear. Good communications with marketing can help with the following:
- Setting project goals
- Coordinating document presentation and writing style
- Identifying concerns on either side
- Identifying marketing opportunities
- Tracking product satisfaction
Try to meet the people in marketing whenever possible, and do your best to get their input on projects. Try to get your hands on the marketing materials for your product and determine how you can best match your documentation style to their marketing style without compromising quality on your side. When company politics allow for it, try to bring documentation and marketing together on projects.
If you are a contractor, many of these issues will be out of your control. Contractors rarely get the opportunity to set policy. You should still try to forge connections whenever possible. The primary goal for a technical writer should be creating quality documentation. Working with marketing is one way to help achieve that goal.