A content strategy clarion call: get out of the sidelines and onto the field

by Kate on 11/26/2013

a rugby gameI was blessed to work on a project last year in which I was hired as a Content Strategist and yet made no documents. Not one.

Instead the entire project was about balls-to-the-wall making, coding and breaking. It was strategy in the midst of a muddy game, I guess. Whatever it was, I’ve not been the same since. In terms of finding projects that are truly going to satisfy me, I’m near ruined. I’ve tasted the nectar. If you’re a Matrix fan, I took the red pill.

In this post I’ll attempt to sketch for you, albeit in a haphazard way, the scene of that work, what I did, how strategy grew out of making and what worked and what didn’t.

Getting from outside to in on a project team

I so often hear of Content Strategists finding it difficult to get themselves and their processes satisfyingly integrated into a project team and design process; I’ve found this myself and have both failed and succeeded in wrangling my way in. I do wonder if this word ‘strategy’, used in days of advertising-old to spell out 1. expensive research, 2. documentation (and lots of) and 3. presentations – a primordial state of pre-ideas and pre-production – if it is not making matters worse? Is it this 1-2-3 approach that’s putting us in a position, or should I say ‘me’ and not assume a collective, of always skirting projects and never really being able to enjoy the flurry and design fury of the let’s-make-it-happen project storm?

Add to this my hooting-and-tooting to be called in earlier than I usually am i.e. when the client realises “holy shit, we have no content” and I’m almost never privy to the main course. No, that’s for the designers and coders, the people who make stuff.

Strategy is before anything gets made, content is last minute. Didn’t you know?

To use a football analogy: I believe that we as Content Strategists can and should be involved throughout a project process, not just as a referee shouting from the side lines or a goalie fending off bad scores, but with sleeves rolled up, shin guards on, locked in team play. Making and breaking with the rest of them.

(Sports fans and eagle-eyed readers: yes, the feature image references rugby and not football.)

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Down gizmos: a wee rant

by Kate on 11/7/2013

multi-electric-vibrator

In our very clever digital age of apps-for-everything it can be tempting to hook ourselves and our clients up to magic and cure-all wonder-machines.

As digital makers we have a plethora of gizmos and gadgets at our disposal to help people and teams in getting things done more efficiently, creatively and perhaps more delightfully.

I’m regularly asked: Do you think gizmo ‘x’ is good? Well, yes, it is an excellent tool if it’s going to solve your problem but we haven’t yet defined your problem. A knife is an excellent tool when you’re faced with a steak, not so useful when you’re seated in front of a bowl of porridge.

Not every problem can be solved with a tool. Sometimes there’s only one tool that will solve the problem and it’s called ‘let’s work smarter’. Come to think of it, there’s also the ‘hey, no machine is going to do your job for you’ tool.

Sometimes the last thing a problem needs is another tool.

Often times it’s not about replacing ourselves – how convenient – but about using tools that enhance the work we do.

Tools don’t solve problems, humans do.

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The cathedral that never was: a lesson in pragmatic creativity

by Kate on 02/9/2013

Lutyens unbuilt Liverpool cathedral

I recently listened to a BBC Radio 4 feature called ‘Unbuilt Britain: Liverpool’s Other Cathedral‘ which tells the story of the renowned British architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens (29 March 1869 – 1 January 1944) and his never-built work, a cathedral of such magnitude and magnificence that it would have dominated Liverpool’s skyline and rivalled any around the world.

The cathedral was commissioned in 1930 and was for the most part to be funded by the working class Catholics of Liverpool’s growing industrial port. The cathedral plans were so ambitious however that even the finely detailed model was never fully completed.

Hearing the story of Lutyens’ cathedral brought home for me the pitfalls of allowing creativity and vision to override resource and circumstance and of taming an initial vision to a practicable size. The story is a poignant allegory of digital ‘cathedral’ making and a lesson in the timeless value of pragmatism when developing any architecture or space, even digital.

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Content strategy for startups: blazing a new trail

by Kate on 12/31/2012

Wright brothers take flight.

During the first half of this year I was contracted to develop a content strategy for a newly formed organisation. I say ‘newly formed’ in that at the time of starting the project I didn’t know very much about the client and, bizarrely, hadn’t quite wrapped my head around the idea that they were a startup.

I’d always (silly now it seems) associated startups with technology. Since working with this client however, I’ve re-educated myself. I’m now fully cognisant of the fact that ‘startup’ can describe an infinite variety of sparkling new ventures from richly funded to pigeon poor, from independent to nested within a corporation, and from digital culture to any other field. The one thing they have in common though is that they all start at the same place, with nothing.

In this post I share how my tried and testing content strategy methodologies were turned upside down (startups are a creature unto their own), what I did instead (with a focus on R&D), and how I discovered that the work of a Content Strategist can be so much more creative and strategic than I’d ever realised.

Tried and tested

As a consultant Content Strategist I’m used to the idea of learning a lot about a client’s business in a short amount of time.

I start every project with R&D and Diagnosis, a process of learning and discovery that results in a project plan and an informed foundation upon which initial strategic concepts can be formed.

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Create waves, not ripples

by Kate on 12/28/2012

Create waves, not ripples

‘The work of the Pirate is to create waves, not ripples.’ - @dolectures

As a consultant/freelancer (a Mercenary, a Pirate), I’m often called on to make waves where they’re needed and to steer a content vision through personal undercurrents and political rip curls without inspiring mutiny.

My work very often includes adjusting people’s work routines, their foci and perhaps even their job titles. These things are more than just an adjustment in the eight hours they spend at their desks – it’s career focus and future security, it’s job satisfaction, it’s position and power, it’s effort and pay cheque.

I make friends, observe, ask, listen, remember, work with people, attend endless meetings I don’t really need to be in, manage expectations, under-sell what I can do (without killing enthusiasm), and a string of other things I haven’t listed or figured out yet. At the end of the day, even with all this friendly-making and evangelising, the reality always surfaces that I am there to make change.

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The full birdsong: inspired by ‘Strategy on the Inside’

by Kate on 11/19/2012

I‘ve been inspired to write this post by an online conversation that sparked up over a tweet I sent out last week. The tweet resulted in a multi-person twitter exchange and the writing of two very thoughtful blog posts (one by Rachel Lovinger, the other by Destry Wion) regarding the word ‘strategy’ and whether it is an appropriate title for the kind and variances of the work we as digital and content-focused people get up to – not a new discussion but one that seems to revive with fair regularity.

Tweets are funny things – they’re short enough to show a sentiment but really not long enough (and often too staggered) to share the context or full point of the view that gave rise to them. They’re like a single note in a song but not the full melody; a chirp but not the complete bird song, so to speak.

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The user profile thing – sliced, diced and reconstituted

by Kate on 10/11/2012

The user profile thing – sliced, diced and reconstituted

In my time of working with agencies and creatives I’ve come to find that one of the first things that people want to create is audience profiles. At the best of times they’re woven out of formal research but they’re often (in my experience) conjured up using information from business owners or employees, perhaps some personal familiarity with the user group, and a dose of assumption.

They can be fun to create; I’ve also personally not met a client who didn’t enjoy a characterfully written profile. However, and I stick my neck out here, I can’t say I’ve found them to be all that useful. Except for perhaps at the start of a project when you need to loosen up mental juices and familiarise yourself with just who you’ll be creating for – this is a very useful use for audience profiles. Then again, they’re pretty nice to refer to when you feel you’re losing your way or can’t remember why you decided on something. They’re also good as an easy-to-assimilate record for anyone else who later comes to work on the site.

So perhaps I’m eating my words here; perhaps I do find them useful; perhaps it’s just the way they’re typically created that needs some slicing, dicing and reconstituting.

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The very best strategic concepts are nothing if they’re not implemented well

by Kate on 07/31/2012

A strategy is only as good as its implementation

Handing over strategic documents to a client’s content producers and calling my work done is not my favourite way to work. It feels akin, I imagine, to a mother handing her child over to a nanny or sending him off for the first time to school. How will he fair in their care? Will he end up more high-street than high-class?

The very best strategic concepts are nothing if they’re not implemented well.

My sense of success on a project lies not in sign-off of a strategy but in how well the strategy is implemented, in how well it is continually implemented, and in how successful it is in achieving its goals.

A strategic document* is not only there to direct, it’s there to deliver a set of creative and emotive concepts that a content producer will be specifically inspired (not just inspired, but inspired to create specific stuff) so that they in turn may appropriately inspire. It’s an obscure, Chinese-whispers process.

It’s a wonder, to me, but this is what we as Content Strategists, using our own content wikka, try to do.   

The success of my work hinges on how well-trained, inspired, caring, skilled and possessed of time the content producers are and whether they get what we’re aiming via content to do i.e. what manipulation we’re seeking to achieve. Manipulation: it’s what all communication sets out to do.

I don’t hire or fire content producers, it’s never my place on the job. It’s the ability to turn so-so producers into ‘mojo’ producers that makes a really, really good Content Strategist. It’s the ability to inspire and to galvanise, as a project consultant and in a short amount of time, that is a truly valuable skill. It’s a rare skill too and it’s something I’m fixedly working to achieve.

*I rarely deliver documents these days working much more in prototype, visual and short form.

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Bots: the future of content strategy?

by Kate on 07/18/2012

Bots: the future of content strategy?

I recently came across a Wired.com article by @stevenlevy called ‘Can an Algorithm Write a Better News Story Than a Human Reporter?’ It’s an exceptionally interesting read for anyone interested in news, content, and digital media but, read it as a Content Strategist and it’s nothing short of mind-boggling.

In this post I give a quick overview of the article, pick out snippets that should get the hair of any Content Strategist standing on end, and hypothesize what this new technology could mean to the world of content strategy.

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Twenty tips and tricks for being a good project manager

by Kate on 06/29/2012

I‘ve been a project manager on multimedia projects for just over ten years. During that time, and through trial and error, I’ve learned various tips and tricks that help in making sure that projects come in on budget (or under), delight the client, stay on track schedule-wise, and finish with everyone still able to authentically smile at one another over a glass of bubbly.

For the first time openly admitted* and let loose, here they are:

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