One of the coolest people you’ll ever meet in content strategy is Meghan Casey, the author of the new book, The Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines and Templates for Getting Content Right. I interviewed Meghan for Confessions to find out her thoughts on the future of content strategy, how to implement and maintain governance, and what the future may hold. Meghan is refreshingly authentic and her take on things will no doubt delight and surprise you.
AL: Tell me how you got in to content strategy.
MC: “I had a smarty pants brother who advised me that what I major in won’t particularly matter for what I do, but that people always need good writers and communicators. So I went to a small liberal arts college and majored in English with an emphasis on writing. My first job I worked at Planned Parenthood, writing health information brochures. In fact, I did a whole series on puberty for boys and girls, if you want to check those out. Then I moved on to the field of public relations and while at Ameriprise Financial, I made the jump to digital, working on their intranet and editing their secure client websites. After that I moved to Brain Traffic as a writer and then transitioned to being a content strategist.”
AL: What made you want to write the book?
MC: “I was on a business trip with Kristina Halvorson, who leads Brain Traffic, and we were talking about thought leadership in general. Both of us talked about how there were a lot of great books on content strategy out here, but no one took someone from discovery all the way through the content lifecycle and how you maintain the content and evolve the content strategy as needed. I was like, ‘I need this book.’ So, I set out to create something that provides context around my approach to content strategy backed by tools from a bunch of smart people. (Ed. Note: The book has all these cool tools you can read about, learn how to use and download!)
AL: The book is great. I love how zippy and refreshing it is. I noticed on page 16 where you advise content people to think like business people. Shouldn’t content people be business people?
MC: “Yes, I think they should. But what I’ve found is that content people don’t think about the business reasons. I’ve watched them sit at the table with business people and argue for one way. But the business people always respond the same way, ‘You don’t understand—this is how we make money so we need to do what makes money.’ And as content professionals, it’s our job to make sure that organizations are making money, so we need to be realistic about the things we ask for. We do need to understand the budget and be realistic about what happens so we can achieve our goals.”
AL: I love how you talk about the different kinds of stakeholders. One of the categories that really resonated with me is the derailers—those stakeholders who can literally ‘stop a project in its tracks.’ How do you manage derailers?
MC: “Typically derailers have a longstanding history in an organization. They have seen people try things that haven’t worked or try big ideas that aren’t realistic—or that technology won’t accommodate. The best way I’ve found for managing these stakeholders is to bring them along and let them how much you value your opinion. Getting everyone aligned is best for the business.
AL: Your section on content audits was very helpful. Here’s a problem I’ve faced in the past and I’m wondering how you solve it: What do you do when the client really wants a comprehensive audit and they really need only a strategic audit?
MC: “I think we as a practice shot ourselves in the foot a little bit when it comes to content audits. In 2009, we were saying you need to audit every page. But what we really mean is that you need to have a firm understanding of what you have, what formats its in, where it lives, etc., You can run a tool like the ContentWRX Audit (Ed. Note: Extremely cool software that can inventory your content) to get that broader picture.
Then, we can move on to uncovering patterns in content, which you can do with a strategic sample. We don’t need to understand every single page. Let us take a larger, quantitative look at the content, let’s confirm some of your assumptions, give you our recommendations and make a plan to improve it. We don’t need to know everything that’s broken because we’re going to turn it upside down and help you fix it anyway.”
AL: So I’m prepping this presentation on governance, and I liked your chapter in the book. But I have to tell you…I see governance being the hardest nut to crack. Even when people are so well meaning, and have all the tools, a commitment to a culture of governance is really hard to establish. Where have you seen governance work?
MC: “Yeah I agree. There are people who are really excited about it and those who are really resistant to it. I had a client who wanted to do the high level strategy, they wanted to do governance first—figure out who the players were, and I was so happy—we did a whole governance framework where we combined workflow and governance into one big engagement and things were working really well. But then, a few years later someone transferred ownership of web to technology and away from marketing and it all went downhill.
There’s a whole lot you can do with the tools but there are so many factors that can affect it. One of those is behavioral change and it is so hard. I will admit I have not cracked it and I don’t have a perfect example yet of governance being right for the long term.
(Ed. Note: I referenced the Mutual of Omaha interview I did with Heather Tweedy, where she talked about Brain Traffic helping the organization gain executive support for governance.)
We can help our clients and internally, but you do need to have executive support. That Mutual of Omaha is a good example. I’ll also say that I just put this recommendation in a deck and a client totally agreed with me: Anyone who is going to be involved in a content council and not have it in their job description and not evaluated as part of their job description isn’t going to succeed. Governance has to be important enough in their minds to be evaluated on it.”
AL: Tell me about the future. What do you see?
MC: “My concern about the future is that there seems to be this imperative that you must create lots of content, especially in the content marketing world. When we said in 2008/2009 that content is king, we saw organizations start to create mounds and mound of content that littered their websites and the internet overall. I think the future of content strategy really lies in building a strong foundation that anchors everything you do, no matter the format or technology through which our content is consumed. And, I think people are starting to recognize and do that.”
AL: Yes, lately I’ve felt the ‘publish or perish’ tension, even when I’m not sure I have anything to say. Do we want to be slave to a publishing calendar? If I came to you as a client, what questions would you ask me to get at the heart of that tension?
MC: “I would dig in. You always need to ask yourself: What does your audience care about? Personally, what I see a lot is that people they start with the format of the content rather than the substance. We define substance as who is it for, what do they need, what are they trying to achieve. But instead they ask themselves: I have this email newsletter what should go in it? Rather than: I have these things I want to talk about—what format should they go in. I recently had a client who talked about four tent pole articles a month—I don’t even know what that means—it was things rather than what they would talk about
So I would start from a place of: Let’s make sure you should create more content, rather than assuming that creating more content is the solution to what you’re doing. It’s that age old idea of if every problem is a nail, you’re always going to pull out a hammer.”
AL: Thank you, Meghan!
Pick up your copy of The Content Strategy Toolkit today!
Have more questions for Meghan? Ask below in the comments.