Steven Grindlay isn’t going to give you an easy answer. But, isn’t that the whole fun of hanging out with a content strategist?
In this month’s Confessions, we meet a man who has lived around the world, owned two advertising agencies, co-founded the Content Strategy Alliance along with Noreen Compton and now works as an Instructor at McGill University teaching courses in content strategy. Currently working on a book about Competitive Content, Steven gave us all a lot to think about in regards to our poorly named discipline.
How did you get started in content strategy?
SG: “When people would ask me what I do, I found it was hard to have that elevator conversation. I would say ‘Do you have a couple of hours?’ One day while listening to someone describe himself as a systems architect, I thought Aha I’m a content architect! Naturally I checked the term on the Internet naively believing I was one of a kind and realized that I’m a content strategist. It was good to find out there are equally nutty people out here just like me.”
What do you think the future holds for content strategy?
SG: “We really have not done a good job of communicating our value to organizations. What we need to do is address management and say, ‘Here’s why you should consider content strategy, here are the predictive results that can move your needle.’ We need to focus on the enterprise. We need to highlight the strategic value that content strategy can bring to the table; we’ve spent a lot of time rooting around and explaining the executional aspects: message architecture, audits, inventories, content mapping, taxonomies etc, all of the technical bits and pieces, but we haven’t been good at informing business about the strategic component of content strategy and how it can bring real value to the table.”
What do you think some of the major themes are in the marketplace right now?
SG: “The next big thing has to be addressing the disconnection between the CS community and business. Our industry is very fragmented—people saying very different things, best practices are not consistent, there’s not a lot of consensus out there— it’s hard to imagine a business leader getting excited about a practice that finds it so difficult to agree on and articulate what it does and why it’s valuable.”
This is where I interrupted and said,
AL: “It’s hard to be consistent when things are so different. Doctors can have best practices because the human body basically looks the same from patient to patient. But in content strategy, it’s not consistent from project to project.”
SG: “Oh I agree. But that doesn’t mean every project is a reinvention of the wheel, there are fundamental similarities and common practices. The industry is filled with ambiguity and layered with complexity. I think that’s a normal characteristic of an emerging industry. It’s worth remembering that Content strategy is rooted in communication—which has been around for an awfully long time—but it also employs a variety of different skill sets like information architecture and user experience design. Then you add in journalism and editorial skills. On top of that you have ongoing, internet driven, instability and disruption in the marketplace.—but a lot less has changed than people think and that compounds things. It can get fairly confusing.
In a nutshell, we seem to be technology obsessed, we fascinate over new technical minutiae, thinking that each new innovation is a potential game changer that will rewrite the way we do things, and in some ways it may, but in reality the internet is just another medium for communication. The fundamental nature of communication and by inference content— since content is nothing more than the stuff of communication— remains largely the same, people have always wanted and needed to engage and converse for a variety of reasons both personal and commercial. Connecting with each other is a fundamental human need.
The truth is that we live in a world that is a cacophony of conversations. Our strategic aim as content strategists should be to understand and ferret out which conversations are valuable and then shape content to create and dominate the conversations that can achieve specific objectives, regardless of the technology involved or how it is evolving.”
What do you think? Want to be featured in Confessions of a Content Strategist? We’re always looking for fascinating stories to tell—yours could be next. Leave your name in the comments below.