If I have to introduce you to Tenessa, well then you’re missing all the fabulous content strategy parties of the year….and cake.  A once content strategist in publishing and at Brain Traffic, Tenessa is the mastermind and owner of the content strategy fanny pack—meaning, she is the woman who plans Confab Events every year.

She agreed to sit down for a Confessions session, but only after I bought her a fanny pack made out of … pink chain mail.

AL: Tell me about your background. It is always interesting to me that content strategists come from so many different career paths.

TG: “My first real job was at a public library because all I wanted was to be with books. From there I moved to reference publishing, and then to humanities publishing. I first heard about content strategy while working at a research organization that published youth development information for parents and teachers. It was a siloed organization where people were trying to create websites, books and newsletters. It was a nonprofit, so some things were divided up poorly—restricted funding, limited staffing.

“Some person named Kristina Halvorson worked in the same building. She spoke at a luncheon in exchange for free Wi-Fi (ed. note: TG swears this is true) and I said, “We should do what she says, we should listen to her.” My team was just starting up a new web project at the time, and I would occasionally pop over to the Brain Traffic office to bug Kristina, ask her questions, and get advice about how to handle these challenges.”

AL: “Tell me about a content strategy problem you’ve solved.”

TG: “While working at this research organization, I realized instead of looking at the individual siloes and goals, I needed to look at all of the resources available. For example, we had four newsletters aimed at only two audiences, and resources were uneven. I was able to bring together the stakeholders and say, ‘Let’s combine two of these newsletters. You can have one of my editors, and we’ll keep your great content. I have resources that can help you.’ It was great to see how I could offer something, instead of feeling contrary or combative.

“So often people find themselves working within marketing or editorial or various departments; they feel like it’s them against the world, and they don’t have the money or resources to get their work done. But I learned that at its best content strategy meant looking at the problems we were trying to solve together, as well as the resources we had and figuring out the most strategic way to move forward.” (Tweet this!)

“Then I started following Kristina on Twitter, and I read everything I could about content strategy. When Brain Traffic had an opening for a content strategist, it made sense for me to apply. Because I am an event planner at heart and started the same year as Confab, I volunteered to help with running the conference.  Then as Confab grew, I moved to the event-planning side rather than the client side.”

AL: What is it like to control the world’s greatest content strategy experience?

TG: “Oh, man. It is so much fun. I love planning all the programming for content strategists and helping them achieve this magical dream world of Confab. Even though I’m no longer in a nonprofit setting, it still feels like I’m doing good in the world and following a mission because of how much people love Confab and how much they get out of it.”

AL: What do you think is an emerging trend in our industry?

TG: “Every year, I look at topics and programming that people submit to talk about at Confab. One year, it felt like everything was about structured content—how to talk to robots was the big topic. Then, one year everything was about empathy and feelings.

What excites me is that the pendulum is coming to the center. Now it’s about ‘How do we create effective authoring experiences that don’t break the machine or the people and gets you better content?’ It’s less about the conceptual structure of content or how everybody feels about their work, and now more about: What’s the great content experience for people both behind and in front of the screens? So I’m excited about the good work everyone is doing and how we are getting there.”

AL: What’s your favorite book and that last book you read?

TG: Because I’m so excited Anne Lamott is coming to Confab Central, I’m rereading everything she wrote, including Bird by Bird and Traveling Mercies. It’s hard to pick a favorite book ever, but I might choose The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. (AL squeals: “Oh that’s one of mine too.”)

Want to share what it’s like to be a content strategist? We would love to feature you if you’re in-house and have great stories to dish. (But, no more fanny packs. Just bragging rights.)


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