A Content Strategy Conversation — Hilary Marsh
This is part two of the content conversations series. Our guest today is Hilary Marsh.
Hilary Marsh is president and chief strategist of Content Company, a content and digital strategy consultancy working with associations, nonprofit organizations, and corporations.
A leading content strategist since 1999, Hilary developed and teaches the first graduate-level content strategy courses for the User Experience Design Masters program at Kent State University. She is also starting an online content strategy school. She oversees the 29,000-member Content Strategy group on LinkedIn, and is a frequent speaker at national and international conferences.
What delights you the most about the work that you have done so far?
[HM]: My clients are organizations with large volumes of content created by multiple internal subject-matter experts. They have not had the time or expertise to turn the flood of content into a stream that is planned, created, managed, and governed effectively. I help them adapt best practices for their organization and gain a deeper understanding of their audiences.
I follow this by working with them to develop policies, procedures, and roles to make sure their content follows these practices. I’m really proud of what my clients have accomplished.
What is your dream content strategy project that you want to get involved in? It can be for any group or organization, for any goals, anywhere in the world.
[HM]: My dream project would be for a large, complex organization, where I could bring in a team of experts and deliver a multifaceted content strategy playbook that helps the organization showcase their work through content that resonates with their key audiences and thereby increases the organization’s success. There are so many organizations that would fit this mold — universities, government agencies, large nonprofits, and intranets for large corporations.
What is the most important need or pain point that content strategists have not been able to address as effectively as they would have loved to? It can be for standards, or defining expectations from CS as a discipline, a tool, or for anything else.
[HM]: Getting organizations to see that content is the way their work is manifested in the world, rather than an afterthought. Content strategy really touches organizational development and change management, as much as or even more than content creation. And an organization’s digital presence often reflects is dysfunctions. If a organization budgets in siloes and recognizes employees only for their individual, disconnected work, it will be an enormous challenge to create a holistic, effective content strategy.
So I guess the answer is awareness and buy-in of the causes of content dysfunction and a willingness to consider making organizational changes to become more strategic and effective.
On one hand, we have AI and automation for predictive intelligence and recommendation engines. At the same time, we talk about human centered design, and a personalized experience. How do you see a balance where you can use your awareness and experience to take certain decisions, while allowing technology to automate certain things?
[HM]: For me, none of those things can happen until the people problems are addressed. Content personalization, recommendations, mobile, etc. — all of these assume a pool of underlying content that is consistent, uses a common taxonomy, and operates with the same principles. But that’s not the case, at least in the organizations I work with.
We talk about future friendly content that should make sense for all known devices and channels. Also, this content should be so planned that the architecture can support even unknown devices and unexpected contexts for the way audience may need it in future (as far as possible). How do you prepare yourself to address this massive challenge?
[HM]: See above.
If you get a chance to have lunch with a content strategist in your favorite restaurant in the city of your choice, whom will you pick, and why?
[HM]: I love meeting content strategists in every city I travel to! I do my best to connect with them! I’ve recently met with content strategists at every stage of their careers and in so many different specialties in the U.S. (Seattle, San Francisco, DC, Philadelphia), Canada (Vancouver), and Australia (Melbourne and Adelaide).
Who are the 3 individuals in CS whom you follow for their talks, writings, or for their social presence? Why them?
[HM]: I couldn’t possibly choose only 3 — content strategists are so smart, and in different ways! Here are some whose work I follow closely — there are so many others too!
Sally Bagshaw, Rahel Bailie, Margot Bloomstein, Melissa Breker, Georgy Cohen, Jonathon Colman, Tracy Green, Kristina Halvorson, Carrie Hane, Jess Hutton, Kate Kenyon, Erin Kissane, Rachel Lovinger, Marli Mesibov, Lisa Moore, Kevin Nichols, Melissa Rach, Diana Railton, Kathy Wagner, Meghan Walsh, Misty Weaver, Sara Zailskas Walsh
If you could weave a magic wand to seek one wish, what will you wish as a content strategist?
[HM]: That organizations understood the essential role content plays in determining their audience’s satisfaction and their success. As I say it, content is the way an organization’s work is manifested in the world. I wish every organization makes content strategy an integral part of their business strategy, and makes executing it a job responsibility for everyone involved in creating the organization’s products, programs, and services.