A Content Strategy Conversation — Rahel Anne Bailie

This is part of the series of conversations that I originally published in ContentHug, in 2015.

Thank you Rahel Anne Bailie.


[CH]: A few content strategists got into this role because ‘nobody else was doing it, and so there was a need for content strategists in the team’. Now, since it has kicked off relatively well, what next to address something else. For example if we talk about titles, what can be the next title of a senior content strategist. If not for title, what next in terms of ownership or value to a business?

[RAB]: I can’t speak for other content strategists. I got into this field because I couldn’t tolerate inefficiencies — endless copying and pasting, for example — when I knew there were better ways to manage content. So I would say I’ve been doing content strategy since the late 1990s, way before the term was acknowledged as a profession. I don’t know whether we’re ready for “what’s next” yet — there’s still lots to do even to get a common set of practices and recognised methodology.

Every client I’ve ever taken on asks for clarification about what content strategy really is, and what I’m going to do, exactly. As far as titles are concerned, I’m not really hung up on them. I’ve been a “senior content strategy consultant” for years and now am Chief Knowledge Officer with Scroll in the UK. The only title I can aspire to now is Queen of Content, I guess! Seriously, though, I’ve been hired as an information architect, usability engineer, UX professional — but it all boils down to addressing content problems for clients, no matter what they call me.

[CH]: Assume that you get your dream job or contract, as a content strategist, lead or otherwise. What is the most important thing that you have learnt so far that you will put into practice there?

[RAB]: Two big lessons that I’ve learned along the way is that (a) without executive buy-in, the strategy will fail. It’s hard enough to get a content strategy implemented when there *is* executive buy-in. Otherwise, it’s like Sisyphus, rolling a rock uphill only to have it roll down again; and (b) for the most part, companies don’t want “excellent”; they want “good enough”. The metaphor would be to not to suggest a Rolls Royce when a Volkswagen would do. Sometimes that is hard when you know that for another 20%, they could have a far more elegant solution, but they choose to save the 20%, even if it means they have to do more manual steps.

[CH]: Content strategists often need to push things around, such as to get a buy in. Can you share some experience when you had to take a really tough call, such as for style guide for voice, for user education, or governance structure?

[RAB]: The hardest calls I’ve had to make usually involve an account manager who doesn’t know how to structure and cost out a project. I’ve had harsh words for a couple of them who have put together a project plan that brings in the (yes, only one!) content strategist too late, for too short a period, and puts together a list of deliverables they’ve copy-and-pasted from a completely inappropriate source — that’s not a content strategy that benefits the client; that’s just a mish-mash of deliverables that benefits the agency!

[CH]: How do organizations address the content ownership concerns when we have content strategists, content marketers and even data scientists? What is your role in defining the content ownership process?

[RAB]: Not all content needs to be owned by a single group. These professions are all very different, and there may be a wide range of content that needs to be managed in various areas. This is where an integrated content strategy is important — how all of this will work together as a reliable, repeatable process to govern content throughout the content lifecycle. That means figuring out the technology aspects with the technologists, the governance aspect with the managers and HR, and the content with the communication staff.

[CH]: What role content strategists can have in disruption–technology or otherwise?

[RAB]: Managing content in a central place, pushing it out to multiple channels is, in itself, a disruptive act. There are entire industries who have vastly stepped up their business agility because of how fast they can turn around the descriptions of their products. They adopted a single industry standard for their content markup, which allows for easy cross-organization collaboration. Other projects are less dramatic, but many of them find the increased agility a breath of fresh air.

[CH]: Can you name any companies or brands whom you admire for their content strategy?

[RAB]: Companies don’t really share their content strategies, often because they don’t want to give away their competitive advantage, or because it’s a “behind the curtain” activity. However, if I were to choose a company, it would be Microsoft. They have over a million MSDN pages, all semantically structured and categorised in ways that exemplify what content strategy is all about. Unless you’re a developer, you’ve probably not dug into the MSDN pages, but it’s worth a look.

[CH]: If you could weave a magic wand only once, what you wish as a content strategist?

[RAB]: That’s a hard question — there are so many things I would like to change! I think what I’d like the most, if I were to wave a magic wand, is for there to be a collective awakening of management in corporations, where mentioning content strategy would be as common as mentioning any other kind of strategy, and be understood as readily as any other strategy, and that they would appreciate the importance of content and what it can do. That would be the day!


Vinish Garg | Products. Experience. Stories. I am a EEES (External Eye Experience Specialist) for startups and their goals, for content, UX, and customer experience.