A Content Strategy Conversation — Sarah O’Keefe

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

Thank you Sarah O’Keefe.


[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?

[SO]: Some organizations are putting in place Global Head of Content, Global Content Manager, or similar titles. I’ve also seen some rumblings about a new C-level title — Chief Content Officer.

I’m not sure how well any of these titles will take hold. Organizations recognize, however, that they need to break down their content silos, and that does indicate an organization-wide role with responsibility for all content.

I’m concerned about Chief Content Officer for the same reason that I don’t much like Chief Strategy Officer. Doesn’t that seem to imply that content or strategy are the responsibility of a single organization? Instead, we should recognize that those functions are important in all parts of the organization.

[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?

[SO]: As a consultant, I already have my dream job! Or, at least, I live with eternal optimism that the next project will be the Perfect Project.

The most important thing I’ve learned is that it’s never about the tools. It’s always about the people. Instead of fighting over preferred tools, focus on building the right relationships. Once you have strong working relationships, tool decisions are much easier.

[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?

[SO]: We faced a different strategic decision regarding localization workflow. Our customer needs better collaboration among geographically dispersed content creators. The content creators are working in different source languages, which presents an immediate barrier to collaboration and content integration. The question was, do we change the corporate strategy to develop content in a single language (in this case, English)?

This approach would allow us to exchange information more easily and avoid using a pivot language in translation. (Content sourced in languages other than English was first translated into English and then translated again into the company’s target languages. English is the pivot language.) The main advantage to using local languages is that the content creators interact more easily with the product development team. Content sourced in a single language would make collaboration easier for the content creators around the world.

We decided that close collaboration within each product development team was more important than close collaboration among the content creators, but it was a difficult choice.

[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?

[SO]: This is not an issue we are seeing.

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

[SO]: Content strategists are accustomed to thinking of content as a malleable asset. Nearly everyone else thinks of content as having a fixed form.

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

[SO]: The ability to get a meeting with anyone I want.

[CH]: Please share additional comments that are relevant to this conversation, if any.

[SO]: It’s more DITA than content strategy, but we are working on an open-source community effort to build out some DITA training.


Vinish Garg | Products. Experience. Stories.