What’s a Content Strategist and How Do They Work?

Phoebe Assenza
Sep 4, 2020 · 3 min read

Why I’m building a user guide for designers, devs, product folks, and other stakeholders.

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You can jump to Part One of the Guide here.

I recently wrapped up a project with an agency I’d never worked with before. They needed a Content Strategist because their client said they needed a Content Strategist, and the agency didn’t have a CS team. This is usually fine — most Content Strategists are used to being a team of one, and if they’re working with an open, collaborative, and organized team, things can go swimmingly.

The agency also mentioned they didn’t have a strong handle on Content Strategy as a concept or a discipline, nor had they considered it part of their general process…Also fine. A lot of my work with agency partners involves shaping the trajectory of a project and figuring out the most helpful end-deliverables.

I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad thing that I remain so optimistic after 14 years of doing this that I didn’t see this coming.

I was hired the day before kickoff with the client, and off we went: into a swirly world of distrust, micromanagement, passive aggressive Slack-ing, confusion, and a smidge of outright hostility that I won’t get into.

It had been a long time since I’d been on a team that “doesn’t understand,” (i.e., doesn’t value) Content Strategy, much less champion it as an essential part of building a product, experience, or brand.

It’s 2020 and industry winners like AirBnb, Shopify, Mailchimp, and Slack have all built super-strong Content Strategy cultures that add undeniable value to their brands, products, users, and of course their bottom line.

Those of us who don’t work at companies like this have a lot of catching up to do.

Creative friction is part of any process with a valuable outcome, but Content Strategists often deal with an unnecessary amount of being ignored, excluded, and intensely pushed-back at every turn. At least half the job is advocating for yourself and justifying your involvement in a project, which is exhausting. Most Content Strategists are also women who already run the risk of being shoved aside (at best) in technocratic cultures, so we’re double set up to fail.

It’s every Content Strategist’s job to be an advocate for the practice, but design and UX teams also bear a responsibility to learn more about it and embrace it as an essential part of their process. To help bridge that gap and make sure no Content talent goes squandered—for the good of the entire team—I’m creating a “User Guide” for anyone working with Content Strategists, which should be every design/UX team everywhere, period.

You can read Part One: A High-Level Introduction to the Content Strategist, here.

Part Two will dig a little deeper into Content Strategy processes and deliverables for different projects. If you want some quick-read resources in the meantime: Alexandra Hunter has essentially written the playbook for any new Content Strategist (which is also helpful if you’re an adjacent team member.) And Biz Sanford dives super-deep into how Content Strategy contributes to every stage of a project.

Go to: A High-Level Introduction to the Content Strategist

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