Content strategy’s dirty secret

Shhh. I’ve discovered that content strategy has a dirty little secret: Most companies (i.e., your clients and mine) aren’t publishers — and they probably never will be.

Let’s face facts. The vast majority of companies are in the business of selling products and services. Understandably, they see content as something that should support their business – they don’t see it as their business. They think the need to plan, produce and manage content should be driven by the business, not the other way around.

Why does it matter?

Because there’s been a lot written about “brands as publishers” and “content strategy is about publishing”. To the point that it has become accepted wisdom in CS circles. But unfortunately these notions often get truncated to “companies need to become publishers.” This is tantamount to telling them to change their business model – not an easy sell.

While publishing has become a convenient mental model for many content strategists, for most companies publishing is just another business (and not a very healthy one at that). You wouldn’t tell a hospital that it has to become a car company to cut costs. But you could explain to the people running the hospital that there are valuable lessons to be learned from carmakers.

Publishing as inspiration instead of a finality

I think we need to reframe our pitch. Yes, as producers of content companies can benefit enormously from content strategy and editorial strategy. And yes, as content strategy professionals we can grok a lot from publishing. But it shouldn’t be our only source of inspiration. Personally, i’ve been known to grab ideas from lean manufacturing and agile software development to nourish my projects.

The onus is on us

If we want to promote content strategy to our clients, we shouldn’t tell them they need to become publishers. That’s like telling someone they need a sex change before they can wear makeup. It’s up to us to move our frame of reference towards them, not vice versa.

Content strategy as a practice has a lot in common with the practice of publishing. But to sell content strategy to our clients, we need to show them the measurable value it delivers to their business – not tell them to change who they are.


One comment on “Content strategy’s dirty secret

  1. Destry Wion
    April 25, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    So what it sounds like to me, and what I like the sound of, is that there’s a *lot* of work for content strategists.

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