Content Strategists: Here's Why You Can't Sell Your Ideas

Where were you the first time you heard the words "content strategy"? For me, I remember it clearly. I remember what I was wearing, what I was doing, and with whom I was interacting. It's a flashbulb moment in my life, much like the 9/11 attacks or the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle.

If you don't remember where you were, that's perfectly ok. The reason it mattered so much to me was because I felt like I had finally discovered a term to describe all the disparate points of my career. In what has become a seminal post in A List Apart, Kristina Halvorson put forth this definition:

Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.

My eyes must have widened like saucers, because for one of the first times in my professional life, I felt like I belonged. Here, in black and white, was the single invisible thread that perfectly tied together all my sales, marketing, writing, and social media strategy positions. I saw that there was a community, at least in theory, of folks who saw the strategic importance of creating cohesive communications to impact the bottom line.

But as I've gotten to know the content strategy community, I'm discovering that we are selling ourselves short of our strategic importance. We have settled. We allow ourselves to be treated as technicians, focusing more on inputs and less on impact. We don't know how to communicate our value and this is costing us, and the organizations we work for, dearly.

Recently, the Content Strategy Alliance sent out a survey to content strategists worldwide to understand who content strategists are and what they do. Over 1200 people responded. The result? Most content strategists (73%) spend the majority of their time doing content audits and inventories. This was by far the most popular task, with editing (71.4%), copywriting (62.9%), and analytics (57.1%) not far behind. Additionally, more than half of all content strategists don't even touch content that appears outside of the digital realm. This bothers me an such a deep level because it runs contrary to what I first felt was the core of content strategy.

Where's the breakdown? We think of content as only digital communications, when in fact the term content should be applied to ANY piece of communication that is created with a purpose. Yes, digital communication is content, but so are print and verbal communications. Content strategists need to take their heads out of their websites and think bigger and broader. We need to think like a CEO and look at how communications impact our entire organization, regardless of their medium or channel. We have the power to bring cohesion to the chaos, but we need to step up and accept the challenge.

Another breakdown we encounter is we don't know how to sell our value to decision makers. "Conducting a content audit" doesn't talk about the benefits of our work. A CEO doesn't care about how the data gets collected. She's not worried over the semantics of whether or not a spreadsheet is an inventory or an audit. She cares about the strategic recommendations that come from the analysis. She cares about getting more customers. She cares about besting her competitors. She cares about creating a brand that creates value for its shareholders.

So, I challenge all content strategists to stop explaining their process and start communicating our value. Only then will we start getting the projects, budgets, and respect we know we deserve.