Carrie Hane

 Photo courtesy of Carrie Hane

Photo courtesy of Carrie Hane


Founder & Principal Strategist, Tanzen LLC

"The biggest challenge I face as a consultant is getting past the notion that content strategy is writing and messaging."

Washington, DC

Tanzen Consulting



Congratulations on your new book! What gave you the idea? 

A few years ago, after working together on the 2015 IA Summit, Mike Atherton (my co-author) and I were talking about the different ways people used the term "content modeling.” We realized there our work intersected – he’d been doing domain and content modeling outside an interface while I’d been using a content model for CMS implementations. When that end-to-end process was put together, it was different from what others were sharing. So we started by creating a workshop for UX, IA, and content strategy conferences. When the idea of a book on domain modeling was presented, we decided to do it. But we’d cover the entire process, not just domain modeling. And so, Designing Connected Content came to life. 

Content strategy is still a new field but you’re running a consultancy to train people to see content differently. What challenges do you face?

The biggest challenge I face as a consultant is getting past the notion that content strategy is writing and messaging. I focus on the people, processes, and systems involved in creating, connecting, and managing content. You could call it back-end content strategy. Just like there is front-end and back-end development, we have that with content strategy too. My company focuses on what happens behind the scenes to make it all work.

Changing how content is produced and making it more effective takes education. The web has become everyone’s job but very few people were trained in how to make it good. Many people who manage websites, write web content, publish email newsletters, post to social media channels, and make videos fell into for one reason or another. It’s too important now to be publishing digital content without some knowledge about what makes content effective.  

What do you think most clients and stakeholders get wrong about content and how should we, as content strategists, best help them?

Too many organizations think that they are user-centric, but really, they are only rewrapping their websites and content in new packages that still reflect the organization’s desires instead of meeting the audiences’ needs. They start by thinking, “How do I write this web page” instead of asking the questions, “Who is the target audience? What do they want? How can I make content useful that is useful to them?”

In my training and consulting (which is sometimes more like coaching), I focus on defining the audience and their needs along with planning a structure that allows content to be reused across all channels and interfaces. Every content strategist and user experience professional should be relentlessly asking “why” and reminding stakeholders about the users and their needs. They should be practicing what I call “strategic nagging.” We need to patiently and persistently repeat a message for it to get absorbed by the people we work with. Content strategy is change leadership. Practitioners needs to step into the leadership role.

Carrie, when you work with clients on content modeling, what’s the most difficult part for them to understand and why?

The most difficult part is getting people to get their heads out of the website. The content modeling I do is for an organization, not a particular website or product. When we do this, they can use it for all their products, websites, and communications channels.

There is also a lot of ambiguity because it’s a new way of thinking about content for most people. Because they’re used to thinking first about what it’s going to look like, it can be difficult to get them to focus on the attributes of a resource as it exists outside of a digital interface display. But as they go through the process, we can see the light come on and they start getting excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.

What kind of challenges do you see coming up in this field? What kind of opportunities?

One of the challenges I see in the content strategy field is having alignment within the community about what content strategists do. It’s not really a “define the damn thing” problem, but one of being a very broad field. Content strategy encompasses so many different aspects that just calling oneself a content strategist – or hiring one – can mean so many different things. I’ve seen some threads in various communities where people are telling others that they aren’t real content strategists. That’s not helpful. If we can’t reach agreement among ourselves, how are we going to get taken seriously by the business people who need us to be successful?

Another challenge I’ve only recently seen mentioned publicly, but I’ve thought about for several years, is that the field is made up largely of women. And that comes with the same baggage as other “women’s” fields like nursing and teaching: lower pay and less respect. It’s something that’s part of the bigger equality discussion and won’t be solved apart from that.

The opportunities are huge, though. As “content strategy” gains traction, businesses embrace design as a differentiator, and screens fade to the background (think voice interfaces) as content rises to the surface as the most important thing an organization has, people who practice content strategy will become more important and in demand. We who do the care and feeding of the content and its management and delivery systems will have more influence on businesses and products. Content isn’t going away, it’s going to keep increasing in quantity. By applying a strategic approach to the ever-multiplying content, we can improve the quality too.



Andy Welfle




Senior UX Content Strategist, Adobe

"I love that I can build systems and virtual experiences using words and ideas like designers use visuals — words matter, and it feels good to be a tireless advocate for those words."

San Francisco, CA



What are 3 resources that help you keep up with current thinking on content strategy? 

I spend a lot of time on Twitter and Medium, mostly when I’m commuting or switching gears at work. So many of my industry colleagues are great writers, and love to write, so there are fantastic articles out there to be found about UX, the web and content strategy. I especially love “Write Like a Human” or Facebook Design’s publications on Medium. UX Booth is also a great resource for industry trends and relevant perspectives.

Describe a typical workday:

There are usually a lot of meetings. I’m the first in-product content strategist to be at Adobe, and one of my big tasks is to start a practice from scratch, so I spend a lot of time time doing meta-work — explaining content strategy, how it intersects with design, and how it diverges. And because it’s brand-new here, there’s a lot of demand, even though there’s just one of me (for now!). I do have to say “no” a lot.

But, in an effort to turn that into a “yes, and…” and still build some visibility within this huge company, I started weekly content strategy office hours. So if it’s a Tuesday or Thursday, you can probably find me in a booth in the cafeteria meeting with designers and product managers and advising about the language they’re using in their product. I don’t have the time or capacity to do a lot of tactical work there, but I try to advise where I can.

What led you to this field and what do you like best about what you do?

I started my career in digital marketing — planning strategies for and and executing upon social media campaigns for clients at a little agency in the midwest. While I loved the editorial aspects of what I was doing, the marketing work didn’t speak to me. It’s a noble profession, but personally, I felt like my goals were sometimes at odds with the user, whose needs and experiences should be paramount. 

I started looking seriously at UX and product content strategy, which felt like a better fit for me. I was suddenly thinking about terminology in interfaces, language systems, taxonomies, information architectures and other messages rather than the very marketing-driven messaging I was before. There’s a lot of amazing work to be done on the marketing side of the aisle, but I realized it just wasn’t for me.

I love that I can build systems and virtual experiences using words and ideas like designers use visuals — words matter, and it feels good to be a tireless advocate for those words.

If it doesn’t violate any confidentiality, can you describe a recent challenge and how you solved it?

I’m pretty new at Adobe, but I’m quickly learning the most effective thing I can do at this point is to be an advocate for content strategy, or at the very least, help product teams think more about the language in the experience. How do I balance the need to go deep on a product to demonstrate value, as opposed to making a wide but shallow impact to increase visibility? Pretty early on, I interviewed a lot of coworkers in various roles, set up a process for how I would engage with the team, and how they’d like to engage with me. It’s important to be flexible, of course, but it’s more important to be clear and transparent in how you work and what you bring to the table.

How do you see content strategy evolving or changing in the next few years?

I guess it’s a bit cliche to mention, but as chatbots and voice interfaces become better and more prominent, I think that we’ll see visual design and language design merge more and more into one design singularity, but maybe with specialists within that discipline. When I was at Facebook, I experimented with a designer on a voice interface, and we quickly realized that we were doing the same work; structuring sentences, thinking about stress cases, researching natural language, et cetera! It was actually really fun, and it helped us develop some empathy for each other and our respective disciplines.

What would you advise someone who wants to get into this field?

Content strategy is a hard thing to grasp to those who are new to it. I always recommend reading a couple of introductory books to see if it seems like a good fit for you: Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane and Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson are my favorite. If those books speak to you like they did for me, proceed! 

Also, be sure demonstrate your ability to think in systems. At least for UX or product content strategy, I think that’s often what recruiters are looking for in candidates besides being a strong writer. By "systems thinking", I mean that in product content strategy, we need to be able to think about the whole end-to-end experience, and how words and design elements interact with each other. It has a lot to do with using terms and phrases consistently, but also takes into account where a user is within the process of what they're doing.

What are you doing when you're not at work? 

If you stalk me on Twitter at all, you’ll find that I’m a bit obsessed with wooden pencils and stationery. I have a blog I’ve maintained for years about pencils, and in the last three years, a couple friends and I started a podcast about the same, and built up a pretty decent audience. Turns out analog tools of creation are still relevant in a super-digital world.

And if I’m not working on those projects, I’m probably at home hanging out with my cats or exploring the city with my partner.



Melissa Rach

 PHOTO COURTESY OF melissa rach

PHOTO COURTESY OF melissa rach


Dialog Studios

"These days every agency under the sun sells “content strategy”—and every one of those offerings is different. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s confusing. I think as the industry matures, specific subsets of content strategy are emerging that are more clear, standardized, and sellable. "

Minneapolis, MN




Describe a typical workday:

Melissa's dog, tilly

I own a content-focused agency with two business partners, so I have a lot of flexibility in my days. I start every by day by talking to my assistant, Tilde (a.k.a. Tilly the Labrador), about whether we’ll work at home or at the office. After that, every day is different. Some days I work all day (and all night) on client projects, some days I do research or admin stuff for our agency, and some days it’s all sales meetings or client workshops. If I’m on a big client project, I’ll work heads down at the computer for 10+ hours a day, for several days in a row … and Tilly gets really bored with me. But most of the time, I’m able to contain things to a normal work day. This is the best job I’ve ever had.

You’ve studied archaeology. There must be commonalities with content strategy?

When people hear that I have degrees in journalism and archaeology, they usually scoff at the archaeology degree and say something like, “Bet you use that a lot.” Well, actually, I do. Maybe even more than the journalism degree at this point. 

Archaeology is a study of people—understanding their needs and behaviors. It involves creating big-picture hypotheses and proving/disproving them using extremely detailed research, mapping, and categorization. Archaeology is a team activity, but it also includes a whole lot of self-directed alone time. These are all skills that have been immensely valuable to me as a content consultant.

I intended to be a science journalist for National Geographic or Archaeology, but content work is the next best thing. And, it’s less dusty than archaeology.

So many people—even those we work with, sometimes--still don’t understand what content strategy is. You co-wrote Content Strategy for the Web, Second Edition, with Kristina Halvorson and are credited with developing the content strategy quad. How did you become so adept at explaining our field and its processes to others?

I’ve just practiced a lot. I’ve been in the content industry for more than 20 years, so I’ve had plenty of time to work on my messaging. Honestly, though, I rarely launch into a detailed explanation of content strategy in my daily life. I didn’t even come up with the quad as a way to explain content strategy. I came up with it as a way to organize a big client deliverable—and realized it worked for other projects, too. 

The biggest hint I can give to people is: don’t get hung up on trying to “define the field” or using the phrase “content strategy.” It’s not necessary to most conversations. Just like any other content, you need to tailor your pitch/explanation to your audience. Use the words that are clear and meaningful to them. Put the work you can do into the context of their situation. Let’s look at a few scenarios where you might feel the need to explain your content work:

·       Family reunion (you need a one-liner to give Aunt Maggie the basic idea): “I help my company create and organize all the information we give to our customers on the web, in brochures, and other places.” (I know that’s overly simplistic, but it’s enough for starters.)

·       Professional networking (you need an elevator pitch that sets you apart): “I specialize in content projects for large organizations. Most of my projects focus on [YOUR FAVORITE WORK HERE (e.g., messaging, editorial planning, taxonomy)].” 

·       Discussion with a prospective client or internal project sponsor (you need to find out if you are a good fit for the job): “I hear you have some content needs. What’s going on?”  Then launch into services and examples that are relevant to them.

Can you describe a recent challenge and how you solved it?

I have a current client (a global organization) that doesn’t sell products online—even though their customers are begging them to. They have good reason for limiting ecommerce: It’s in the customer’s interest to buy the product with the help of professional. So, we have to find to make the online brand experience valuable with content alone.

By researching successful similar content models in other industries and reviewing user research the organization already had, we are working on:

·       Creating a clear path for users to get to the professionals that can help them

·       Providing messaging that tells why the organization doesn’t sell online and how that’s a benefit to the user

·       Designing a site full of educational information that the users and professionals can use together

How do you see content strategy evolving or changing in the next few years?

The phrase “content strategy” appeared about a decade ago, as a rally cry to get the people to realize that content was an important part of creating online properties.  And, as a rally cry, it worked. Most people in marketing and technology today will acknowledge that content is, in fact, critical to success—not just for online properties but for their business as a whole.

However, as the label of a distinct discipline, “content strategy” jumped the shark. These days every agency under the sun sells “content strategy”—and every one of those offerings is different. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s confusing. I think as the industry matures, specific subsets of content strategy are emerging that are more clear, standardized, and sellable. (Actually, some of those subsets—such as information architecture or editorial planning—were defined before the “content strategy” label and are making a comeback.)

What would you advise someone who wants to get into this field? 

Four things:

1.     Be flexible and don’t be afraid to try things outside your comfort zone. Never done a content audit? Try one. Asked to work on a taxonomy? Go for it.    

2.     But, you don’t have to be an expert in all areas of “content strategy.” Nobody is.

3.     No matter what the books and blogs say, there is no one right way to do content strategy stuff.  Sometimes you need to look outside content strategy for answers. Solving a hard workflow problem? See what human resources experts recommend.  Need to know more about creating sharable content? Talk to some public relations pros.   

4.     Last, and most important, remember content work is a service. You aren’t Hemingway writing a pièce de résistance on beach in Cuba. You’re serving your client (internal or external) and the user. Your work is going to be constrained by user preferences, budgets, timelines, legal guidelines, etc. It’s your job to make the best content you can within those constraints. (Sorry about the dreams I just crushed, you can still be Hemingway on your own time.) 

What are three resources that help you keep up with the latest content strategy thinking?

Oh, boy, I’m not the right person for this one. I learned a long time ago that I if I go onto social media every day, I never get any work done at all. There are too many interesting things to learn about. And once I start learning about a topic, I need to learn alllllll about the topic. I can’t do it in short bursts—I’m not wired that way. If I do go on twitter, it’s for a specific client project … or J.K. Rowling and Carrie Fisher.

I reserve time once a month or so to scan the whole industry instead of following a specific blog or person on twitter. My favorite sources aren’t content strategy-specific, they’re scientists and researchers who study things that help me understand how people learn and how media use impacts us. (I’m still a science geek at heart.)

For example, I like to check out:

·       Annie Murphy Paul’s blog on education

·       Dr. Pamela Rutledge’s blog on Media Psychology

·       University of Rochester’s Brain & Cognitive Sciences website and twitter account (@UoR_BrainCogSci)

·       Trendwatching’s free stuff


Paula Land




CEO, Content Insight

Owner and Principal Consultant, Strategic Content

"...if you are regularly monitoring your content you can create a cycle of constant improvement. It’s like a garden—if you neglect it, the weeds take over. But if you regularly tend it and weed out the stuff that isn’t working anymore, you don’t have to do a time-consuming and expensive overhaul."

Seattle, WA



What three  resources help you keep up with the latest content strategy thinking? 

I sample a variety of sources for content strategy thinking, but spend the most time with: Twitter (I have two accounts myself, @content_insight and @plland), since so many of the people I look to for thought leadership are very active there and I can follow along with conferences I’m unable to attend as well as particular topics of interest to me, like content auditing, content management systems, etc. I also frequent the content strategy groups on Google groups and LinkedIn. In general, these are valuable resources with a good signal-to-noise ratio.

Describe a typical workday:

Because I do both content strategy consulting and my software company management, my days bounce around a lot. I have meetings with clients and work on project deliverables interspersed with doing customer service, product management, and marketing efforts for CAT (the Content Analysis Tool, the software as a service product my company built). I work from home, mostly, and although my clients are a mix of local and non-local, the bulk of my meetings are via phone or Skype, meaning I have a pretty casual work style and no commute, which is nice. I travel to client sites occasionally—local and elsewhere—as well.

As an example, right now, I am working on new project work for two clients, ongoing maintenance-type work for two other clients, and working on a new business opportunity. At any given moment, depending on my inbox, phone, and calendar, I’m doing any one of those tasks. For example, right now, I’m working on a content matrix, page-level content strategy, and taxonomy for one client and editorial and taxonomy guidelines and governance policies for another.

Because I have so many different types of things to work on at any given moment, I can always task-switch to whatever I am in the right frame of mind to work on—deadlines notwithstanding, of course!

How did you become a content strategist?

 I began my career as an editor—a content strategist by another name! I have worked on content for my entire career, starting off in book publishing, moving to digital content for a large software company (okay, it was Microsoft), then into the agency world. I was a content strategy lead at Razorfish (where I first got the title content strategist), then started my own consulting company in 2010. For me, it was a very direct path.

What is the best content strategy advice you’ve ever gotten?

I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten a single piece of advice that stands out, but I will say that the fact that content strategy has become so much better known and valued, to the extent that clients now realize that they need it and they ask for, has helped reinforce the value of content and has been super encouraging. Beyond that, I think that I have learned from every project I’ve done and it’s shaped the way I do my work—so in a sense, the best advice is the on-the-job training.

Your book, Content Audits and Inventories, goes into great detail about why auditing content is necessary and how to use it to develop effective content strategies. What do you think most people don’t understand or get wrong about content audits?

One of the reasons why people often argue against doing content inventories and audits is that they don’t see the value of spending time looking at the current state—they say “we know it’s bad, let’s just throw it out and start over.” What that implies is that they don’t recognize that content is a business asset that you’ve already made an investment in. It was presumably created for a valid purpose and if it were tended to over time and its effectiveness regularly measured, it wouldn’t have to be completely replaced necessarily. And improving existing content is usually less expensive than creating new content. It isn’t to say that you never create anything new, of course, but that you care about the investments you’ve already made.

Which brings me to another misconception about inventories and audits—that they are activities you do once, at the start of a project, and that’s it. Again, if you are regularly monitoring your content—what you have and how it’s doing—you can create a cycle of constant improvement. It’s like a garden—if you neglect it, the weeds take over. But if you regularly tend it and weed out the stuff that isn’t working anymore, for whatever reason, you don’t have to do a hugely time-consuming and expensive overhaul.

Describe a recent challenge and how you solved it:

The biggest challenges I face are rarely to do with the actual content strategy. They are with the people aspect. Quite often, I’ve had the perspective, as an outside consultant, to see how siloed a client organization is—groups who should be working together toward common goals not even knowing about the others, for example. I’ve been in the position of introducing people within their own organization, saying “you two should talk!” This is one of the ways that a content strategist can play a really valuable role—since you’re usually the one person who has the broadest view of the content landscape, you can be the content expert and make those connections in a way that someone internal may not be able to, for political reasons or just the plain fact that everyone is busy in their own area.

The other challenge related to people is organizational change and trying to help people understand and be ready for what they might have to start doing differently, whether it’s changing their content focus, their writing style, the tools and processes they use to create and review content, and so on. As I mentioned, with one current client, I’m working on helping outline what kind of governance model needs to be in place and what that’s going to take in terms of people’s time and roles. I think it has been eye-opening for them to realize that this stuff does have to be planned for and resourced.

How do you see content strategy evolving or changing in the next few years?

 I think some of the trends we’re already seeing will continue to grow in importance—mobile, for example, as a significant factor in thinking about user context. Video is and will continue to be an important venue for content distribution. And we’ll continue to integrate data into our planning and optimization of content strategy. But I’m also hopeful that we’ll continue to see a return to the basics of good content—content that’s written and designed for humans, not machines.

What would you advise someone who wants to get into this field? 

The good thing about being interested in getting into the content field is that the people in the field are content producers! And they are very willing to share their expertise. What that means is that there is a ton of great information out there and a lot of opportunities to learn from people with experience. Go to conferences if you can, read everything you can get your hands on, take a content strategist out for coffee and pick their brain.

This goes along a little with how content strategy is evolving. I see the profession itself evolving in that there are starting to be more formalized opportunities (classes, certificate programs, etc.) to learn how to do content strategy, which means we are developing a body of knowledge and a set of best practices and deliverables that will allow people new to the field to follow a learning path.


Corey Vilhauer

 Photo courtesy of corey vilhauer

Photo courtesy of corey vilhauer


User Experience Strategist, Blend Interactive

"I can say that the line between information architecture and content strategy is pretty thin and usually heavily blurred."

Sioux Falls, SD

Eating Elephant
Black Marks on Wood Pulp



What are 3 resources that help you keep up with current thinking on content strategy? 

Other than some obvious ones (@halvorson, A List Apart, etc.) I think the following three things are cool.

Rian van der Merwe's Elezea is pretty great, and includes a nice little periodic newsletter.

The Content Insight twitter is a good twitter for collecting and reposting interesting content-related things.

I am part of a cozy little Slack channel of close friends who are also content strategists, which I say not because it's open for anyone to join, but because the best resources out there are going to be your friends and people you meet. I've strengthened everything in my daily work by listening and asking questions of people I've met in the industry. We're all each other's resources, so it's important we ask - and freely share.

Describe a typical workday (if there isn’t a “typical” day, just choose an example):

As most people will say, there is no typical workday. But here are some of the things I'll do, depending on the project.

Discovery: Traveling to a client and meeting with stakeholders in order to map out a future site. Interviewing potential site users on the phone and synthesizing their comments. Reading documents. Helping client stakeholders negotiate a sea of potential pitfalls.

Creating: Wireframes, personas, journey maps. Presentations. Jokes about professional wrestling.

Managing: Organizing resources for complex migrations. Site maps and content models. Playlists for each decade of modern music, because I apparently know how to have a super cool time.

For Blend: Writing occasional blog posts. Finding speakers for our Now What? Conference. Speaking at conferences.

How did you become a content strategist?

I was an advertising copywriter working at an agency that wasn't as web-forward as I'd like. So on one hand, I tried to affect change within my organization, while on the other I searched for a new industry that would allow me to pair the web with my background in writing. I talked to Deane Barker about it, and he hired me to build a content strategy practice at Blend.

We did a lot of learning together - the biggest thing being that I found I was no longer excited about the writing part of the web anymore. I found that I really loved content modeling and organizing and creating usable systems that words could live in.

Some people call it information architecture. Working at a smaller organization, I can say that the line between information architecture and content strategy is pretty thin and usually heavily blurred. 

Corey, what led you to specialize in content strategy for small businesses? What unique content strategy challenges does that present?

Simply, we are a smaller organization, and we don't always work with companies that have gigantic budgets or organizational needs. The unique challenges we're presented often land in the sticky DMZ of intent and budget.

Everyone wants all of the things. I'm often put into the position where I have to explain that high-level testing and hundreds of interviews and all of the things that come as second nature in all of those corporate case studies aren't possible when you have a team of two in the marketing department. Our eyes are bigger than our plate, and we don't have the team to back it up (or get it rolling in the first place).

What do you wish most clients understood about content strategy?

That content strategy isn't a thing. It's a process.

Content strategy - especially discovery and planning - feels like a project deliverable (one that can often be overlooked in favor of more time spent on flashy gadget integration). But it's not a deliverable. It's a thing we need to bake into our existing organizations. It's organizational change, not documentation.

Describe a recent project and how you solved a problem or met a challenge.

 We're currently tackling a somewhat complicated migration project that involves a CMS forklift (essentially, lifting a major site and replacing the CMS without actually changing the design or content). The difficulty, we've found, is not in the actual project, but in organizing resources for the actual migration.
We often find the expectation of a content migration project is far from the reality of it - migration is not an easy process, and only small portions of it can be automated. This means a combination of scripts and tools to bring most of the content in, and a team of people who can tackle the automated content and bring it up to the speed.

Our challenge - and this is the challenge for any new site, really - is to balance the tasks of the job with the people working on it. Those most familiar with the CMS are tasked with some of the slower, more complicated content. Those who aren't familiar can use a tool we created to compare old and new content for consistency. It's content triage, really.

How do you see content strategy evolving or changing in the next few years?

I think we still struggle with how to implement content strategy principles long after the initial recommendations have been made. There are some great people talking about content operations - how to organize your team, how to allocate resources, how to strategically prioritize web needs in the face of an already busy marketing and web staff - but it isn't given the same attention as more visible topics like content marketing or user testing.

I see this becoming an area that becomes much more vocal as we further flesh out how CMS and content strategy fit together.

What is the best content strategy advice you’ve ever gotten?

Not so much "advice" as a demand ... when Deane Barker said to me, "I want you to speak at a conference by next year." It forced me to focus on a topic and get acquainted with some of the best minds in the industry.

What would you advise someone who wants to get into this field? 

Take a few weeks, if possible, and help someone perform quality assurance or user assurance testing on a CMS implementation. You will learn more about how content works within a system than you'll get from studying anyone's wireframes or content model, and you will be more disciplined in making realistic strategic decisions. No more blue-sky craziness. Instead: editor-centric content.



Michael J. Metts

 Image courtesy of Michael J. Metts

Image courtesy of Michael J. Metts



Senior UX Designer, The Nerdery

"The better we do at articulating what we do and why it matters, the more valuable we'll be."

Chicago, Illinois 


What are three go-to resources you turn to for the latest content strategy thinking? 

If you're not following Kristina Halvorson on Twitter, you really should. She's constantly elevating content strategy voices around the world.

I also host a Slack group of UX-focused content professionals which has been an invaluable way to dig into deep conversations and talk with people about their work at length. 

Conferences are also a great way to wrap my head around the newest ideas people have. My favorite content strategy conference is Confab. While these can be expensive if your employer isn't paying for them, a great way to attend for free is to speak at one (something I encourage anyone working in this field to do). 

Describe a typical workday: 

I work for a consultancy, so no day is really typical, and I've been enjoying that. Each project has unique needs and concerns. A recent project involved a lot of contextual inquiry-style research at different locations around the country, but I spend plenty of time in front of a computer in the office as well. A big part of what I do is also advocating for content strategy and UX in general with our clients and throughout the company. The better we do at articulating what we do and why it matters, the more valuable we'll be. 

What's the best content strategy advice you've ever been given? 

Reframe the problem. I learned this from Scott Kubie when we worked together a couple years back (he now works at Brain Traffic). He helped me see how the problems people came to us with (like needing to create an email campaign or redesign a section of a website) were often the result of deeper concerns. Whenever I can, I try to ask higher-level questions about the work I'm doing and listen to clients, stakeholders, and teammates. This approach has often made my project contributions far more valuable.

You’re now a senior UX designer. How did you make that transition from content strategy?

I've never been able to separate user experience design from content strategy in my head, so I'm not even sure if I'd call it a transition. Designers should do content strategy and content strategists are already designers to the extent that they're solving problems by creating systems that meet user needs and business goals.

The two disciplines can and should learn a lot from each other. Designers should seek to understand how content will inform their design work and ask hard questions about it. If they don't, someone will have to address content concerns at a point where much less can be done about them. Content strategists (and other content professionals) should take a cue from the design world by communicating their work visually. Content conversations often take a back seat to other design conversations simply because they aren't represented in a way that makes an impact and is easy to understand.

Describe a recent challenge you solved. 

For that recent research project, there were a lot of raw research materials we wanted to have easy access to such as scans of paper notes, summaries, audio files, images, etc. I'm a huge believer in doing user research to inform content strategy and design decisions, but there's always a question of how to take advantage of those findings six months or a year down the road. It's awfully hard to look through files and make sense of them. What I did was create a research summary on a WordPress website using a new open source tool from the Nasdaq design team called Mosaiq. It has been a really nice way to present all of our findings and easily reference the raw materials. I'm hoping to do it again for more projects.  

How do you see content strategy evolving or changing in the next few years?  

Content challenges are everywhere. Recently we've seen lots of chat bots and "conversational UIs" come into the mainstream, and along with the proliferation of VR and video content in general, we're just going to be seeing more content in more places. What does this mean for the people who do the work? Rachel Lovinger did a great job covering that in her talk at CS Forum recently. Our work will get more specialized, and while not all of these people will be called "content strategists," content strategy will have to be a big part of what they do. To me it's exciting, because it allows people to specialize in doing what they love even more.

What would you advise someone who wants to get into this field?

Talk to the people who are doing the work you want to do. They are usually wonderful people who care very much about helping others get to the same place. Buy them coffee and pick their brains. Also: read books and articles as much as you can, with the caveat that once you actually start doing the work, you can't expect it to turn out perfectly. This stuff is really hard, and if we can make even a small difference for our clients and employers, that's amazing. Content strategy is really about organizational change, which is no small thing. The positive change you make with people, processes and projects will make a big difference for your users. 


Rebecca Steurer




Associate Director, Content Strategy, Rightpoint, Chicago, Illinois

"Less is more. Content strategists have a reputation of producing a ton of spreadsheets and details about content needs."

Describe a typical workday:

My days are filled with meetings about potential new business that needs to be scoped and planned, meetings with colleagues about current projects, and staying connected with clients to make sure they are receiving the work they expect. 

What are 3 resources you keep up with information about content strategy? 

Content Marketing Institute



What is the best content strategy advice you’ve ever gotten?

Less is more. Content strategists have a reputation of producing a ton of spreadsheets and details about content needs. It’s best to keep your assessment simple and concise. Try not to overwhelm your client. 

Don’t just read about content strategy, read about UX and visual design, too so you understand the language your team is using.

Rebecca, you've worked for agency clients, been an independent consultant and also teach content strategy. Is there an area of the field that appeals to you most, and if so, why?

For all three that you mentioned, teaching is the key area that appeals to me most. Whether I’m teaching my clients, colleagues, or future content strategists, it is rewarding to know that I can share my experience and knowledge with others who can expand their knowledge, and hopefully develop new best practices in the field of content strategy.

What do you wish most clients understood about content strategy?

That they need to start with understanding what content they have and what they want to have before they start designing a new site.

How do you see content strategy evolving or changing in the next few years?

More companies are going to need customized content to support their products or services. That means they’ll need content strategists and copywriters to help with planning and writing their content.

What would you advise someone who wants to get into this field?

• Read as much as you can about best practices, new practices and of course, whatever Google is doing

• Don’t just read about content strategy, read about UX and visual design, too so you understand the language your team is using

• Pick a specialization in content strategy, for example, taxonomy, message strategy, content development

• Be a part of a large content migration process to understand the type of information you’ll need to think about at the beginning of a project


Jeff Pfaller

 Photo courtesy of Jeff Pfaller

Photo courtesy of Jeff Pfaller


Content Strategy Consultant

"Being able to look at any situation and tie it back to some type of content implication is what content strategy is, at its core."

Chicago, Illinois


Describe a typical workday: 

I haven't had a typical day in years! Part of that is a function of being a consultant, but I think it's also a function of the title. Content strategists are asked to do lots of things - most of the time it's the tasks that nobody else wants to do.

In recent projects, I've found myself plotting out weekly income for a paycheck to paycheck millennial to identify potential messaging touch points, calculating probability outcomes for an NCAA bracket scenario generator, and digging into the social behaviors of moms and business travelers on social networks. 

Content is connected to everything, so I think it's extremely important for content strategists to be able to adapt on a typical day. Being able to look at any situation and tie it back to some type of content implication is what content strategy is, at its core.

How did you become a content strategist?

I came into the role from the creative side - I started as a copywriter in the interactive department of an agency, and moved to Chicago in the mid-2000s where I first had the official title of "Content Strategist," even though that was really just meant "Digital Copywriter." 

Even so, I had to start learning a lot of the skills I'd need once I stepped into a pure play content strategy role. Pattern recognition, understanding business requirement's impact on content, analyzing user behaviors and journeys to map content touch points against, etc.

That served as the foundation to allow me to step into a pure content strategy role, where I learned even more about social media, content marketing, app development, and designing content experiences.

Most clients are reasonable, smart people, despite what agency folks think about them.

What is the best content strategy advice you’ve ever gotten?

Always find a way to be valuable.

That's not really specific to content strategy, but if you're working in a discipline no one understands, if you spend your day focusing on being valuable to the people you're working with, you'll be in a good position.

You've worked on a number of different aspects of content strategy and for a diverse array of clients. Do you have a favorite practice area and why?

No one area stands out. My favorite projects tend to be ones that go beyond selling product. They're focused on either doing something that's never been done before, or something with a corporate citizenship component to it.

What do you wish most clients understood about content strategy?

I wish most clients understood how to ask better questions about content. There have been loads of projects where they tasked us with solving a problem that wasn't their actual problem. Advertising specifically could benefit from a little more rigor around understanding the problem you're trying to solve before jumping in with two feet.

Could you give an example?

A client had asked for a content audit to identify gaps in their content marketing strategy to missed opportunities for topics. They had some great consumer journey research to map against and their stakeholders were bought in and engaged in creating content.

The problem was that their content distribution ecosystem was broken. Content was hard to find, search for, and discover based on where you were in the journey. They could create content until they were blue in the face, but the ROI on that effort was minimal because no one was seeing it.

The solution was simply to be straightforward with the recommendation. I delivered on the ask to identify content opportunities, but made the story about this larger problem I'd discovered. Most clients are reasonable, smart people, despite what agency folks think about them. They responded well to the thinking and agreed to pivot to solve the real problem they had.

How do you see content strategy evolving or changing in the next few years?

I think it'll be interesting to see how content strategists deal with the disintegration of apps and the move from content as a destination to content as something that is delivered at the right moment and the right time. 

I think consumer journeys will continue to prove themselves invaluable, and lots of content strategists are going to find themselves designing to a system vs. individual channels. 

The evolution of wearables will also be interesting to watch - it's another device / screen to account for, but I think the industry will continue to move to responsive content that's agnostic of the device it's displayed on.

What would you advise someone who wants to get into this field?

Don't wait! You're probably already doing elements of content strategy and don't realize it.

Lots of folks spin their wheels trying to define content strategy or worrying about finding the right kind of documentation to use or thinking that they need to check certain boxes. 

Read a lot. Talk to other content strategists. Go to meetups. Find excuses to help on projects that involve content (spoiler alert - there's lots of them). Get experience and start filling your life by solving the problems you're passionate about solving, and the rest will follow.

What are 3 resources you keep up with information about content strategy?

Honestly, the best information I get comes from the teams I'm working on. The inspiration / article is always hyper relevant to what we're currently working on, which makes it infinitely more valuable.

Sites that usually keep cropping up are Global Web Index, Content Marketing Institute, Harvard Business Review, A List Apart, Mashable, The Content Strategist by ContentlyDigiday, eConsultancy, etc.


Hilary Marsh

Hilary Marsh

What led you to become a content strategist?

I started my professional career in magazine publishing and then was a copywriter. When I first discovered the Internet in about 1995, I thought my combination of editorial and marketing writing would be a good fit, but it was challenging to find anyone who was paying for content. I moved from NYC to Chicago in 1997 and got a corporate job where I led their website redesign effort and helped create their first intranet. In 1999, I went to a conference in San Francisco – Web99 – where I first heard the term “content strategy” at a fabulous panel discussion with Molly Wright Steenson and other cool women. When I learned that it meant applying a publishing mentality to websites, I knew I’d found the name for what I’d been trying to invent.

Shortly after that conference, I started to see job postings for content strategists, and I got a job at Sapient, where there was already a thriving content strategy practice. It was challenging to build a team of content strategists, because there wasn’t anyone who already had experience. 


What are 3 resources you keep up with information about content strategy? 

I find great information and links on Twitter every day! Wow, it’s hard to choose just three, but here are some of my top choices:

I do have a Twitter list of content strategy folks:


There are content strategy groups on Google, Facebook, Google Plus – join them. Here’s a list:


And there are content strategy meetups in many places around the world – find one near you:

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