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.