Leticia Mooney

 
 PHOTO COURTESY OF LETICIA MOONEY

PHOTO COURTESY OF LETICIA MOONEY

 

Queen Pixie, Brutal Pixie Pty Ltd

"NOBODY understands content strategy; trying to sell it based on what it's called is a total waste of time...decision-makers don't care what you call it, they just want their problems solved."

Adelaide, South Australia

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I love your tagline “making business human.” Give us an idea of how you accomplish that.

Thank you! Ok, before I answer your question, let's all get on the same page with what it means first.

We are (and, more particularly, I am) obsessed by the notion of humanity. What is it? How do we express it? What characterises it? How do people understand it? We aren't alone either; there is now human-centric design, human-centric UX, (etc). But the curious thing about that is that - for me - everything with people at the other end ought to be human-centric. Otherwise, who are you designing things for? Algorithms? Animals? Cars? 

This notion of what constitutes a human state isn't an easy one to answer, either. It's why I dedicate so many podcasts to the question (and have a wall filled with sticky notes to go exploring in thought experiments). In general, those that I've spoken to, from business owners to authors, suggest that there are some key components. They are: 1) listening; 2) empathy. The third component is one that I am by no means the first person to talk about (in fact, the first may have been Claude Hopkins, one of modern copywriting's parents), which is to write in terms that the audience understands.

So, for us, a human business is one that listens to its audiences (internal and external); one that exhibits and uses empathy; one that prioritises relationships; one that communicates effectively. It is also one that weaves these things into what it does, so it can still have really tight corporate strategy, it's just that it is a coherent one. (And by coherent, you understand me to mean corporate coherence, a state in which all aspects of a business are moving in the same direction for the same reasons. There are some great articles about that in Strategy+Business by PwC if you're interested.)

We achieve this through a methodology that incorporates corporate strategy, market and task research, understandability and usability testing, and what I've come to call 'audience advocacy', which is a fancy way of saying great communication at the right time for the right purpose for the right people, in the right way.


How did you get your content strategy education?

The million dollar question!

The 30-second answer is: I didn't. Formal content strategy education is a very, very new concept.

The detailed answer is more interesting.

I was trained as a professional & technical writer and editor, and I have a very old-school approach to business and publishing. That is: It's all about relationships and people. Editing, for example, has always been about audience advocacy. I took arguably the most specialised degree out of my university that was possible. This meant that for all of the components of my degree (major, submajor, cognate, electives), I took subjects from the same stream. So I learned how to write literally everything (fiction, non-fiction, creative nonfiction, business writing, technical writing, job applications, criticism, etc); how to edit everything; and everything about the publishing process. My career has not been all in one line like most people, because I don't function that way. 

In parallel with my uni studies, I worked as a music critic from about the age of 19: Starting with the uni paper. My first business was a bespoke publishing house; my second business was an online magazine titled Metal as Fuck, which was a branding and marketing sensation before I sold it (2007-2011). I scoped the entire platform based on my experience working for other online magazines (and my acquired knowledge of websites and basics of websites), designed the UX at the front- and back-ends; designed the approvals flow; briefed all the designers and developers involved; collaborated with industry (music industry) as to what it ought to include and how and why (etc), and so on. It was a drop-shipping eCommerce platform and a magazine, and was extremely unique because of (a) its focus (extreme metal only), and (b) the way we surfaced the industry, and (c) the way we were briefly able to sell incredible product really cheaply.

Our intention was to connect the fans to the back-end of the industry that they never see, so we did rad things like round-tables with the world's greatest music engineers and producers and publicists, and we were pioneers of community chats on Twitter. As a result of my efforts, we had 1000 fans on Twitter before we even had a product; paired with focused PR rather than advertising, we gained ground really fast once we launched. I was the publisher, but in time also the editor (our first one we had to let go), as well as the person running everything else. And yes, I worked about 120 hours a week for no pay for about four years doing it. :) By the time I sold it to Radar Media, we had writers and photographers in every city of Australia, and also in Mexico, Brazil, the USA, Canada, Taiwan, South Africa, England, Scotland, Norway, Finland, Germany, Sweden, and at various times had people from Japan and Russia and NZ and wherever else they appeared. The massive metal festival in Germany, Wacken, put in rules about 'no new media' which we got through because of our strategic approach; and were the first Australian press to cover Bloodstock (UK), Summer Breeze (GER), Wacken (GER), and Party.San (GER). 

This taught me a bunch of things, including:

  • How to build a fabulous platform
  • How to market a fabulous platform
  • How to promote it (I learned from the PRs and publicists I dealt with on a daily basis)
  • How to create engaged audiences
  • How to get buy-in from people in significant places a long way away
  • How to manage 100% remote teams
  • The reality of running a global business from South Australia (hint: very, very, very little sleep and no down-time)
  • The fact that it's music business not music friendship
  • How to mentor writers effectively even when you never see them
  • How to (and not to) monetise an online publication
  •  .... and much more besides.

It's also the vehicle by which I wrote and released my first book, Music Journalism 101, which was the first course of its kind in the world. I published it as a series of blogs, and produced the book after years of people begging me to do so. One of my writers from then is now producing her own publication in South Africa, and recently told me that it's her guiding light for setting up process. Which is amazing!

After I sold MaF, I ended up working in bunch of interesting jobs before  in a call centre taking complaints about newspaper delivery. It was THE PITS! But it also taught me how people view product. It's never the product, it's the place it has in people's lives. It's the ritual in which the product takes place. It's what you might call the bread and butter territory for strategists like Gerry McGovern. 

It also taught me how business failure (meaning, failure to deliver product according to promises made) causes mass exits of loyal customers. About two years into this job, enduring endless teams of "consultants" who were "studying the reasons for the failure to convert and retain", and watching marketing teams fail to connect with customers, and dealing with software that had reporting descoped by people who didn't understand it, and building internal sharepoint sites that other teams begged me to build for them, I realised something.

That something was that I had the strategic knowledge that could have prevented so many of the problems that plagued us on a daily basis! And when this dawned on me, I realised that everyone is just making it up in business. It's not that News Advantage had any more knowledge than anyone else. They were just bigger! They'd just been selling newspapers since 1858 in one form or another. They just had more money! They were still just making it up, based on what they'd done before. Every founder hits this realisation at some point, and it is a seismic shift in how you view the world, let me tell ya.

Anyway, what NewsAdvantage lacked was the strategic oomph to really do anything to pull it all together. After I had that realisation, I understood that I could add a lot of value to other companies, even large, established companies. 

And then after an interesting turn of events I found myself out on my own again.

At that point (2013) I discovered this newfangled phrase content strategy that seemed to describe much of what was my skillset, so I grabbed it and ran as I started validating my new startup.

Like most entrepreneurs, my education wasn't in an institution. It was by learning from every single person around me, every single day, while reading whatever books I gravitate towards to solve this week's problem. And that's still how I learn.

How do you help your clients understand what content strategy is?

I wrote an article about that. But now (2018) I don't bother. I talk to them about their problems in their terms, and sell on that basis. NOBODY understands content strategy; trying to sell it based on what it's called is a total waste of time. This is a very blunt way of saying that the only people it matters to now are those people looking for jobs, or trying to recruit the skill-set - but even then, I suggest you'd end up with an extremely mixed bag of applicants and roles, because marketing has done more for the distribution of the term than the true content strategy fraternity has ever done. (Sorry guys, just what I see.) 

In business terms and sales terms, decision-makers don't care what you call it, they just want their problems solved.

What are the biggest challenges in doing content strategy for law?

There are so many! They are still having conversations like, Why do I need a website, if that gives you an idea. :)

The critical challenge is that the legal market is small, and entirely relationships-driven, and most lawyers know each other. So, as a non-lawyer, that's an interesting challenge. The next biggest challenge is the fact that law firms are run by lawyers, and that many lawyers don't understand business, but they do think all this stuff is fluffy and BS. It's a very reactive industry. I've had lawyers stand in front of me after I've given a presentation and say, 'You know, all this business stuff? I couldn't give a sh*t'.

For all of the challenges, though, there are absolute gems, shining lights. And as the industry undergoes significant shifts, we're going to see more of the adventurous, communication-minded lawyers running boutique firms and really caring about their audiences. They're already emerging (a great example is Hive Legal in Australia, which began with human-centric design principles), and it's such an exciting place to be.

What’s the content strategy community like in Australia?

Man, it's tiny. Unless you ask a marketer, then it's pretty big! (They'd be talking about something else though.)  I think all the key content strategists I could count on 10 fingers. And at least two of them are Kiwis. Ha! I'm in Adelaide, which is 3.5 hours flight from Brisbane and Perth, 2 hours to Sydney, an hour to Melbourne. We're a long way from anywhere, and our town is extremely small (1 million). There are loads of developers here who don't know what accessibility is, let alone content strategy. So, while our community (such as it is) is super friendly and supportive and brilliant, there really aren't many of us. We get about 20 people to a meetup, and that's because we're content strategists, plus the UX community, plus the Write the Docs community.

What’s your favorite part about what you do?

The point at which I hear clients say things like, I love you guys so much I am never letting you go, because it says we've delivered them a whole lot of value. That's a pretty special moment.