How to Become a Content Strategist

This post was anonymously written as part of Blog Secret Santa. There’s a list of all Secret Santa posts, including one written by David McGuire, on Santa’s list of 2013 gift posts.

Part The First

Oh! Hello there, I’m Jonathon Colman.

You may remember me from such works as The Epic List of Content Strategy Resources or perhaps from the somewhat more epic tale I wrote in the fifth grade entitled (and this is true) “The Story of Super Brace-Face.” It was about a young boy (his name was Jon! Just like me!) who wore braces on his teeth and who (quite unlike me) was a super-hero.

Those of you who are reading this in the UK are smirking now because braces equate to suspenders in your part of the world, and it’s rather silly to imagine someone with a mouthful of suspenders… I mean, where would the clips go? And how would they drink tea? More importantly, how would their trousers stay up?

Part The Second

But I digress. You surely know of David McGuire. If not, then I suggest you get in touch with him because he’s a very interesting bloke.

After reading through his blog posts, I can see that David is not the sort of chap who would digress in a willy-nilly, timey-wimey fashion. No, he’s serious when it comes to copywriting — he has voice and tone, marketing strategy, and message architecture. You should hire him and his firm, Lungfish.

Me? Well, as you can see, I’m more like what happens during a Tube delay… the fellow next to you whose gob won’t stop even when everything else has.

Part The Third

Listen: David describes himself as being “an ideas-and-people kind of guy”. I like that. I like how he connects “ideas” with “people” by using “and”. It is a simple word, “and”. And it is powerful. See, I just started a fragment of a sentence using “and” and it slipped right by you, didn’t it? And there I used “and” twice in a row in the same sentence and you read right past it with nary a glance.

“And” is clearly the ninja of words.

Beyond “and”, David makes me think that far too many of us focus on “ideas” and lose sight of whom they’re intended for. Or we over-balance in the other direction, focusing far too much on the “people” side, forgetting that we need to engage them with something of substance.

Much unlike what I’m doing here.

Part The Fourth

Which brings me to my point. I recently had the pleasure of reading David’s excellent piece, How to Become a Copywriter.

In it, he discusses the virtues of setting words on paper, describes how he and others have approached and found success in the field, and he provides a helpful list of writerly attributes that are useful for those who wish to draw payment — and perhaps even pleasure! — from their work.

Just the kind of thing you’d expect from an ideas-and-people kind of guy.

So. David has inspired me to create the following list of qualities that can help anyone become a content strategist.

“Oh, but what is content strategy?” you might ask. “SHUT THE HELL UP I HAVE A LIST!” is my reply.

Qualities of a Content Strategist

  1. You don’t need a formal education.
  2. You do need to be intellectually curious.
  3. You don’t need accolades, awards, or even aplomb.
  4. You do need awe. It is required.
  5. You also need to love karaoke. Weird, I know, and yet it’s true.
  6. You may think I’m joking about the karaoke, but I’m not. The horror stories I could tell you. I should tell you. But I won’t.
  7. This is the lucky number seven and like the number seven, it helps out a great deal if you are lucky. Much of my career has relied on luck, on hap, on chance and intuition, on blessings and breaks, on karma, on kismet, on the kindness of others.
  8. Yes, yes, a good thesaurus helps as well.
  9. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to blog or to post on ALL THE MEDIAS, be they social or otherwise.
  10. But you must have a love for words. And even more importantly: a love of understanding, of comprehension, of gnosis.
  11. You must believe that content isn’t a feature to be bolted on to a web site (perhaps secured with braces!), but rather an experience. An experience made of people.
  12. Save the Soylent Green jokes; I’ve heard them all.
  13. You must be a connector of people, an evolver of their processes, and an understanderer of their challenges as they evolve.
  14. Did you giggle a bit with understanderer in the last point? Good. A sense of humor will definitely come in handy.
  15. You must also be optimistic and believe that all organizations have the potential to become content-driven organizations. And that any content experience can be made better.
  16. Oddly enough, you must also be pessimistic when organizations try to bite off more than they can chew or when they try to proceed without a plan, a calendar, a set of standards, a system.
  17. You should be an active listener.
  18. Indeed, you should be active. Do not stand at your desk all day. Do not sit in meeting rooms all day. Go find people where they are, in their native contexts. That’s where you’ll learn the most.
  19. Finding people, talking with them, getting to know their pains and fears… you’d think that would require extroversion. But it doesn’t.
  20. Rather, it requires empathy. You must go to that place in your head where you’re no longer in your head and instead inside someone else’s.
  21. Are you friendly? You’ve been friendly enough to make it this far down the list, so that seems quite friendly indeed. Unless you’re a masochist, in which case, content strategy is the perfect field for you.
  22. It doesn’t hurt to be the type of person who brings other people snacks or coffee. And who accepts them when they’re brought to you. Showing your vulnerability — and recognizing the vulnerability of others — is essential.
  23. Speaking of which, you will be more successful if you can embrace your love for other people. And for yourself. This is an industry with heart.
  24. It also helps if you are organized, or if there is at least a sort of organization to your personal brand of chaos.
  25. Wine. whiskey. Whatever you need, really. After all, this is hard work.

Thanks, Jonathon: what a lovely Christmas gift, and a heartfelt hymn to your industry. I think it’s smashing, and as you can see I’ve put it on straight away, like a big Christmas jumper with flashing lights on it. You are, clearly, a lovely man (though next time, ask yourself why it’s called *Secret* Santa…). Happy Christmas to you. *raises glass*

Incidentally, dear reader, the big list of blog secret santa posts appears to have been temporarily crushed under the weight of its own awesomeness. Until it struggles back to its feet, I suggest you have a look at Twitter.

(I really do suggest you look: the posts so far have been gorgeous…)

Merry Christmas.

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One thought on “How to Become a Content Strategist

  1. Many thanks, David. I have a hard time with secrets and prefer to be transparent. Speaking of which, I also truly enjoyed your writing and the way you present yourself and Lungfish. Here’s wishing you much happiness and success in the new year and I hope we get to meet up at some point! 🙂

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