“When you capture a client’s content strategy what, exactly, do you deliver?”

In the first instalment of my new content strategy agony aunt series, someone asks what it means to deliver a content strategy.
A roy lichtenstein painting of an agony aunt with dark bobbed hair and glasses writing an answer to someone's problems on a macbook

Hi Lauren,

Fellow content strategist here. I wonder if I might ask you a question about one of your listed accomplishments, “Worked with two teams to define and capture their content strategies.” (LP: the writer is referring to this yearnotes post).

A bit of background before my question … I’ve been working as a content strategist since before it was a known title and discipline (so a while, lol). All my focus has been on internal-facing, employee intranets.  I’ve been with my current company for 2 years now as senior content strategist.  This company has been around for a while, is global, and has a bit of a “do whatever you feel like” culture.  I report into IT, which does not really understand content, so I’ve had to do a lot of educating and influencing (and then a bit more educating and influencing!). I’ve spent my time here building content strategy for their new intranet. It’s slow going because of the culture, and also because of siloed ownership.

My content strategy area of focus for the intranet has been on deciding, documenting, and operationalising a variety of deliverables like: content layout standards, content type definitions, end-to-end processes, publishing workflows, roles and responsibilities, intake questionnaires, metadata tagging consultation, IA, content inventory and audit, governance practices, and so on.  Although it’s not always smooth sailing, I’ve been able to make a lot of progress.

So here’s my question. Recently my manager said something to the effect of, “So, where is the content strategy?” I wanted to cry.  I remained calm, and pointed to all the documentation (which is available to everyone). They replied “But what do I say when someone asks me what our content strategy is?”

So, when you defined and captured your client’s “content strategy” … what, exactly, did you deliver to them?


Fellow content strategist

Hi Fellow content strategist,

Thanks for your email and my sympathy on what sounds like an incredibly frustrating conversation with your manager. It can be demotivating to work so hard and then realise that people don’t get it.

Before I get into your question, I just want to say how exciting it is to hear from a content strategist focused on intranets. We need more people like you. Intranets deserve content strategy and I’d love to see more people talking and writing about this. (Anyone else who’s interested, take a look at Lizzie Bruce’s book Task-based Intranet Content.)

Now to your question. The situation that I’m describing when I say “Worked with two teams to define and capture their content strategies” is different to your situation in-house. As a consultant, I deliver something and then I leave. The content strategy has to be something that can be tied with a bow (zip file) and handed over to the client. So what I deliver is documents. But this gives a misleading idea of what a content strategy really is. And it’s a pervasive one.

“Content strategy is not about the documenting, it’s about the doing .”

Content strategy is not about the documenting, it’s about the doing. And by doing, I mean all the brilliant things you describe in your message: “content layout standards, content type definitions, end-to-end processes, publishing workflows, roles and responsibilities, intake questionnaires, metadata tagging consultation, IA, content inventory and audit, governance practices” That stuff? That’s the real work of content strategy.

For a content strategy to be effective, you need to:

  • Put the discovery time in to find out what it needs to address, and how it should best address it.
  • Do the things you say you’re going to do in the document by acting, operationalising, implementing.

You’re already doing a great job at that. So let’s talk about a third thing, which might be where your problem stems from.

  • Share it, socialise it, talk about it, and then talk about it some more.

You say that your documentation is available to everyone, but sometimes it takes a metaphorical fireworks display to get people to care. Especially if they’re not content people. Come to think of it, a real fireworks display might actually help if you’re reporting into IT. Check your budget?!

If I was in your situation, I’d be thinking about doing things like:

  • Writing a content strategy one-liner. Something short and memorable. Pithy even. Something your manager can remember and repeat when they’re asked: “What’s our content strategy?” Look at Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy for the Web for an idea of what this might be like.
  • Putting together a one-pager. Like a lean canvas, but content-focused, capturing all the key points of your strategy in the bare minimum of detail.
  • Crafting a strategic narrative. People remember things better when there’s a story, so tell them one: we’re here, but we could be there, and this is what it’s going to take to do it.
  • Repeating it ad nauseam: let no meeting, Zoom call, coffee machine exchange, or email go by without shoehorning something in about ‘Our content strategy is <BIG MESSAGE>’. I’m exaggerating a bit, but you will probably have to say it more times than you feel comfortable with for people to remember. There’s an old marketing adage about people needing to see your message 7 times before it will sink in – and I feel like there’s a grain of truth in there somewhere.

Good luck with getting your message across – and let me know how you get on,


Got a question for the content agony aunt? Ask it here.

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