Book Review: Content Strategy at Work

Elizabeth S. Bennett   April 3, 2012

Content strategy is having a moment. I know, people have been saying that for the last two years. I’m not talking about the moment where the average person knows what content strategy is, or the moment where most companies have dedicated content strategists on staff, or even that the term content strategy is on the lips of seemingly every marketer in the land.

The moment I’m referring to – the one that Margot Bloomstein hits on time and again in her new book Content Strategy at Work  –  is that even if someone up top in an organization is willing to overlook content as a strategic asset, everyone on a digital project is now on the hook for raising their hand and saying, “Hey! What about the content?”  Be they designer, project manager, information architect, account manager, SEO specialist or CMS developer, the success of so many digital projects hinges on a thoughtful and multifaceted approach to working with content. And each one of the professionals mentioned above will and probably should be collaborating with a content strategist, or at least someone who is wearing that sexy hat.

Bloomstein’s work is filled with well-drawn content-oriented case studies and should be considered required reading for anyone whose work overlaps with content, and any content strategist who is looking for meaty in-the-trenches examples of how content strategy is grappled with and applied to projects big and small. The diverse set of examples, which she pulls from practitioners at several consultancies and digital agencies*, highlights just how deeply content is embedded in digital work today. From communications strategy, to qualitative and quantitative content analysis, to editorial design, content creation, management, governance, SEO and social media strategy and more, content strategy, is shot through digital project work.

In the Moo case study, we learn how a message architecture can help focus content and drive design decisions. In the Johns Hopkins Medicine case, we are pulled into the challenges of scoping for content strategy, a conundrum many of us face. In the Bows N’ Ties case, we witness the tension between content strategy and search engine optimization. The case studies are informative and fun, skillfully demonstrating the intersection and interdependencies of content strategy with other disciplines. Bloomstein peppers the book with solid and often difficult questions that we should all have written on our whiteboards, perhaps the most urgent one being, “What does the content need to accomplish?”

Bloomstein is at her most thought provoking when she shines the light on complex projects that present a host of strategic, editorial, design, organizational and technical challenges.  For example, the case of the television network that wanted to comingle its programming content with encyclopedic information, a goal that required the active use of nearly every wrench and screwdriver in the CS toolkit. It demonstrates the highly strategic and supremely tactical nature of content strategy in a single project, including a healthy portion of organizational challenge, a common byproduct of smart content choices.

In Content Strategy at Work, Bloomstein frames the cases with meaningful context, crisp approaches to problem solving (I will definitely be cribbing from her message architecture client exercise, which she generously shares) and genuine curiosity. In tackling so much, however, she misses out on a couple of hot spots.  I wish, for example, that Bloomstein had done more exploration of how user research can drive and influence content strategy and how companies are measuring the success of content efforts. Both areas are top of mind for many of us in the field and I hope Bloomstein tackles them in her next work.

Those who practice content strategy and as Bloomstein likes to say, FOCS (Friends of Content Strategy), should revel in this moment, linger over the accomplishments and take pride in the acknowledgement of our discipline.

So now what? Our next challenge, should we choose to accept it, says Bloomstein:

“The goal is to engage in a project or process that will result in a better user experience, one that transcends channel, campaign, or budget cycle. The goal is to establish a sustainable publishing model for your clients and their customers. The goal is to facilitate better, more useful communication, and that cannot happen without content strategy.”

Now get to work.


*Full disclosure: While my Razorfish colleagues Rachel Lovinger and Erin Scime are quoted in this book, I do not have a direct connection with Content Strategy at Work nor did I have any knowledge of its contents prior to publication.


4 Responses

  1. Grant Martin says:

    I was lucky enough to have worked with Margot previously, so I’m especially looking forward to reading her book. Thanks for reviewing it here.

  2. John Mohr says:

    A great review! I am currently at the chapter on CS and SEO, enjoying the book so far and love the great examples.

  3. Helen Sargan says:

    I bought the book on the strength of this review and am finding it indispensible – much better than the other more obvious buy I made at the same time. Thanks very much for the tip.

  4. Niki says:

    I need this book! I’m reading Content Strategy for the Web and I’m one of those people working in the trenches (the PR trenches, to be exact). I hope to get something worthwhile from this one.

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