Want more respect? Money? Don’t talk content

This Web content expert says senior executives don’t want to hear about your content strategy.


I believe in the power of Web content, particularly words. I have spent my career of nearly 18 years encouraging organizations to take content seriously. And what’s the most important thing I’ve learned? Don’t talk about content.

If you want to get paid more, don’t talk about content. If you want more respect, don’t talk about content. If you want to make progress in your Web career, don’t talk about content.

I love content. My best friends are writers and we can spend hours and hours talking about the minutiae of writing. It’s good fun. But it’s one thing to talk about content to your friends and peers, and entirely another to talk about it to senior managers.

Yesterday evening I had a conversation with a senior manager. It lasted about three and a half minutes. It was for a large intranet. I talked about employee productivity, efficiency, being task driven, helping them do their jobs better, getting products out the door faster, being more flexible and adaptive. I didn’t mention content once. “Send me a proposal,” he said.

If we get this contract, much of the work will involve choosing the right words. We will do extensive research to understand employee tasks. We will come up with a large task list, perhaps as long as 500. We will work for perhaps six weeks to shorten that list to fewer than 100. Practically all that work will revolve around word choice.

I didn’t tell the senior manager about this because I know he has absolutely no interest in it. He just doesn’t care. I have found that not only does he not care, but if I started talking about this content stuff, he’d lose a lot of respect for me.

Isn’t the first skill of the content professional to have empathy for your audience, to understand what they care about and communicate to them in their language? Most senior managers should have an organization strategy with which they are charged to implement. We need to tell them about how we can make them more successful by helping them implement their strategy.

Instead content professionals want a content strategy, user experience professionals want a user experience strategy, IT professionals want an IT strategy, and senior managers, of course, have (or should have) an organization strategy. This does not lead to a better customer experience.

I am well aware that Kristina Halvorson has done excellent work in promoting the importance of quality content, and that she stresses the need for content strategy. However, I would argue that content is strategic, not strategy.

The essence of strategy on the Web is customer centricity. The Web is about the rise of customer power. Social media is just one example of that. Is the organization truly going to focus on and organize around the customer? That’s the key strategic question. How do we frame content in that context?

It’s not about content but rather about culture, because as the great Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Gerry McGovern is the founder and CEO of Customer Carewords and New Thinking email newsletter. Contact Gerry at gerry@gerrymcgovern.com.

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