Letter from the UK: The Rise of the Content Strategist

by Ellis Pratt on 7 February 2013

Editor’s Note: Introducing our first guest blogger, Ellis Pratt!

Ellis PrattBefore I start this post, I’d like to say I’m delighted to have been asked to become a contributor to the STC’s Notebook blog.  I work in a technical writing services company based in the United Kingdom, so these posts will explore what’s happening for technical communicators in the UK and mainland Europe. It’s always useful to discover what others are doing.

I should explain why these posts are called “Letter from the UK.” BBC Radio’s “Letter from America” was the longest-running speech radio programme in history, so “Letter from the UK” seemed to be a fitting title.


The rise of the content strategist

In fewer than 18 months, the London Content Strategy Meetup group has grown to over 1,000 members, with its monthly meetings full to capacity and with waiting lists.

Content strategy, and content strategists, are on the rise in London.

London Content Strategy meetup

At the January meeting, guest speaker Ros Mackenzie, from TUI Travel, said that it has now become vital for companies such as TUI to be able to publish their content to multiple devices, such as mobile phones and tablets. She said that Google had recently published research showing nearly one in five holidays booked online involved the person using a mobile device.

In other words, large companies such as TUI are realising that, if they want to allow their business to grow in the future, their Web content must be able to work on multiple devices. It also need be re-usable across platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Ros said:

“There is no cost effective way to continually recreate content to get it to fit all the different screens, devices and platforms out there. You should think about content first, content in its own right, not how it will look on a Web page or in that gap in the brochure.”

The poster boys and girls for the content strategy community in London are a few names you might recognise from the STC Summits: Kristina Halverson, Rahel Bailie, Joe Gollner, and Karen McGrane. They are part of “the STC family,” and they are all from North America.

Although the majority of members of the group are likely to see content strategy as content marketing and SEO, a great deal of the talk is about structured content and content in context. Indeed, many of the lightning talks for the next meeting would fit well into a technical communications conference:

  • Cat Townsend: When content strategy is a matter of life and death
  • Catherine Scott: Creating a content strategy for advocacy websites
  • Chris Atherton: Malcontent Strategy: where UX at?
  • Clare Evans: Making publishers ‘appy with HTML5
  • Elizabeth McGuane: On co-creation
  • Ellis Pratt : Applying lean principles to content strategy
  • Lee McIvor: Tigers, tortillas, and faces in clouds: Visual perception and what it means for design
  • Lesley Adair: One strategy, multiple user groups
  • Rahel Bailie: Contextual narrative as a content strategy method
  • Rob Mansfield: How Age UK changed its online donation culture
  • Rupert Bowater: Content cautionary tales
  • Sue Davis: 10 content strategy visuals that changed the world

So does this mean there is an Eldorado for Technical Writers—if they called themselves content strategists, would they suddenly find themselves talking to people on the top floor and doubling their salary? In London, the answer seems to be “not yet.”

I was talking to the owner of  another European company that, like Cherryleaf, offers a specialist recruitment service. She had repositioned her company as specialists in contract strategy vacancies, and she told me the vacancies were almost exclusively for contract positions. There wasn’t a great deal of demand yet for salaried content strategists. I also looked at one of the sites that tracks the salaries offered for individual job roles, and I found the salaries for both contract and permanent positions were broadly in line with the rates for Technical Writers.

Content strategists do, however, seem to be talking “at the C-level” (CEO, CFO, CIO etc), and it seems a fair bet the demand for content strategists and their salaries will increase in line with the need to publish to multiple devices. So it may be a good time for Technical Writers make others aware of their skills in content strategy.

So what do you think? Would you feel comfortable describing yourself as a content strategist? Do you think technical communication and content strategy overlap ? Use the comment box to share your thoughts.

Ellis Pratt is sales and marketing director at Cherryleaf. Ranked the most the influential blogger on technical communication in Europe, Ellis is a specialist in the field of creating knowledge users will love.

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