I didn’t plan on becoming a content strategist. In fact, I had never heard of the position before I applied for it.
So it’s only natural that you might be wondering what the heck content strategists do. Essentially, we analyze, plan, research, write, edit, and manage content of all shapes and sizes. This includes anything that involves the written word. From information architecture to website copy, marketing materials, proposals, blog posts, social media campaigns, newsletters, and vision statements—the sky’s the limit.
On any given day, you might find me collaborating with our designers and brand creator, brainstorming themes, tones, styles, and words, doing background research, or organizing and planning content in a way that promotes reader engagement.
While you may think my career path took a sharp left turn, lawyers and content strategists actually have a lot in common.
1. We are persuasive writers
Lawyers spend a lot of time convincing judges and colleagues (particularly those on the opposing side) to see their side of the story.
As a content strategist, I am always trying to persuade my audience, whether it’s to follow a call to action, use a product, or engage with a website. Even internal writing can be inherently persuasive. Every time we write a proposal, we are trying to persuade the prospective client to work with us.
2. We need to choose our words wisely
I’ve learned a thesaurus can be a dangerous weapon.
In law, certain words are pregnant with legal meaning, and cutting out a single word in a contract can have dire repercussions. Even making a grammatical error can be disastrous. For example, a famous dispute between Rogers and Aliant once had over 2 million dollars resting on a single, misplaced comma.
Things aren’t so different in a content strategist’s world.
While I’m not considering a word’s legal implications, I don’t think I’ve ever thought so carefully about the spirit, style, attributes, and feelings invoked by individual words. A headline, one-liner, brand spirit, tagline, or vision needs to fulfill its purpose in just a few words, so every single one matters.
We’ve all encountered marketing blunders that make us cringe—when Timothy’s Coffee offered free samples in exchange for personal information, and sparked outrage when they ran out and offered buy one get one coupons instead, for example—proving that any press is not always good press. In fact, American technology giant, Symantec, polled executives from over 1,200 large enterprises worldwide and found that social media mistakes cost enterprises an average of 4 million dollars per year.
3. Research & planning are vitally important
Regardless of the discipline, I always spend a lot of time planning and doing background research, because I think it’s integral for creating a coherent, structured, and informative piece of writing. I have a writing process that I follow the vast majority of the time: research, plan my argument or strategy, write a stream-of-consciousness draft, fill it in with more research, and edit like crazy.
Although Canlii, Quicklaw, and Westlaw are not a content strategist’s steadfast companions, I still need to do background research on a client’s business, industry, and target audience to ensure our approach and the content I deliver will meet their needs.
4. Our words need to make a good first impression
Before a hearing, lawyers usually need to file written briefs containing their arguments with the court. Judges carefully go over these written submissions, so it is vitally important that it is clear, organized, and well researched. Contrary to the scenes in American courtroom dramas, an Oscar-worthy oral argument rarely makes up for a badly written brief.
Website copy and text on marketing materials are the first written impression a company presents to the world. The writing needs to work with the design to be clear, concise, and memorable. It goes without saying that spelling mistakes or ill-thought-out copy can dramatically lower a company’s credibility and negatively affect business.
5. You could call us master storytellers
Narrative is an effective tool for any type of writing—people remember and resonate with stories. Painting a picture with words can be particularly compelling in a jury trial, and even in a bench trial, a well-crafted statement of facts can influence how a judge evaluates a lawyer’s argument.
Brands are stories in and of themselves. Creating a brand story helps a business build something that people care about and want to buy into, differentiating a company from its competition. This story encompasses everything within a brand, and a content strategist helps ensure that every written piece fits within this broader narrative.
In short, I love working with words. I consider myself a wordsmith, a word artist, and that is something that really hasn’t changed.