Interview with an… Agency Content Strategist

Next up in our job Q&A series delving into different digital communications roles is Danny Chadburn, who works in-house with iCrossing as a content strategist. What does agency life involve, what advice does he have for wannabe content strategists and what’s the best skill to develop to be a success in the field?

Danny Chadburn

What is your job title?

Full-time content strategist, part-time poet.

What does the content strategy side involve?

Working out where the happy medium lies between what companies want to say and what people want to hear from them.

What does that mean in practice?

I work for iCrossing UK, a digital marketing agency, which is part of the Hearst Corporation. I’m based in the Brighton office, working with clients to understand their business and their audience through various research methods. This allows me to help focus their content efforts in a way that complements overall business plans and strategies, feeding into campaign development, site improvements, technical development or internal ways of working.

I’m heavily involved at the pitch stage on a lot of projects, which generally involves conceptualising where a company could be with a cross-channel approach.

What qualifications/background do you need to be a content strategist?

People come into the content realm from many different backgrounds; journalism, PR, marketing, social, UX, search, etc. The common thread I see in successful people is an ability to understand the impact of their actions – you can learn most of the technical skills on the job, but having the ability to interpret quantitative and qualitative data and turn it into solid recommendations is an essential skill to have at your disposal.

How did you get into the field?

While working as a marketing executive I was put in charge of content for a site migration and never looked back… in at the deep end!

What is the biggest challenge in your work?

The ambiguity of the word content. This can make things tricky when a client (or another partner agency) is coming at things from a different angle, so I’ll always try and establish what it is we’re actually talking about early on.

You’ve also got a very low barrier to entry for people calling themselves ‘content experts’. Few people have tangible experience of working across the field, and if a client has previously had a bad content strategy experience, it can be hard to convince them they need to try again.

And the best bit?

The ambiguity of the word content! I like it when a client comes to us with a blank sheet of paper as it allows me and the team to pull our creative socks on and come up with solutions using all the tools at our disposal. A blank canvas scares some people; to me it’s something to embrace.

There’s no set way of approaching online content, and I’m yet to find a framework or template that can be applied across the board; from an agency perspective, every project is a unique challenge needing a bespoke approach.

What’s the rate of pay?

Not as much as when I worked in London, however a walk to work by the sea more than makes up for it. Having had in-house roles for most of my career, I’ve always kept track of how my efforts contributed to the bottom line. Now I’m at an agency that value is even clearer. The best piece of advice I can offer around pay is to know what ROI you can offer so you can sell your skills.

Is there job mobility and security?

Any agency is only as good as their client roster, and thankfully our account teams maintain a healthy list. If you’re looking for an agency job, make sure you ask about the companies they work with, as often the logos on their homepage don’t always tell the whole picture. You might also want to keep an eye out for opportunities to specialise in a particular industry; becoming an expert in retail or travel can open a lot of doors.

Agency life is unpredictable and when a big project crops up or an important pitch comes along it can be a case of all hands on deck. We essentially work as an extension of our client’s internal teams, so if they need us to be somewhere, we’ll go.

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to become a content strategist?

Get your technical skills sorted – if you know how to implement the things that go into your strategy, it’s easier to map them out properly. Learn how to code, know how to install and navigate a CMS, understand how to edit a video, don’t let your writing skills lapse, etc. Even if your knowledge is rudimentary in each of these areas, it gives you the ability to converse with confidence.

And learn how to put across a convincing argument; I’ve seen many creative ideas fall by the wayside as they weren’t pitched in the right way.

Any tips on training and development?

Nettuts+ is my personal favourite for a tutorial, and I’ve been self-taught on pretty much the whole of the Adobe Creative Suite thanks to various sites.

Conference-wise, I’ve found myself drifting away from anything specifically content-focused – I find much more value and inspiration from a UX event or a mobile marketing conference as it steps outside of the bubble and let’s me see how to better integrate with other disciplines.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I’ve got a baby on the way in December, so any long-term thoughts are currently on hold. Fingers crossed one of my many start-up ideas will have come to fruition by then!

Do you have a motto/guiding principle when you work?

Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t have a side project.

Danny Chadburn is currently in the latter stages of writing an ebook on the role of content in responsive websites, due to be published this month. Follow @icrossing_uk to find out when it goes live.

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  1. Vee Bee

    What do you mean by “… having the ability to interpret quantitative and qualitative data?”