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Op-Ed: They’re Called Editors, Not Content Strategists

It’s no so often we get rebuttal op-eds, but Brian Clark, CEO of GMD Studios, was so inclined to offer his perspective after reading last month’s submission from Extractable VP/user experience Dana Larson, who went into detail explaining what exactly entails being a content strategist. Well, now it’s time to pass the mic to Clark, the former publisher of IndieWire and a founding partner of the content production start-up, Mastheading, who has been “helping brands” like Microsoft, Ford , IFC and News Corp. …”leverage content solutions for more than fifteen years.”

If you believe guest perspectives from some experienced folks in the advertising and marketing press, content strategists are your go-to experts for such diverse skills as content audits, SEO reviews, accessibility guidelines, template design, “voice and tone development,” taxonomy and… oh yeah, content development.

Even when these experts promote the mantra of “think more like a publisher than a marketer,” they end up revealing more about how they think publishing works than the way it actually does. Content Marketing is an old, multi-billion dollar-a-year industry now becoming populated with bloggers and Web developers who think it is a new paradigm-shaking career change to position themselves as “content strategists.”

Guess what title doesn’t exist at real publications? Content Strategist. In publishing, we call those “editors” and they come in a huge variety of flavors, from overall editorial visions (Editor-in-Chief) to production management (Managing Editor) to technical implementation (Assistant Editors). Most content strategists from agencies would be labeled “consulting editor” or “contributing editor” by publishers, since they are advising the client and not actually crafting the result.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the table you have Publishers, and in the traditional models of publishing they deal with the world of strategy, brand development, audience creation and revenue generation – the business side of content that writers and editors are likely to describe as the boring part, but are actually a better match for what agencies could deliver to their clients. I’d much rather have clients think of me as a publishing consultant than a content strategist – even real publishers hire publishing consultants.

When publishers work with brands (as we often do) on custom publishing solutions, we bring this duality of roles with us as a business problem-solving tool, the same way we’d use it to solve the problems of our own publications. A decade ago, when I started adapting my skills as a publisher to these new opportunities, content marketing wasn’t a “thing” yet – and the structures we’d bring to the table from custom publishing approaches were often surprisingly beneficial to our agency partners – as their clients usually had decades of experience with custom publishing to draw from as tools for innovation.

A working partnership, even a slightly combative one, between publishers and editorialists can produce great publications and great publishing companies.  Likewise, agencies can work with partners to create systems that solve both sides of the actual business challenges that brands hope content can fix.  So instead of simply thinking like publishers, maybe it’s time agencies became publishers.

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