Sunday, August 9, 2009

AIMA - CHI Atlanta Content Strategy Gathering

I needed a bit of prodding from @flannelenigma and others (thanks), so here is a brief summary of what happened at the recent Content Strategy vs. IT vs. Marketing vs. Design vs. UX smack down panel sponsored by AIMA and Chia Atlanta.


Kristina Halvorson, Brain Traffic, President
Author, "Content Strategy for the Web"

USER EXPERIENCE: Karen McGrane, Bond Art + Science
Senior Partner

MARKETING: John Muehlbauer, InterContinental Hotels Group
Director, Distribution Marketing

VISUAL DESIGN: Brian Ikeda, Philips Design
Senior Art Director

CMS / IT: Ryan Esparza, Content Management Consultant
Past Online Applications Manager at The Home Depot

Despite some poking and prodding by moderator Kristina Halvorson (who was delightful and smart, as usual), the panelist were all just too nice, reasonable, and professional to get into any kind of really heated debate about why content continues to be an issue for Web projects. But that fact remains that it IS an issue. I can’t believe we have not figured this out yet - we’ve been doing these projects for fifteen years now right?

Anyway, if only everyone was as easy to work with in my real-life projects as the panelists!

Putting aside the overall niceness level, these were all very sharp folks with some interesting things to say.

The two points that struck home for me are:

1 - The CMS is never done and dedicated IT professionals are needed to run it.

This was a surprising statement from the IT side and I completely agree. Too often (maybe always?) I see the CMS treated just like any other back-end system by the IT team that supports it. The support and development team is staffed by generic developers with no real interest in content management systems and no interest in becoming CMS experts and having that be a career focus.

I’m hoping that eventually the IT practice will be broken up into specialized areas that support a particular business function. The Web group would have their own IT resources, accounting would have theirs, operations would have theirs etc. This would encourage them to be more focused on their internal customers and less on pleasing the CTO.

In my group the people who produce content and new website designs and improvements are graded on items that are 180 degrees opposed to what the IT group gets graded on. The IT group gets evaluated on making sure the site is up, that there are few bugs and defect logs. The best way to accomplish this is to never change anything. “Isn’t the Web site done yet?” Whereas the design/content group gets graded and how much we can change and improve the site, get new users, increase conversions, etc. We want to change the site every day! We are never going to see eye-to-eye with the current structure.

2 - All departments represented strongly agree that there needs to be a “decider” for all Web content issues.

There needs to be someone with real power to make decisions stick, not someone who is just a speed bump in the escalation path. When the escalation path is used for every difficult decision, then people at the lower level just stop making decisions. Why bother, you are just going to get run over, reversed, or second guessed by people greatly removed from the details.

Kristina pointed out that IBM actually has an editor-in-chief who is close to the projects and has the final say. I’m sure final is not always final, but I think having someone in that role helps keep the process moving.

It was great to see so many people in Atlanta show up for yet another Content Strategy focused event. We are getting a lot of support here and hopefully, good things will spread and we can find a way to reduce the number of projects plagued with content issues.

We should be having another CHI Atlanta - Content Strategy Meetup before too long so stay tuned for that!


  1. Thanks for your insights about the panel, Richard! As the Chair of CHI*Atlanta, I worked very hard to make this event happen, with AiMA's support. It was wonderful to see it come to life.

    I'd like to note two important items:

    1. CHI*Atlanta will make the video available soon at the website.

    2. Any Atlantans interested in future content strategy events can join Atlanta Content Strategy for announcements.

    Colleen (@leenjones)

  2. Colleen.. thanks for putting on a great event. When the videos go up I'll mention it here as well.