What do you get when you throw a copywriter, an information architect and a media planner into a blender?

Hint: the answer is not a new "Will it blend?" viral video.

It's a content strategist—the hottest new job title to hit the agency scene since "social media guru" started popping up on LinkedIn profiles across the digital universe a couple years ago. With one great exception: this one actually services a vital business function and requires a professional skill set to perform

(I could rant on about every Tom, Dick and Mary with a Twitter account declaring themselves to be a guru, maven or superstar, but do I really need to?).

But, let's get back to content strategy—which serves an incredibly important function.

Why Content Strategy? Why now?
The emerging science on content strategy has emerged in response to two important trends:

  1. Brands are realizing that they can create more meaningful and long-term engagement with their customers by providing a continual stream of valuable content and platforms that deliver that content than they ever could with one-hit wonders like the million dollar micro-sites we saw so much of a few years ago.
  2. Customers are now empowered to consume media on their own terms. And they do so, ferociously.
What's left is a vital need to figure out what all that content should be, where it should come from and how it will get distributed and redistributed to audiences. Ergo, the content strategist is born.

Introducing the Content Strategist
Notice I said "content strategist," not "content strategy." That's been around for quite awhile. I opened up a PowerPoint deck today that was created at Traction in 2006 that was titled "Content Strategy" on the front page. But now because of all this content that needs to be created and all these places it needs to be distributed, we are seeing digital agency want ad listings for content strategists. 

So, who are these strange creatures? What makes a good one?

We live in the age of the mash-up, so it's only natural that this new position is a mash-up kind of gig. To be specific, a mash-up of copywriting, information architecture and media planning. Put them all in a blender and you've got a content strategist.

Let me break it down.

(Copywriters + Information Architects) * Media Planners =
I've always observed a natural proclivity and intuitive skill toward information architecture prevalent in experienced Copywriters I've worked with. This is because good writers understand how to craft a narrative to communicate to an audience. That is essentially what good Information Architects do. Sure, the tools they use are not the same—one uses words, the other flowcharts and wireframes—but the principles are exactly the same. 

Remember the five paragraph essay you learned about in high school?

Paragraph 1 - the Intro
Paragraph 2 - the Counterpoint
Paragraph 3 - Support Point A
Paragraph 4 - Support Point B
Paragraph 5 - Conclusion

That was a mechanism we learned to craft an argument. But why? Because when you turn it on it's head and look at it from a reader's perspective, it's a great framework for convincing people of an idea. This framework is very similar to use case scenarios, a tool used by information architects to map out a visitors anticipated behaviors as they navigate through an application or website. Use case scenarios are a kind of narrative.

Watch me do this quickly:

Intro: Copywriters make great Information Architects
Counterpoint: Admittedly, one works in Word, a writing tool, and the other works in Visio or OmniGraffle, a visual tool
Support Point A: However, the principles behind effective written communication and use case scenarios are the same
Support Point B: And, if you look in the dictionary for a definition to the word "design" you'll find "to plan and fashion artistically" which is a fantastic description of what both of these professionals do every day.
Conclusion: So you see, the principles are the same and their really just different kinds of designers in the first place which is why Copywriters make great Information Architects.

So, the copywriter and the IA are in the blender. How does the media planner come into the picture?

Figuring out what to say is only half the battle.
The question remains: "Where to say it?"

The answer is as many places as make sense. Take this blog post. I'll post it to my personal blog. I'll post it to my blog on iMediaConnection. I'll tweet about it. I'll post it to Facebook. Maybe I'll get ambitious and post it to a Content Strategy group on LinkedIn. There are a zillion ways I could distribute the content I create. If I'm smart, I'll have an objective and I'll have a plan.

A key part of the content strategist role is figuring out where to say it. This is where the Media Planner influence comes in. That involves an understanding of the media consumption habits of the target and of which distribution platforms will work best to achieve your marketing objectives. It also involves an understanding of how much effort it will take to adapt content to that medium (should I add "producer" to my mathematical equation?)

Should Content Strategists exist?
To tell you the truth, I'm on the fence about this. Content strategy definitely needs to exist. But content strategists?

The roles of content creation and content distribution are no doubt closer than they've ever been. That's why I'm constantly dragging folks from the creative department out to iMedia Summits. Having an understanding of the media landscape gives my team a competitive advantage. Today, more than ever, the medium is the message. In the agency of the future, the media planner will sit with the creative team.

But, should they be the same person? I'm leaning toward no. At my agency, Traction, everyone is a strategist. We use cross-functional teams to infuse strategy, innovation and creativity into everything we do. I see no reason to create a special role to perform a service we collaboratively deliver.

What do you think?