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Content Strategy Workshops: Interview with Rahel Bailie

by Tom Johnson on May 25, 2012
categories: technical-writing

Content Strategy Workshops
Content Strategy Workshops

This year Rahel Bailie and Scott Abel are putting on a new event called Content Strategy Workshops. It's a two-day event, held October 9-10 in Portland, Oregon that follows the Lavacon Conference (held October 7-9, same hotel). I helped work on the website a bit, and I wanted to highlight this new event through an interview with Rahel. 

Tell me about the new Content Strategy Workshop conference you're putting on this year.

That's a good opening question because I want to clarify that this is not a conference, but two days of intensive workshops where practitioners can hone their skills. Scott and I are excited about the Content Strategy Workshops (CSW) event because we want it to become an annual event that practitioners consider a valuable part of their professional development plan, and think of as a resource toward building their skill sets and maintaining their currency in the marketplace.

What prompted you to put on this event?

The practice area of content strategy has coalesced relatively quickly, and practitioners are still scrambling to come to a common vocabulary, come to an agreement on some best practices, define deliverables. There are no continuing education programs (at least not yet) that teach content strategy in any holistic way, so we wanted to fill that gap. Last year, eBay launched the Content Strategy Applied series, wherein practitioners could learn skills that they could take home and start using in the workplace immediately. We wanted to provide that same opportunity to content strategists in North America.

 How does CSW differ from Content Strategy Applied, Content Strategy Forum, and Confab?

This is a bit of a complicated question, but an important one because it can be confusing to understand the conference landscape when it comes to content strategy.

The first Content Strategy Forum was put on by the Society for Technical Communication and was focused on the type of content strategy practices that technical communicators could relate to. The second year, there was a huge swing to focus on the type of content strategy topics of interest to marketing communicators in interactive agencies. I have no idea what the focus will be for this year's conference. It has moved to South Africa this year, though, so it may be out of reach for many North American practitioners who can't go around the world to attend.

Likewise, Confab is a conference, supplemented by a day of workshops. The first year, I found the topics more focused on areas of interest to strategists handling the editorial side of content: marketing, branding, and engagement strategies, content usability, and so on. There is obviously great demand for this, as they've had great success with this format. But any conference can't address all the needs of all practitioners, and we're focusing on the needs of a different segment of practitioners.

Content Strategy Applied is really the event that we connect with the most. That eBay-sponsored event is two days of workshops, bracketed by plenary sessions. We wanted to put on a sister event to CS Applied, and I'd like to acknowledge their influence in our decision to bring that format to this side of the pond. Quite frankly, we thought of calling our event “Content Strategy Applied - North America” but the complications of sharing a brand with a multinational just seemed an unneeded obstacle to overcome, so we struck out on our own. And Content Strategy Workshops says exactly what our event is about: skill-building workshops, delivered by industry leaders, that attendees can apply in the workplace.

Does content strategy fall within the tech comm discipline or the marketing discipline, or both? It seems like Confab is more heavily weighted to marketing than tech comm. Will your event have more of a tech comm feel to it?

Content strategy does fit “within” either discipline, but is actually a superset of these combined disciplines plus other related disciplines that produce content. Situationally, some projects focus on a particular aspect of content strategy, such as the “web refresh” project. But when you think about what's on that website, you could have content of several genres: marketing content, technical content, user-generated content, social content, and so on. And because each content type serves a different purpose, it needs a different treatment. Some of that content may interact with other content of a different genre. So you can see where your question poses a bit of a challenge to answer.

Rather than the division being by discipline, I'd rather peg our event as more focused on the technical than editorial aspects of content, and particularly on delivery aspects. We do have some editorial, but it's more of the technical side of editorial: benchmarking metrics for content quality, a strategy for integrating cross-silo content, content for international markets.

Both Scott and I are known for talking about how having a strong technical foundation is critical to being able to leverage content as a business asset. So a strong part of our workshop series is how to add some serious technopower to content. We have workshops on analytics, content typing and modeling, content migration, multi-channel outputs, and other technical aspects that can seriously hobble a content strategy if done wrong.

Content strategists are looking to learn about these topics, if not to immerse themselves in doing it, at least to know enough so that they don't get bamboozled by developers or CMS integrators. It's not easy to find that type of training – you often have to seek out a workshop from an adjacent profession, and then figure out how to transfer that knowledge to your own practice area – so to come to an event where you get to pick from eight different workshops in two days is like hitting the jackpot.

Why did you decide to dovetail the conference with Lavacon? Are you hoping to make it easy for tech comm professionals to attend the conference?

We owe Jack Molisani, the Lavacon organizer, a big thank you for working with us to figure out a way to co-locate his conference with our workshops. He would generally have a day of workshops adjacent to Lavacon, and the difference is that we're running the workshops as a separate event. By doing that, we can curate the workshops to create an end-to-end experience for registrants.

The Lavacon audience, which used to be slanted more to technical communicators, has become a healthy mix of content professionals, and the Lavacon program reflects that – it's not as tech-heavy as it used to be, and has more strategy sessions. It makes sense to offer the workshops to these professionals, as they've already travelled to the conference, and instead of taking a disconnected workshop, they can put together a workshop program that suits their training needs.

How exactly do the two events fit together? Isn't 5 days of sessions a bit like an ironman conference effort?

Actually, it's not five consecutive days – that would be a marathon! Many conferences are three days, plus a day of workshops. Lavacon runs two-and-a-half days: all day Sunday and Monday, and Tuesday morning. Content Strategy Workshops runs two days: it overlaps with Lavacon on Tuesday morning, and continues the rest of Tuesday and all day on Wednesday.

The two events share a plenary: the closing session of Lavacon is also the opening session of CSW. Because of the arrangement we agreed upon with Lavacon, both events are offering a very sweet deal to registrants: sign up for one event (both events are the same price), and get the second event for $500. So it's quite flexible – two days of workshops, or a couple of days of conference sessions and a couple of days of workshops.

Is this the first event you're running? What have you learned so far?

This is definitely not my first event. I was the conference manager for a wildly successful STC Regional Conference in 2002, and I was conference organizer for the first content strategy conference in 2008 called Content Convergence and Integration, which is still fondly remembered by the content strategists who attended for its high quality program. And Scott has been behind many a successful conference, and certainly knows the industry.

We've put our collective knowledge into the organization of the event: make the event repeatable by tapping into knowledge gaps and filling them, commit to program quality by getting input from industry leaders, start small and stay focused, charge what the event is worth but don't overcharge. We're both innovative people and have certain reputations in the industry, so we're counting on leveraging our own knowledge and contacts to make this a not-to-be-missed event.

You can learn more about Content Strategy Workshops at

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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