Kristina Halverson interview about content strategy.Kristina Halvorson is widely recognized as one of the frontrunners in content strategy. As a consultant in content strategy, Halvorson helps companies create a holistic plan for their content across communication channels. What this means is that she helps map out a content strategy to deliver information that a user really wants instead of, for instance, focusing exclusively on pushing the product or service on a user.  In 2009, Halvorson founded the first Content Strategy Consortium to kickstart a national conversation about content strategy.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Halvorson over a phone interview from Chicago after an introduction from Molly Wright Steenson, a content strategy thought leader and professor at The University of Madison.

So, let’s start with the basics. Can you tell me a bit about your work in content strategy?

I’m mostly doing work right now with VP’s focusing on enterprise and organizational content strategy after focusing on writing and conferences for awhile. My early career was in web copywriting. At that time I was feeling frustrated with how companies were approaching the planning and creation of their content. I hired a few people to refine how I was developing copy for companies and found myself a consultant.

What problems did content strategy initially seek to solve, and how has this changed? 

Initially content strategists like my colleague Steenson were working with content that had a customer service rubric. Now it’s more about broadening this context for customer-driven content across the organization.

What’s the biggest challenge of content strategy?

A lot of content strategy work right now is about scaling down content because there’s a lot out there in the consumer’s way or it doesn’t address their needs. The twist is that when we work with companies to scale and refine their content, there isn’t a lot of leadership within organizations to guide the creation of a content plan. The consulting that we are doing right now is working in between departments to help create some organizational change — this is where I’m helping drive conversations.

When companies want to draw their content to their bottom line, it loses appeal to the user because it can come across as salesy. My conversations with marketing departments where content is often developed get push-back from tech communication and user experience designers because they feel it’s not just about pushing the sale. But I feel like my own interests and experiences are going to marketing because they are still shaping the content.

Where do you see the evolution of the content strategy agency?

Agencies are scrambling to consult and develop content for user/customer experience design. They are playing catch-up with mobile and balance out other stuff with social and SEO. But content strategy is still foreign to a lot of their clients.

Because of an agency mindset for the last 60 years, clients are concerned about content and not consultative services. And so agencies, in their defense, have to buy the content development process from them to integrate it into the content plan, and this can become a sales pitch. The strategy can get lost in the sales of deliverables.

The agency doesn’t always want to be a producer, they want to be a strategist. But many clients are marketers and numbers are based on activity instead of creating new efficiencies.

The thing about agencies is that they are always looking to use the next thing, and so it’s a matter of do you want to sell a new product or do you want to sell new products and services that are strategy? This in the end will make the company operate better. The strategy is just as important as the content.

Do you see a role for corporate responsibility in any of the major recent developments in content strategy?

With corporate social responsibility comes a different approach to positioning, identifying channels to engage with the user, and creating content —  it’s about a different topic that meets the user’s needs in a different way. So that’s great. Corporate responsibility campaigns are kidding themselves though if they aren’t aligning themselves with the brand, values, and company’s bottom line.


Check out more about content strategy in Halvorson’s book, Content Strategy for the Web, one of the leading frameworks for content strategy today, by going here. Feel free to email me at annawattsholcombe(at)gmail.com if you are in the Chicago area and want to chat content strategy.

Thanks, Kristina!


money and meaning, good money

I’ll admit. I think about money a lot. After high school, I worked with AmeriCorps, a national service organization. My rite of passage into adulthood was when the government gave me food stamps to supplement my AmeriCorps volunteer stipend. On my way to get groceries in my AmeriCorps asssigned community, I remember walking past tin houses where first generation immigrants from Laos lived and past children who were chubby but malnourished because there was lack of access to affordable, nutritious food. So when I handed my food stamps over to a cashier for my groceries down the street, I thought about money a lot.

Recently I was introduced to Laurie Kauffman whose life is dedicated to helping companies understand the meaning behind a transaction. What did this experience do for the customer? Did it feel “right,” or did it leave the customer feeling empty?

Laurie Kauffman leads Net Worth Consulting, a Washington D.C. agency dedicated to making the axiom give back more than you take a profitable part of a business. Kauffman says that when companies “touch money, they should also address the point of what a customer wants to get done.” This means to Kauffman making sure that every touch point with the customer delivers an experience that feels worth it. “I’m fighting cognitive dissonance!” says Kauffman. “It’s like when someone uses a product, it makes them feel good. But they aren’t really sure if it feels right.”

As a young adult, Kauffman started to see the worlds of money and meaning collide. She watched her friends struggling to start nonprofits and for-benefit businesses. The nonprofits pitched individuals with money so that they could make something meaningful, while the for-benefit businesses couldn’t figure out how to break past the noise of how consumers connected their money with meaning.

Kauffman went on to receive a Master’s in Finance to begin consulting companies about offering what feels right to the customer. Her journey took her to of all things, improv. Fully Invested, Kauffman’s book published in 2011, talks about how principles of improv are signposts to delivering something meaningful to a stakeholder. A focus on creating trust, thinking about the “we” instead of “me,” and an approach to interacting with others based on “yes.. and?” instead of “yes… but?” are key. This kind of emphasis on a participatory philosophy between the company and a stakeholder can dissolve the dissonance felt by a stakeholder. For the company and its stakeholders, these guidelines of improv creating something meaningful, and it drives profit too.

How did I make meaning from money out of high school when I thought a lot about money (and poverty)? I took into consideration others’ point of view and said “yes… and?” when I marched home with my food stamps from the grocery store knowing that my experience, what felt right, was more important than money.

To learn more about Laurie Kauffman and her book, Fully Invested, go here. To see her Forbes contributions as The Improv Lady, go here.

trust falling image

I recently caught up with Shelli Difranco, Senior Account Executive for Business + Social Purpose, with my curiosity to understand the moving parts in engagement that drive PR agencies connecting brands with meaning. Shelli has the perspective of working from the agency-side for Edelman which annually publishes a report on consumer trust, the Edelman Trust Barometer. Trust is where cause-campaigns can have the most impact in developing a relationship with customers.

Q: What role within CSR does a PR agency play?

A: A communications agency can assist in several ways with a corporate social responsibility program.  At Edelman, where I work, we are involved in various stages – from initial audits and discussions on where to begin a CSR journey through a program’s launch and execution. We work with our clients to develop and evaluate programs and initiate fresh ones to fill any program gaps. We also help clients tell their CSR story to a broad audience, employing traditional media and conference opportunities as well as owned and social media channels. We further help them engage with relevant influencers and create linkages that benefit all parties. In truth, there really isn’t a role a PR agency can’t play within CSR.

Q: What interested you in developing CSR programs for businesses at a PR agency?  
A: Within our team at Edelman’s Chicago Business + Social Purpose practice, we represent a variety of work experiences – from nonprofit design studios to a state legislature to international relations. The main thread connecting us is a passion for social purpose and an ability to communicate what our clients are doing in that regard with clear, concise and compelling language. We understand how increasingly important it is for companies to believe in the social good and not just the traditional bottom line. We also know the value to companies when they connect with their employees meaningfully, allowing them to give their time, money or expertise in ways that resonate with them.

Q: What’s your favorite part of your job?
A: I truly am excited about coming to work each day, and several reasons explain it. Something new and stimulating seems always to await me. In my first year in this role, no two days have played out the same way. It’s also rare that you can work with a team of people so dedicated to our clients and our mission to assist brands, corporations and NGOs unleash the power of business plus purpose for commercial success and social impact.

Q: What is the most recent exciting development in CSR?

A: Over the past few years, a shift has occurred in how people view companies and government. Edelman conducts an annual global study called the Edelman Trust Barometer. It measures people’s views on a range of issues that deal with trust – from managing employees, the environment and transparency of communications. We’ve seen a true change in who people trust most and how they instill that trust.  As consultants and authorities in this space, we consider it imperative to share these findings and help companies, governments and organizations change with the times.

Q: What sectors employ CSR in the most innovative ways?
A: I see companies taking responsible actions with the products they manufacture and/or market.  Many electronics companies are voluntarily taking charge of their own and their consumer customers’ waste streams. Consumer packaged-goods companies are embarking on often-radical, large-scale waste-reduction campaigns. It’s inspiring to see such innovation and commitment.

Q: What role are Millennials playing in developing the CSR field?
A: I would like to think that I and my fellow Millennials are doing a great deal to prod corporations and organizations to be more responsible citizens through:

·         Social media campaigns (pushing change from the outside)

·         Collaborative environments (encouraging change from the inside).

We also are choosing where to spend our money – whether it’s purchasing eyeglasses from companies such as Warby Parker (that donates a pair of glasses for every pair bought) or getting our cleaning products from companies with a commitment to a sustainable future. We are using our skills and our discretionary income in ways that those before us may not have when it comes to protecting our planet and doing good. This gives us considerable clout.

Thank you for sharing, Shelli!

Oh this? I got it in Korea.

This post is part of a series about Korea and the recent transition in Korea to discovering new meaning in money through a rapidly growing capitalist culture. I was inspired to write about Korea after visiting Seoul this summer with my sister. Korea is kimchi-tastic.

My sister, Kara, wrote the following in the last post of my blog series about Korea.

Recently I had the experience of going to South Korea with my sister. Being adopted, this trip offered up an opportunity that no amount of reading prepared me for. And believe me, I have done plenty of reading about Korea.

What struck me most was the sheer amount of consumerism. There were areas where you could find everything and also nothing that you wanted. Blocks and blocks of shoes were shoved in ever nook and cranny of a dark alley. It was extremely hard to process as I walked past mountains of books and rows of ribbon. Where did all of this stuff come from? Where does it end?

Not only were there numerous shopping districts, there were underground districts (this is something that I have definitely never seen before). I found them to be extremely depressing as it was an underground mall or a subway stop filled with shops instead of a rail system. Despite the overload of product around me, an even more overwhelming experience was the number of people standing out of the shops yelling in a microphones, coaxing people to come and buy the best new thing.

It’s no surprise really that with such a great amount of competition, you rely on tactics that are more aggressive. What is going to set you apart from the other 15 nail salons that your store shares a block with? How will people know that your skin care products are more effective than the other 3 stores which all look the same? After exploring them all, it really seems that they all sell the same thing and around the same price.

But what I had the hardest time grasping was the lack of individuality that I experienced while I was there. Clothing stores all sold the same clothes. Everyone wore the same kind of shoes. Coming from a country that has such a diverse nature which originates at our very core as Americans, it was hard for me to come to terms with the idea that no matter which shirt, shoe, or scarf I bought, I was going to see a handful of people wearing the same thing the very next day.

The upside? Coming back to the US, I didn’t have to worry about wearing something that everyone else wears. There is nothing better than the opportunity to say, “Oh this? I got it in Korea.”

Korea is Gangnam Style

This post is part of a series about Korea and the recent transition in Korea to discovering new meaning in money through a rapidly growing capitalist culture. I was inspired to write about Korea after visiting Seoul this summer with my sister. Korea is kimchi-tastic.

It must be good timing on my part to visit Seoul this August with my sister. Apparantly the Korean Wave has hit America and I’m on its tail. If you haven’t already seen its biggest icon, you’ll want to see the following video from South Korean rapper PSY’s “Gangnam Style.” It’s reached 220 million YouTube views and counting.

What’s behind the face of Korean pop culture is also a deeper probing into Korea’s economy and society and their identity in a global culture.

Gangnam is the most affluent neighborhood in Seoul. It gained quick economic status during the 2000’s when the price of high rises in Seoul skyrocketed and those who owned this piece of Seoul rang in money. It’s a trendy place now, with night clubs and affluence pervading Seoul’s trending cafe culture.

I heard while I was in Korea that this has been followed by an equally generous amount of plastic surgery- an embodiment beyond PSY of changes in Korea’s culture.

Plastic surgery accompanies wealth and privilege, and so I wasn’t completely surprised to learn about its growth.  One of the most popular surgeries is to make Korean’s eyes appear larger and rounder. The other is double-jaw surgery where the roundness of someone’s jaw is broken to appear smaller and more square. The Confucian emphasis on the family and the body, the vessel that connects us to our biology, contrasts with the wave of plastic surgery that makes what your parents gave you transformable.

While the face of Korea might by PSY for now, the embodiment of culture takes on a different shape when emphasis is on the body itself. As PSY said in an interview on the Today show, “I’m not handsome, I’m not tall, I’m not muscular, I’m not skinny. But I’m sitting here.” PSY puts Korea on the global cultural economy map through “soul” he says, even if Korea isn’t the tallest, the most muscular, and the skinniest culture in the world.

From Gangnam style:

I’m a guy

A guy who is as warm as you during the day
A guy who one-shots his coffee before it even cools down
A guy whose heart bursts when night comes
That kind of guy

This post is part of a blog series about Korea and its recent, rapid shift to a capitalist culture.

This post is part of a series about Korea and the recent transition in Korea to discovering new meaning in money through a rapidly growing capitalist culture. I was inspired to write about Korea after visiting Seoul this summer with my sister. Korea is kimchi-tastic.

My recent trip to Seoul, Korea was exactly what I needed. I got to step back from my everyday life and take apart perceptions that I have about life and how the world works. This can be useful when you forget that one way of seeing the world isn’t always the way that the world works.

The streets are where I saw Korea’s recent and rapid transformation into a capitalist economy. My sister and I walked down Seoul’s streets every night when we were there. I saw couples holding hands, strolling down streets lined with Western coffee shops, such as Starbucks and The Coffee Bean. These cafes are so popular now that it was hard to find a seat, especially at night, which is where Koreans throw out my Western assumption that coffee is a part of a culture’s morning routines.

It was only in 1987 that South Korea transitioned from out of military dictatorship to a more free capitalist country. With this change came the blending of older Confucian values that emphasizes harmony, family, and a certain social order to things with the choices, wealth, and excess that accompany a capitalist culture.

There has been a lot of attention lately on Korea and its contributions to the tech industry as a part of Korea’s introduction to the world’s global stage and economy. The recent lawsuit by Apple against Samsung, which is headquartered in Seoul, for patent infringements has given Korea this spotlight.

Being at the center of tech is a good thing, but what about Korea’s intellectual movement? I wanted to learn more about it, so while we sat at a bar near one of Seoul’s universities with a friend who is teaching English, I asked about Korea’s intellectual movements. Who is asking the essential questions about Korea’s transformation into a capitalist economy that will help drive Korean identity? What are Korea’s cultural exports that contribute to this conversation about Korea’s new role?

He said that Korean intellectualism wasn’t quite on the center stage of Korea today. While Korea knows that capitalism won’t tear it away from its rich Confucian history and love of kimchi, Korea is still trying to figure out its identity. I saw this reflected in an article in Korea IT Times. Professor Emanuel Pastreich, professor of Humanitas College at Kyung Hee University in Seoul and director of the Asia Institute, says, “The truth is that most intellectuals in the United States, Europe or even Japan cannot name any Korean writers, have not read the essays of Korea’s major intellectuals, and have little sense of the depth of Korea’s history.” Professor Pastreich goes on to say, “The highest priority is for us to introduce Korea’s cultural past. There is an incredible wealth of writings by Koreans on Buddhism, Confucianism, self, and society produced over the last two millennia that has barely been touched.”

While Seoul might not have translated all of its intellectual history into terms that we English speakers can understand, Korea sits at the beginning of a long learning process about who it is as a country based on the economic reform that has taken on Korea so rapidly. Shifting through the meaning of culture and its connection to its economy is like my travels to Seoul. But if the rest of the world is interested in Samsung and the girls in the coffee shops are most interested in their mocha lattes, I think I’m more interested in Korea’s intellectual economy and what’s to come.

Another Dollar, A New Phase

I recently met up with Julia Smith over a cup of coffee. She just moved to Chicago from New York where she worked as Communications Manager at Idealist.org. In her blog series, 28 turning 29, she talks about the astrological meaning of the Saturn Return which happens between the ages of 28-30.

What does this mean for my blog? Her interview of me about my experience of the Saturn return also represents a new phase in my writing! I’m so happy to be a part of this series as an entrance to posting again.

Here’s the interview cross-posted from Julia’s blog here:

Earlier this summer, when I shared that I was moving, I was invited to join a Facebook group for nonprofit professionals in greater Chicago. Several folks extended warm virtual welcomes but Anna Holcombe went above and beyond to suggest that we meet up for coffee. Anna writes about “the connections that she sees growing between social causes, marketing strategies, and Millennials’ entrepreneurial contributions to these intersections” on her blog, Good Money.

Julia: Does the term “Saturn returns” mean anything to you?

Anna: It does. There’s a tendency to think about age 30 as a milestone, and I think that part of this comes with an association- which I think is true- between figuring out more about what you want from 28-30 and paving the ground for all the great stuff that comes with feeling more secure about who you are when you are moving into your early 30’s.

In astrology, the Saturn return is associated with beginning to become an adult. While we explore a lot when we are in our 20’s, astrology says that a Saturn return is when we are confronted with our beliefs and our circumstances in a new albeit challenging way – we kind of burn off some of our old karma that we bring into the world and begin to pave our own.

I think we all have themes in our lives that we are here to learn about and grown from which in part we bring into this world. Seeing some of these themes where I was challenged most during this time in my life is what has lead me to get a bigger picture of who I am now.

J: Where were you when you turned 28?

A: I was working in membership development at a nonprofit in Fort Collins, CO, and waiting to hear back from graduate programs. I knew that I wanted to make a big move, geographically and professionally, to a big city and wrap my brain around some new ideas professionally.

J: What are one or two or several things you remember from the year or so surrounding that birthday? 

A: On my birthday, I went to my favorite martini bar in Fort Collins and the bartender looked at my ID and said, “We have the same birthday!” I didn’t believe him until I saw his ID. Funny how out of any bar, I landed at one where the bartender shared my birthday.

Overall my 28th year was really challenging. After living in Fort Collins for about 2 years, I moved to Chicago without a job into a new field in graduate school that I wasn’t 100% certain about. I also experienced my first Chicago winter in my first apartment that didn’t really crank the heat. It was rough too because I didn’t know a lot of people and was new in what felt like a big and lonely city.

J: What was happening in the world that year? Do you remember newsworthy events, books you read, movies or shows or art you experienced?

A: I remember going to a women’s film festival at DePaul during the fall when I first arrived to Chicago and learning after I had arrived at the event that the film was part of a Luna Bar sponsored film tour. This was one of the first examples of corporate sponsorship through nontraditional partnerships with the artistic community that seemed particularly meaningful, especially because Luna Bar didn’t shove in your face their brand from the get-go. That night supported one of my goals in going to grad school in public relations and advertising to explore corporate driven initiatives that have social meaning.

J: Do you have any advice for someone going through this (supposedly) astrologically tumultuous time? 

A: Don’t base your life on traditional milestones. If anything, think of 30 as the beginning of a new and clearer path towards knowing who you are. Fear of not being on par with where I was “supposed to be” is something I’ve learned to let go of since turning 30, and this took a few years to figure out.

I think that what I’ve learned recently starting when I was about 28 is that women look towards each other to understand all the options which are in front of us rather than sticking to any particular one path. As mentors to each other, we are helping each other trust ourselves, understand what we want, and let go of old conceptions of ourselves that no longer have a purpose in our growth by understanding the context of our lives over the span of 30 or so years. Saturn return from 28 to 30 helped me to be honest now as a 32-year-old. There’s a purpose to these years for sure that I find really valuable now.

Thanks, Anna! For more of Anna’s insight, check out this Good Money post, where she writes about how one corporate campaign is highlighting the ways Millennial women can and should mentor one another. 

%d bloggers like this: