6 June 2011 ❧ Destry Wion
Content Strategy Forum (aka, CS Forum) exists because communication professionals in Europe with varying backgrounds and skills believe that smart planning, dissemination, and governance of content is essential for developing good customer experience, and thus doing better business. After one successful event and another that’s sure to astound, the Forum’s reputation is already international and positive. There’s just one thing missing: we don’t know who will be organising next year. If you represent a European-based organisation that might like to host CS Forum 2012 in your city, read on.
With both Together London and passionate content/UX designers organising the second annual Content Strategy Forum, it’s sure to be another example of a conference done right. But despite CS Forum’s success, ambitions, and distinction as the first content strategy conference anywhere, its future is still unclear. It needs a model of ongoing organisation.
We would like to propose that model now, and open up a bidding process for the organisation of CS Forum 2012 (and beyond).
First, let’s consider what brought us here, because the situation is rather unique, and the way forward holds nothing but opportunity for the European Content Strategy industry.
CS Forum – unlike any other conference
Since the first CS Forum in Paris, other content strategy conferences have come onto the scene, namely eBay’s Content Strategy Applied in London, and Brain Traffic’s Confab event in Minneapolis. All signs suggest that Content Strategy Applied and Confab plan to return each year. Content Strategy Applied 2012 is already online and looking for speakers. No doubt other content strategy conferences will pop up in due time. It’s all good for the field of Content Strategy.
But there’s a difference between those other content strategy events and CS Forum. Those events are owned and coordinated by the same organisers each year, respectively, and presumably in the same locations too. This isn’t the case for CS Forum. Even as STC France board leaders (organisers of the first Forum in Paris) were breathing a sigh of relief at the close of CS Forum 10, I was already having discussions with people about when and where the next Forum would take place.
A model for Content Strategy Forum over time
History since Paris speaks for itself. Together London stepped up, a small and efficient committee was put together, and CS Forum stayed alive for another year. We believe there is a lot to be gained for Content Strategy in Europe, and elsewhere, if the Forum continues to follow a city rotation model.
Here are just a few reasons why we believe such a model is a good thing:
- People and businesses in different locations in Europe get an opportunity to experience the Forum more easily. The content strategy learning and networking opportunities are brought to their home town.
- New locations and different hosts add a unique (and perhaps cultural) flair to the Forum experience.
- New organisers enjoy a considerable amount of attention from the effort, become more recognised in the content strategy industry, and add a significant event to their business portfolio.
- Speakers and international attendees get a different European travel destination.
- Students from host regions are more likely to participate, where the cost of long distance travel and lodging would otherwise prevent them from doing so.
- No one company is forever burdened with the tremendous effort that goes into planning and coordinating a major event.
Organising an annual conference in a different European country each year is not unique; the EuroIA conference, for example, has been doing it for the last seven years. The Interaction Design Association’s annual conference has also been held in different US cities each year, with 2012 being the first time it comes to Europe (Dublin). Nevertheless, one can appreciate how a city rotation model is more challenging than a single group establishing a clubhouse location and sticking with it each year.
This is where you come in!
A different city brings a different host organiser
A large part of making the city rotation model work, my fellow Europeans, lies within yourselves, as individuals or representatives of your companies. If you believe, like we do, that CS Forum provides value, and will continue to do so, then you must proactively support it—now and in the future—by attending, speaking, sponsoring, or organising.
Attending is important to show there’s enough interest in a given year to do it again. Sponsorship is always welcome (and there are still sponsor opportunities for the London event), but usually opportunities are limited. I’m happy to say there’s no shortage of speakers yet, based on the many abstracts we received during the open call, so speaking at CS Forum is definitely competitive. Alas, speakers are just part of the equation. Without organisers, there are no speakers or anyone else, and there is no CS Forum. That would be unfortunate.
So, let’s talk about you organising!
You’ve got to be a CS Forum Champion
Not anybody can be a CS Forum organiser. As much as we want to see it continue, it has to be done in the right spirit of things.
CS Forum principles
A number of core principles have developed in the first two years that we think represent the essence of CS Forum—what it is, and where we would like to see it go for the sake of the community. Future organisers should respect these principles and try to keep them in place. Nobody should want to see CS Forum slip into being a fanfare for company brands, or a platform for egos.
The first three principles came from the initial conception of CS Forum; the others from planning the 2011 event. The principles are:
- To introduce the field of Content Strategy as a viable career direction, whether switching professions or starting new.
- To help show content professionals of all kinds (and their employers) why Content Strategy is relevant to their careers and to their organisations’ goals.
- To help promote existing European content strategists, as well the developing discipline in Europe, so that more opportunities take hold, whether in-house or consulting.
- To be a networking platform that is European-wide, and internationally open, so that emerging content strategists in Europe can learn and interact with one another and move the industry forward together.
- To be cross-disciplinary with other UX fields, which means 1) exploring how content strategists can provide more value in collaborative situations by understanding the nature of other disciplines, and 2) ensuring professionals in other disciplines understand it’s a two-way relationship—they can learn from content strategists too.
- To be inclusive of new minds and thinking. Giving opportunities, whenever reasonable, to people (e.g., speakers) we haven’t yet heard. This assumes experience, gender, ethnicity, industry, culture, disability, and so forth.
The principles are CS Forum. If you find yourself in agreement with each one, then you are definitely a good candidate for hosting a future CS Forum event.
In case there should be any doubt, let’s consider some good and bad scenarios.
Where CS Forum should never go
Putting it simply, if you look at organising CS Forum primarily as an opportunity to make money and promote your company’s products and services, then you’re not right for organising CS Forum. You’re perfect for sponsoring and attending, and maybe speaking, but not organising.
Likewise, a given year’s “brand” should never appear to favor one area of Content Strategy over another. (We shouldn’t even have such distinctions, but that’s another story.) For example, if your background is—or company’s services are— technically oriented, don’t aim to hold a strictly technical communication event. The same goes for marketing-oriented interests, web, whatever.
The right path
CS Forum should always represent a variety of Content Strategy interests, while remaining close to the core of what Content Strategy is about. STC France should be applauded for being a representative of a technical communication society that nevertheless was able to think outside of the box to make the first CS Forum programme a veritable cornucopia of different ideas and approaches to content.
CS Forum topics, ideally speaking, should be tied to the subjects considered most relevant and/or up-and-coming to the industry in a given year, while remembering that attendees may be coming from different levels of awareness about Content Strategy.
Fundamentally, CS Forum caters to all Content Strategy interests, with a strong lean on the industry in Europe. Long live that tradition while CS Forum exists.
CS Forum’s endeavor
CS Forum was conceived, and currently coordinated, by people of different backgrounds who understand what Content Strategy (in all its nuances) has to offer; people who are passionate about weaving Content Strategy into the fabric of Europe’s developing User Experience industry.
Figure 1: Percentages of Europe-based content strategists, based on the results of Richard Ingram’s recent content strategy survey. Image taken from the infographic, Where in the world am I most likely to encounter a content strategist? by Richard Ingram, and used with his permission.
Forget the debates for the moment whether CS is UX, left is right, et cetera and so forth. If you live in Europe and work in UX, then you know there’s a ways to go yet (with varying degrees by country), even for disciplines that have been around a while longer like Information Architecture and Interaction Design. Consider this excellent case-in-point, which is an article looking at the Interaction Design culture in France it details the group’s own struggle within France’s governmental and educational frameworks. Here’s a poignant extract:
“The French digital design market is difficult to study. The main professionals operating in the industry have realized that they must in essence create their own market and continuously educate clients to try to clear up some of the semantic confusion that surrounds the profession.”
Sounds familiar, right? Imagine how difficult things must be for French content strategists. Sylvie Daumal, an information architect in Paris who doubles up on content strategy work too, talked about this last year at CS Forum 10. Yet we in France (speaking as a resident myself) do have our content strategy–minded people. More will come, and this goes for content strategy practitioners around Europe, if we do like the French interaction designers do—champion Content Strategy and show it’s value to business and clients.
Germany has its content strategy heroes too, despite Content Strategy not being recognised as an industry there yet. Or at least not one that’s openly promoted as such.
Yet there has been forward progress in Europe, as I have discussed before, and CS Forum has no doubt been a catalyst for that. Prior to CS Forum, for example, content strategists in France and Germany didn’t even know each others’ names. The Forum has facilitated that awareness—perhaps even made it possible—and supports countries in Europe to develop local meetups in between the annual events.
We, all of us who care about the advancement of Content Strategy in Europe, need to keep the dialogue and exchange going and the local content strategy communities growing. Content Strategy in Europe still needs to be pitched and proven to the digital industry, and its merits explained to customers who can surely benefit from it. Content Strategy Forum is a foundational stone on which content professionals throughout Europe can stand and be heard.
Are you ready to carry the torch?
If you’re interested in organising CS Forum 2012, becoming a hero for content strategists throughout Europe and beyond, and getting a fair amount of recognition in return, then…
The info pack provides additional details about organiser responsibilities, transfer of committee intelligence, and how to make your bid for being host organiser of CS Forum 2012.
We’ll accept bids up to midnight GMT+0 on the 31 July 2011, and make a decision for the 2012 host organiser and city by 15 August.
The new organiser and city location for 2012 will be announced during the closing address in London.
We’re waiting to hear from you.