An Open Love Letter to Content Strategists
If you are in the role of content, web or digital strategy at your association, you are cut from a particular cloth. You think, but you also dream. You plan, but you also create chaos. You solve problems, but you also create new ones. You probably report to someone else, but you are a true pioneer. And you probably have a weird title, because, let’s be honest, nobody actually gets what you do.
Taking your organization somewhere they cannot see is not easy. Moving them into a space that is uncomfortable and unfamiliar is more than just content strategy and web design—it is true change management and visionary leadership.
On ASM’s web team, we pushed every vendor, every colleague and each other beyond limits. No microbial artwork was good enough, so we commissioned our own. Staff didn’t know how to write for the web, so we brought in experts and refused to publish content that didn’t pass muster. Our steadfast dedication to our vision also forced ASM to take a hard look in the mirror at our priorities, business models and strategic plan. Our developers forgot what “out of the box” looked like and built a site based on content models for the first time. Our design firm—the 3rd one we hired and after a dozen rounds of revisions—joked about stealing our design for their own site.
What we tend to do at associations is poke our heads up and look around at what so-and-so is doing. I heard that thousands of times while building asm.org: from my colleagues, my board, my members—sometimes even my own team. “But so-and-so does it this way.”
I am here to tell you that you can do it in the best way: in your own way. Use your experience, trust your instincts and never let that little voice inside of you fall silent. It is your job to build the best possible product for your members, but it is your calling to build the best website you can for yourself and for people like us.
People like us. We are uncommon. We have passion, determination and relentless dedication—even in the moments when a powerful board member is laughing in our faces. We never lose our grit. As Babe Ruth said, “You can’t beat someone who never gives up.”
My advice? Define your end game and lead your association there by any means necessary. Choose whip-smart, determined people as your teammates, then push them to level up. Minds will melt, souls will crush and doors will slam. People should cry, people might quit and you will have a few enemies at the end. But you will have done your best work—and you might also have an award-winning site on your hands. A website that, the next time a so-and-so looks at it, they’ll want to hire you, come work for you or, at the very least, be extremely jealous. And people like us? We will see proof that someone, somewhere—though uncommon—never gave up.
This was originally read as an acceptance speech for winning the 2019 ASAE Gold Circle Award for best website, June 2019 in Washington, D.C.
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