Content Strategists and Planners: What's The Difference?

What’s the difference between planners and content strategists? How is content strategy a different discipline and what type of people should lead it? Why are we making a distinction between the roles now?

These are all valid questions. Neither practice is going away, so this is the time to determine the appropriate roles and responsibilities.

But I've sensed some agency angst since these roles share basic principles (likely more so than even CSers and copywriters). However, I only feel qualified to speak for the content strategists, so...

Planners: What do you think about my description of content strategists below? Are we encroaching on your turf? Is there room for everyone? And content strategists: how do we make the most of our relationship with planners?

Whither content strategists?

First, we must understand that the ecosystem has changed. Content proliferation has been exponential, especially in recent years. Everyone is a publisher (evidence: blogs, UGC, smart phones, etc.). And all of this content needs assessed, ranked, and compared; hence, the rise of aggregator sites, search engines, dynamically displayed content, and product reviews.

Maybe a planner used to be enough to handle the volume of content. And for a small site or organization, they still might be. But with over 15 years of content and double or triple that amount ready to be thrown onto the pile, it is time to admit that:

  1. Content is a different animal
  2. Planners have enough on their plates, and
  3. We should each be specialists in our areas.

How are content strategists different from planners?

While similar, planners and content strategists possess different skill sets. For instance, a content strategists needs to possess:

  • A history with words and writing in order to educate and thus inspire the creative process. While planners assess a brand, its competitors, or the industry, content strategists must prepare for text on the page – a different exercise completely.
  • A background in messaging. Content strategists plan for the creation of content that conveys trust, for instance, while still selling. This is only possible thanks to a planner’s insights, but is a separate skill set.
  • Subject matter expertise, be it legal, regulatory, etc. It’s more than research or the insights garnered therein – it’s tangible to creation, guiding creativity through particular hurdles, much like IAs guide designers.
  • Turning philosophy into action. While never diving into the depths of data planners reach, content strategists must be able to seize planners’ insights, but convey exactly how that translates to each page, no matter how (seemingly) insignificant.

The good news is that there is more than enough room for planners and content strategists. The challenge will be to allow each specialist to embrace their role in the planning process.

But what do you think? Is this accurate?

I'd love to hear from content strategists and planners (especially you planners). How are our roles similar and how are they different? What are the ideal skill sets and background of a digital planner?

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks!

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(Photo courtesy of tanjila via Flickr)