Content strategy in an agile world: Karen Semone takes the stage at Confab Central

VSA is gearing up for this year’s Confab content strategy conference May 18-20th in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Hosted annually, Confab gathers brand strategists and marketers to further understand understand how to create, deliver and manage content that’s meaningful and measurable.

Karen Semone, VSA’s Associate Partner, Content Practice Lead, will take the Confab stage for the second consecutive year to talk about “Content Strategy in an Agile world.” Today, more than ever, there’s a demand to create content faster, and with greater accuracy for developers. At VSA, Karen’s team practices an Agile strategy to work more iteratively and nimbly to meet demanding deadlines and requirements.

Leading up to such a large conference, we decided to sit down with Karen for a quick interview.

Q: Before we get to the details about your Confab talk, we have to ask a question about your past—you worked on britneyspears.com in the early 2000s. Tell us everything.

A: It’s true! Along with VSA’s current Development Lead, Andrew Falconer, I spent two years  working at a celebrity brand management start-up and developed what today would be called “content marketing” and “social engagement” for Britney through our client, Jive Records. I personally did a ton of writing on her website and promotional materials, and curated content by reaching out to her fans via digital channels, blogs, etc. I remember we wanted to publish user-generated content so we hosted a contest for her 21st birthday, soliciting homemade birthday cards. (There’s still several bankers’ boxes of cards somewhere in my basement, I’m sure!) We even did a video game for her. It was during her “I’m a Slave 4 U” snake-wearing days, and it was great fun. I joke that in my entire career, I’ve been privileged to work on world-class brands in both consumer and B2B, but I’m not sure I’ve ever had 14 million hits per week on my content except for Britney. To this day (despite her career ups and downs), I unapologetically call myself a fan.

Q: In the most basic terms, what is “Agile” and how are digital teams using this methodology today?

A: Agile is a method of software development that involves a multidisciplinary team collaborating or “swarming” a digital product or experience in short, iterative bursts of work called sprints. My talk will discuss the basic tenets of the method and how it can help content strategists in their work.

Q: The agile approach cuts strategy time down and teams end up working in “sprints.” Explain the benefits here.

A: A big part of it is being comfortable with ambiguity, and not being afraid to “fail fast” and experiment. Because of the iterative nature of the method, you only have a brief period of time to release fully functional code. It’s often not enough time to get it perfect, but if you’re resourceful and fearless, it’s certainly enough time to get it to a point where it’s good enough to get feedback from stakeholders and users, which you then use to improve the experience over the next sprint. Every iteration, the product gets better and better. In that sense, it’s a really gratifying way to work.

Q: In your previous article about Agile, you talk about Post-its being your best friend. How does such a simple office supply make such a difference in your job?

A: One thing that’s really interesting to me is that though the Agile methodology is often employed to create digital products and experiences, by nature it mandates working very closely and collaboratively together. So you see Agile team members developing uniquely homegrown, analog systems to track their work. It’s very tactile and hands-on, and it offers you a chance to step back (literally) and look at a wall, and get a visual snapshot of how you’re doing during a Sprint.

Q: In our business, it seems like a lot of people are striving for perfection. In your opinion, is this impossible and/or ineffective?

A: I am a firm believer in the notion that “perfect” is the enemy of “good enough for now.” More and more, you see that maxim in our everyday work. Gone are the days of making sure a document or deliverable is 100% perfect and polished before your colleagues can see it. We’re often getting messy, experimenting, and collaborating in the cloud. And speed to market is critically important. These days our client will request to see something earlier, but less polished, and their feedback can help steer the ship before we’ve wasted time and effort.

So, it’s not that I don’t believe in striving for perfection, but I do think it’s important to share our work and offer checkpoints for feedback well before it’s reached.

Q: Only a few weeks to go until Confab—what are you most excited or nervous about?

A: I’m super excited for this year’s conference!  It’s always such an inspiring event for anyone in content. This year, we’re bringing three experts from VSA’s content practice, some of whom contributed their thoughts via interviews and informal chats with me, to my piece. I’m most pumped about sharing our collective thoughts and ideas, and having the team be right in the room. That, and the cocktail party on the first night. Always great conversation whenever a bunch of word nerds get together!

To learn hear Karen’s talk live, along with other renowned speakers in the content marketing and strategy space, purchase your pass to Confab Central today. 

Karen Semone is Associate Partner, Content Practice Lead for VSA Partners. Karen has more than 15 years of experience in content and digital strategy, helping clients develop a voice and message that elevates brands and engages visitors.  She guides VSA’s content strategy and management team in planning and executing content programs that help our clients develop and publish effective, authentic, and memorable content.  Past clients range from global corporations such as IBM, GE, Cargill, CME Group, Abbott, and Kraft Foods to entertainment properties such as Aerosmith and Britney Spears. Karen developed a course called Creative Strategies in Online Marketing at the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Studies and continues to lecture on creating effective digital content strategy.