This week, Tristian Berry, a global content consultant based in Chicago, tells her story to the OWL
I have always written. Every job and project, writing backed with strategic thinking has been – and continues be a core competency and the foundation of all my deliverables.
Writing fashion copy for Spiegel was my first job after I finished college. I loved it. And this kind of writing taught me the economy of words and how to proofread, really proofread…line by line, word by word. Space was always at a premium and as a writer I had to capture the essence of the piece, (or later the product) convey in its key features (what makes it great & why one needs it), all in a consistent voice designed to engage the target audience while remaining true-to-the-brand.
After several years of sharpening my writing and editing skills, I left the retail advertising world and moved into Chicago’s advertising agency scene. Fast-paced and highly competitive to put it nicely, aside from New York, Chicago is a very large ad city with many major agencies based here. The economy of words, brand position and developing strategic concepts all came into play as I worked on brands like McDonalds, United Airlines, Pampers & Crest. I learned to “say it without saying it.” By that I mean conveying all the essential product and brand information in a creative way to engage the audience on-brand way…always in as few words as possible.
Tiring of the agency world’s chronic chaos, I moved client-side (within a company directing the agency). I landed a Marketing Director role in a home theater company based in Denmark. I was leading brand strategy, advertising and PR efforts for the US office and later advised the global office. The partner I worked for trusted my judgement and taste-level. We aligned on how to position the brand in the US. It was a fantastic role and I was very fortunate to travel to Denmark for global brand meetings, and to New York to meet with industry press. I was young, single and it all felt very glamourous. A highlight was leading creative development for the brand’s endorsement campaign featuring jazz artist David Sanborn. I developed the strategy, directed the shoot, wrote the copy, and took key members of the press to concerts. This body of work captured the attention of the global office and served as my entrée into streamlining the brand position across all 14 subsidiary offices. Until this time each office was producing its own ad materials.
The Danish company was very generous in helping to fund my graduate degree, which in the US is quite expensive. In the US many large corporations will fund advanced degrees for employees, however there was no established policy in the Danish company regarding this very valuable benefit. So I gathered other large US company tuition reimbursement policies and presented my case to the US partner. (By this point, I was well established in my role and had several very successful campaigns under my belt…I was on solid ground.) The lesson here is – with the right timing it never hurts to ask, in a very diplomatic way with ample examples/documentation of how your request is commonly executed in other companies. This was during the Clinton era, everyone in the US was living large, the economy was booming and the country a fragmented, angry mess.
While in school I worked all day, went to classes at night and studied all weekend. I attended brand meetings about 5 times a year. I was all work, absolutely no play and found it incredibly satisfying. Having waited to attend, I deeply appreciated the opportunity to further my education.
After 7 years at the Danish firm, the company was sadly sold. The new CEO disempowered all the subsidiary offices and many roles, including mine were made redundant. However I had already decided once finishing school it would be time to move on, and as luck had it, the CEO released me from my post school contract. (I was to remain in my job for two years after completing grad school or reimburse the company for tuition.) This arrangement is standard in the US. But when my job was made redundant, I was free. It felt like a graduation present.
As I was wrapping up my role, and finishing my last quarter in school, 9/11 happened. And the two years following I found myself in a professional dessert. All the big agencies in town were having large-scale layoffs, retail was hurting, consumer spending was way down. This was a very difficult phase in my life. The only work I could find was as an admin in the Catering Department in fancy hotel. I dummied-down my resume’ and lead what felt like a double-life; a badly treated admin by day, and an unemployed marketing executive by night. I had a mortgage to pay…there was no choice.
In early 03 I finally landed my first digital consulting project thru a friend I met in graduate school. It was located in Milwaukee WI, about 90 minutes north of Chicago. I lived in a company apt during the week and drove home for the weekends. I was writing and editing an employee website. The role at that time was called “webmaster.” From there the economy began to pick up and I was able to find more and more consulting projects within digital teams and digital agencies.
My role on digital projects evolved as team structures also evolved. Working as a Content Strategist I audited and organized content (all the copy, images, videos, etc. on a site) while working closely with Information Architects (now called User Experience Designers) to make sure the right messaging (or content) appears at the right time, in the right place…to surprise and delight the user.
With each project I became more involved in the Experience Design aspect of the work; streamlining task flows, being a user advocate, writing user stories, presenting content recommendations based on primary user tasks, brand position and business goals. I began leading teams of writers to create distinct and consistent brand voices and directing User Experience staff.
What I observed and still remind clients of to this day (keep in mind digital in not new) is the essential need for defined overarching strategy that drives all contact points, digital and traditional. Websites, social media posts, print, call center scripts, CEO speeches, and internal communication, there should be one voice and consistent massaging throughout the brand ecosphere.
By analyzing established brand positioning documents, carefully reviewing consumer research to identify powerful nuances that can change the direction of a project, the tone of the writing, the task flows offered online, this body work is all to often skipped. This is why so many sites, so many consumer experiences are poor. If a brand is making you work to find basic information, struggle to complete simple tasks, they have cut this extremely important body of work. For example; in Cat Chow focus group documents and I discovered a key insight; cat owners feel a sense of isolation because they can’t walk the cat to the park and converse with other cat owners about health or training issues. This insight was the basis for the strategic recommendation to build a digital cat care community on the new Cat Chow site my team was developing. Owners could write into Cat Chow vets and ask questions, share information, gaining a sense of community.
I’ve continued to land more strategic projects, and now work more in the Customer Experience space. It’s upstream from digital and analyzes all contact points to ensure there is one voice and consistent messaging. Because what a brand says in one space, must be consistent with what it says in another space. This is mantra, this is the design perspective I bring to the table.
Customer Experience | Digital Strategy | Global Content Consultant