Los Angeles Loses Its Lead While San Francisco Soars Ahead

This month brings fresh news about the ongoing contest between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Sadly, Los Angeles is the loser.

Rise and Fall of Urban EconomiesThe report comes from a new book, The Rise and Fall of Urban Economies: Lessons From San Francisco and Los Angeles by Michael Storper, Thomas Kemeny, Naji P. Makarem, and Taner Osman. Storper teaches economic sociology and urban planning at UCLA, and he and his team of academics set out to solve a mystery. In 1970, Los Angeles and San Francisco had the same per capita personal income. By 2010, San Francisco’s per capita income outstripped L.A.’s by 30 percent.

In those 40 years, what caused this divergence in per capita personal income?

As Storper and his team explain, the difference persists across all job types. A programmer in San Francisco makes 30 percent more than his Los Angeles peer. A custodian in San Francisco makes 30 percent more than a custodian in L.A.

Why?

Storper and his team quickly discount the usual suspects. Immigration? No. Both regions experienced similar growth from immigrants. Expensive housing? No. The study took into account differences in housing costs.

Information technology? No. In 1970, IT held a similar place in both economies, representing about 2.7 percent of the region’s economy. But by 2010, IT in San Francisco grew four times. L.A.’s IT industry stayed the same, still about 2.7 percent of the economy.

Why?

Storper and team cite San Francisco’s “relational infrastructure” as the reason for the difference. San Francisco had/has an infrastructure that encourages collaboration among specialties as well as the sharing of ideas between specialties. Citing XEROX Palo Alto Research Center as an example, northern engineers have been more likely to collaborate with artists, environmentalists, and designers to dream of making computers that were useful and even beautiful. In southern California, engineers generally continued to work with other engineers, usually in the then thriving aerospace industry.

As part of their research, Storper and team examined the composition of boards in both regions. The southern California-based companies were served by generally homogeneous boards — for example, all bankers in a financial services company. Northern California boards were more mixed, including not only peers but also leaders from other industries. The relational infrastructure of San Francisco was more conducive to collaboration on ideas that eventually became influential, successful products.

The San Francisco zeitgeist also encouraged innovation. Storper and his team analyzed the content of civic and business communications over the 40 years of the study. From 1979 onward, the Bay area was focused on the “New Economy.” During the same time, Los Angelenos hardly mentioned the New Economy at all.

What about the creativity of Hollywood? Storper explains that the entertainment industry remained and remains closed, insular. The cross-pollination of ideas from creative innovators and technical experts is far more likely to happen in Emeryville than Culver City.

Yes, Los Angeles boosters deny many of Storper and team’s findings. They don’t seem to take into account the progress of Silicon Alley, for instance. And what about the northern-based companies (Google, Netflix, Yahoo, and so on) who also have a strong presence in the south? And is personal income the only measure of the livability or success of a region?

Despite these questions, for designers and content strategists — professionals whose work depends on cross-disciplinary collaboration — this research is alarming.

Maybe L.A.’s not cut out for the melding of technology and creativity that our products and projects need. I don’t believe that. But I do believe we have to work harder to make the technical and human connections that lead us — and our city — to success.

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What’s in Your Content Strategy Toolkit?

Book Review:
The Content Strategy Toolkit:
Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right

By Meghan Casey

New Riders; Peachpit Press, 235 pages

Content Strategy Toolkit Book CoverIt’s a good season for content strategy tools. A coalition of content strategists including Noreen Compton, Paula Land, and Kevin P. Nichols just published The Content Strategy Alliance Tools and Templates: A Best Practices Handbook. With a practical focus on guidelines and documentation, the handbook presents more than 40 tools for content strategy projects, and I’ll review it in a future post.

Earlier this summer, the content strategy tools season began with Meghan Casey’s Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right. Casey is a lead content strategist at Brain Traffic, Kristina Halvorson’s content strategy consulting firm. It comes as no surprise that Casey approaches content strategy from a consultant’s viewpoint, but content strategists embedded in enterprises will also find plenty of valuable insights and useful tools in this essential content strategy resource.

What might be surprising about this book is how long it takes to get to the nitty-gritty content strategy stuff. I passed the book to a colleague, and, glancing at the table of contents, she said, “She doesn’t even get to content strategy until chapter eight.” That’s when Casey presents information about the inventories and mapping that many people think of as content strategy. Of course those tasks are critical, but Casey is smart enough to know that a number of other steps need to happen before that work can be effective or even happen at all.

That’s why Casey begins her book with two chapters about getting the money and organizational agreement to begin the content strategy project in the first place. Even within a big company, the content project sometimes begins as just a notion about how to make some content improvements. Casey provides guidance into how we can guess at what can be improved, quickly test our hypothesis with an audit and/or user testing, and then document the areas for improvement, which we are advised to call opportunities, not problems.

But solving those problems, er, opportunities, takes resources. How do we talk to the money people to get budget and buy-in? Many content strategists may not have the business-budget background, so Casey spells out a straightforward way of turning a discussion of opportunities into budget. Yes, math; she goes there. But in just a few pages, she shows how even the most number-phobic content person can document business risks and compare them to rewards. These are the kind of numbers and discussions that can get content strategy efforts funded.

Even before the content strategist can dig in to deliver on the promise of rewards, additional organizational communication and negotiation needs to happen. Casey explains that we need to identify stakeholders, especially the ones who can derail a project. We then need to get them all involved and communicate with them throughout the project.

Sounds like project management, doesn’t it? If you’re in a larger organization with a department of skilled project managers, then some of these steps might be their job. If not, Casey explains, then you need to play an active role in running the project and communicating about it.

Other steps Casey describes are sometimes product management or research tasks. This emphasizes how collaborative content strategy needs to be.

Regardless of who does the work, Casey offers guidelines for how it can be done. The tools you can download with the book are a sound start for accomplishing necessary content tasks and moving the project along.

One of the highlights of the book for me was the chapter on content design, which Casey defines in a section entitled “What I Mean by Content Design”:

The names, deliverables, and artifacts for this phase in digital projects vary. I’m sure you’ve heard terms such as information architecture (IA), sitemap, wireframe, template, content type, content model, structured content, page outline, component library, and so on. I like to wrap all these items and more into the umbrella term content design.

This is a term that is gaining prominence in the user experience design community, and some content strategy professionals have even renamed themselves content designers. The terms Casey lists in that paragraph are certainly becoming expected of more content strategists.

Casey breaks content design into four areas:

  • Prioritization: Determining what content is most important for users (and for the business too)
  • Organization: Developing a sitemap and taxonomy so users can find the content they want
  • Presentation: Using a core model and content modeling to detail how content will be presented
  • Specifications: Detailing what content appears on each page or screen
Sample Content Strategy Toolkit Template
A content prioritization template from The Content Strategy Toolkit.

Many of the content strategists I know are deeply involved in these steps. I know I am. It was helpful to hear some of our thoughts reflected and refined in this chapter, and I’m looking forward to putting the tools Casey presents here to work.

Other content folks will probably have other favorite chapters and tools, depending on their interests and the needs of the projects they’re working on. I’m sure that’s why many content strategists will be keeping this book near their desk, for guidance about how to get content done at almost any stage of a content strategy project – from initial budget to product launch and into the governance that happens after.

This book might not be a definitive toolkit. There will always be some projects that have unique problems (opportunities?) that require a unique approach or deliverable. Casey herself admits that the spreadsheets and presentations and Word docs she offers will often have to be tailored to your clients and companies. But Casey does present thoughtful, business-tested methods, tips, and templates that are a great foundation for any content strategist – knowledge we all should have in our toolkit.

Questions and Lists for Managing Content Strategy

Book Review:
Enterprise Content Strategy: A Project Guide

By Kevin P. Nichols

XML Press, The Content Wrangler Content Strategy Series, 138 pages

Full disclosure: I’ve been meaning to review this book for some time, but I’ve been too busy with my own enterprise content strategy projects. My efforts would have gone smoother if I had read this book first.

Enterprise Content Strategy Book CoverWith Enterprise Content Strategy: A Project Guide, Kevin P. Nichols turns his years of leading content strategy teams and projects into practical, detailed advice. Nichols is the author (with Donald Chestnut) of UX Strategy for Dummies, and for more than five years he served as director and global practice lead for content strategy at SapientNitro. At numerous events and conferences, Nichols has shared his experience and interest in topics such as omnichannel and performance-driven content strategy.

Nichols has been practicing and perfecting his craft for years, and he crams a great amount of content expertise into this deceptively small book. The page count is small, but the content strategy ideas are plentiful. Nichols likes lists, and he packs his book with sequences of questions and considerations that content strategists need to ask and be aware of, whether they work in a large enterprise or a small agency.

Early in the book, Nichols defines enterprise content strategy and how it “envelops all proprietary and intellectual property across an organization’s operational infrastructure.” A thorough enterprise content strategy includes every delivery method, every content interaction, and every integration point.

A content strategist in an enterprise needs to be aware of three factors, and the many processes and tools involved in each:

  • Content experience
  • Content delivery
  • Content governance

Perhaps the most powerful of these factors is governance. In the following pages, Nichols presents his content strategy project lifecycle, the nine steps that should be part of most content projects. The content project lifecycle is similar to some presentations of a product lifecycle, but at its core sits governance, the organizing, supportive force that helps keep the other steps – and the people taking those steps – moving forward.

The remainder of the project guide is organized into quick chapters that track the steps of the content strategy project lifecycle:

  • Plan
  • Assess
  • Define
  • Design
  • Build
  • Publish
  • Measure
  • Optimize
  • Govern

Throughout these chapters, Nichols offers how-to insights from someone who has clearly been in the trenches. He knows the questions to ask. He knows who you might need to collaborate with. He knows the many details that need to be considered for a thoughtful, effective strategy.

For example, in the Define Phase chapter, Nichols discusses how to create a content strategy framework after doing a thorough audit. In a sample framework, he asks many of the questions content strategists need to ask during this phase. It seems as if just answering those questions will result in a worthwhile framework.

As if. Despite the advice and encouragement, Nichols never shies away from the reality that doing content strategy in an enterprise is challenging work. It might have been nice to see more specific examples of this throughout the book, but perhaps Nichols’ agency work keeps him from sharing those too revealing case studies.

It would also be helpful to see even deeper explorations of certain topics, such as omnichannel content delivery. On that note, Nichols simply states, “I plan to continue to evolve the theme of omnichannel content strategy.” Perhaps some of that thinking can be included in a future edition of this book.

Admittedly, this book is a project guide, and Nichols acknowledges that he doesn’t intend to discuss exhaustively all the topics he raises. In many cases, he mentions other books that focus on certain topics in greater detail, such as Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper’s Managing Enterprise Content and Rahel Bailie and Noz Urbina’s Content Strategy: Connecting the Dots Between Business, Brand, and Benefits.

Nichols’ book deserves a place among such work. With its sharp focus on using content to achieve positive business results, this little guide is packed with enterprise-tested ideas that most content strategists can learn from and start applying now.