Content strategy challenges and opportunities in Spain

Wow!” That’s the first reaction of Spanish content strategists when they meet peers living and working in Spain. They can’t believe that anyone else on Spanish soil shares the same ideas about content production and handling being more than filling a template or tossing badly translated text inside a poorly-conceived product catalogue. For these people, including myself, obstacles raised as factors of Spain’s culture and economy sometimes seem insurmountable. The reality, though, is that Spain is a promising land for Content Strategy to thrive.

Spanish content professionals are so few and scattered that it may seem like they don’t exist at all. As they learn about content strategy in blog articles and books, they realise two things: that they’ve been doing content strategy for years, and that there’s no Spanish content strategy community to speak of. Thus their enormous surprise when they find other Spanish strategists, which speaks greatly of the challenges content professionals face in this country.

I discovered all this during a recent seminar in Valencia put on by Noz Urbina. We were six attendees, all foreigners save for a fellow technical writer from Bilbao. We came to present, but the audience wasn’t there, so the seminar turned into an informal meeting between structured content supporters. We shared the comfort of a coworking space, but, like a group of nineteenth-century exiled intellectuals, our collective spirits were beaten. We lamented among ourselves, turning conversation toward the difficulties of selling content strategy in Spain, and the challenges faced when trying to convince customers to devote resources to communication, be it technical or commercial. As Ray Gallon puts it in his account of the seminar, content as a business asset “is still unknown or misunderstood”.

We identified cultural and economical barriers, and we arrived at a unanimous conclusion: it’s hard to be a content strategist in Spain, but it’s not impossible. In fact, it can be quite exciting.

Welcome to southern Europe, content strategy

The rarity of content strategists in Spain is reflected in LinkedIn. A quick search there throws 74 profiles matching the phrase “content strategist”. Compared with the UK’s 660 profiles, the local Armada Invencible of strategists looks meagre. Yet, a healthy number of content amigos exist. At the time of writing this article, the Content Strategy Barcelona Meetup, now a year old, boasts 98 members so far, more than what a LinkedIn search might suggest. A tiny fraction of these members have “content” in their job titles. There are, actually, marketers, user experience designers, startup founders, journalists, and technical writers — all sharing an interest in content strategy, and a hunger for networking. They come to learn and socialise, and sometimes share experiences. Despite being a big group, however, The Barcelona Meetup is still near invisible.

Content strategists are not the only ones suffering from visibility problems. Also user experience designers and information architects face difficulties in Spain. But where User Experience (UX) and Information Architecture (IA) managed to build solid communities — perhaps thanks to their technical roots — the Content Strategy community still hasn’t achieved critical mass in Spain, far from it. Even inside marketing departments, content is treated as a secondary asset. Spanish content professionals have almost a blue-collar status; they’re the “becarios”, the “editores”, the people with language or journalism degrees that get hired to put meat on the bones of new websites. Once their content has been deposited into some CMS landfill, their mission is over. Strategy, if any at all, is left to the marketing brains, and that’s a best case scenario. As a result, freelancers and editors must be the evangelical choir for content strategy if it’s to get any praise at all.

The economy does not help. In a Spanish article at Europa Press, Un 77% de pymes españolas no tiene página web y Google viene al rescate, it’s shared that 77% of the small and medium-sized companies in Spain lacked a website as of 2011 — it’s worth noting that 95% have less than ten workers on staff. According to European Competitiveness Report 2013, competitiveness ratings drop sharply outside of big cities. Stepping outside of Barcelona and Madrid means facing huge cultural and infrastructural obstacles. Financial and technical resources are scarce. In the present context of hard recession and stellar unemployment rates, the mere idea of spending money for something that goes beyond the classic homepage sounds crazy to the business owners. The average Spanish entrepreneur would rather create a Facebook profile, or buy a dead-cheap web package. But it’s only a matter of awareness. As my colleague, Clara Guasch, put it when last we discussed the matter, companies easily understand why content strategy is important once you explain the advantages. Rather than be intimidated by the situation, strategists should consider Spain as promising virgin territory.

That’s not a windmill I see, Sancho

The recession alone cannot explain why content strategy has been so slow to gain ground in Spain. Five years passed since Kristina Halvorson published her seminal work, Content Strategy for the Web. There is no Spanish translation yet, and the book is not ranked in the local Amazon instance. There is no Wikipedia article in Spanish about content strategy. Language has always been a barrier in Spain, and “content strategy” is seen as just another buzz word that must stay in quarantine. It’s treated like all new trends that come from abroad, with suspicion. But thanks to the nascent community efforts, it’s increasingly easy to speak of estrategia de contenido, and to call one’s self a estratega de contenido, like my colleague Carlos J. Campo.

During our Valencian gathering, which was an interesting experiment in communication itself, a second and no less important issue was identified and put on the top of the stack: culture. We were almost all foreigners in Valencia, and it was our impression that some of the most respected professionals doing content strategy or content marketing in Spain tend to work alone, guarding the “secrets” of their profession as old sixteenth-century craftsmen. If they share knowledge, they do so by putting it behind paywalls first. Webinars and courses are seldom given, and only if there’s a monetary return. That happens in almost every liberal profession in Spain, and it could explain why new ideas take so long to spread. More openness is necessary if we really want to boost content strategy in the Iberian peninsula, and that requires a big change in the way professionals communicate.

It’s an exciting time to do content strategy in Spain

Given the unfavourable conditions I’ve described, one might be tempted to think content strategy has no future in Spain, or isn’t necessary at all. Content professionals who do get content strategy may nevertheless hide their “secrets” and sell their services under a different, less exotic name. The benefit of content strategy is still there, but disconnected from the stream of developments and thought leadership from elsewhere around the world. That’s the typical southern Europe landscape.

Spanish content strategists able to present themselves under a favourable light — and I’m not talking about featuring strategists in a popular TV comedy — could be the first to open the market in any economic sector needing their services. I suggest some tactics for doing this in my Selling Content Strategy in Spain presentation, like forging alliances with other professionals and educating customers on the drawbacks of bad website content. It’s much easier to do content strategy in Spain if you’re a pícaro, if you can outsmart the lazy agencies and take the initiative to educate organisations and provide meaningful content strategy services.

The situation for content strategy in Spain can only get better. Meetups like Content Strategy Barcelona and a growing number of seminars are helping to spread awareness, particularly across the eastern coast. And with Confab Barcelona happening in October, a major first for this country… well, things should start getting interesting. As it happened in 1992, Barcelona might experience another renaissance and transform into the friendliest city for content strategy in Europe, bringing the rest of Spain to the party. Will you join us?