Casson, Director, Content Strategy at SapientNitro
Storytelling Innovator Series

Meet the Agency Innovator: Anne Casson of SapientNitro

The rush to digital marketing is changing the face of marketing altogether—and the proof is in the comparable sales. In order to grow along with the incredible rate of digital advertising, holding company Publicis Groupe moved to acquire Sapient this past November for 3.7 billion dollars. SapientNitro is an innovative digital agency and a core part of Sapient, contributing about two-thirds of the company’s revenue.

Shortly after the proposed deal was announced, I interviewed Anne Casson, agency innovator and director of content strategy for SapientNitro. Anne runs content strategy for the Boston office and is the acting director of content for the New York office. Globally, Sapient has over 50 content strategy professionals, and I wanted to learn more about how this transformative agency approaches content for its clients around the world.

Question: Fifty dedicated content strategists is a lot—the most I’ve ever heard of under one agency roof. Where do you find so many people with the right talent and skills? What are their varying backgrounds?

Personally, I started out shelving and inventorying books in bookshops. I then moved to writing and editing, then programming and coding, and, eventually, to structuring information as a user-experience designer. Then I specialized a bit in structuring content for content management systems and moved into an area that encompasses all that (except for the shelving) and then some: content strategy.

My immediate team includes people with degrees and experience in journalism, library science, information science, taxonomy, UX design, and business. When I’m hiring, especially at a junior level, I don’t care what the candidate’s degree is in. I’m more interested in his or her level of experience with and point of view on content. It doesn’t matter what lens he or she is looking through—could be content for e-commerce, product content, content marketing, user-generated content, ad copy, or long-form thought leadership. The subject of content touches a lot of skill sets, so it follows that content strategists should come from all different backgrounds.

Q: Your own background was in English. Did you know back then where your word nerding would take you?

No. I chose English because I was a good reader and writer. And because my eighth-grade counselor told me that I wasn’t good enough in science. That feels like the punch line to a joke on Comedy Central, but it’s true.

I ended up studying English and speech communications at Ithaca College. And then started, but never finished, a master’s program in English at SUNY Albany. One day I was circling jobs in the Boston Globe and found a job as an editorial assistant at Telecommunications Magazine, which was part of a publishing house called Horizon House. Really, I was a glorified secretary—which was fine with me because they let me write.

I understood some of the subject matter, not all of it, but I was good at talking to people about it, understanding what they did, and then writing a story about it. But none of that work was online. Eventually, we put these magazines online. I learned HTML, I chose which articles we were going to put online, and I helped the traditional graphic designers who had to figure out how to translate blueline proofs through to digital design.

Q: You saw the earliest shifts toward digital back when marketers didn’t really know how people experienced the Web. Today, you’re an agency innovator, and content strategy is a new and fresh lens for all marketers. Is it the right lens, or just a fad?

I think that instead of calling the lens “content strategy,” I would call it “content experience.” And then I would say, “Yes, it is the right lens.” There are so many areas of expertise that come into play with getting content right—content strategy is only one input. At Sapient, each project has many inputs: creative, SEO, analytics, performance marketing, UX, et cetera. These are all areas of expertise that need to interact at different points along the way on a project time line.

Q: Can you offer up some advice on doing better in business and in life?

In our world of real-time data, hashtags, short descriptions, thumbnails, long lists of just headlines, and snackable content (I hate that phrase, but it’s unfortunately perfect), we are drawing conclusions and forming points of view based on a lot less information. We function with a little bit of information about a lot of things, rather than in-depth information about fewer things. I think it’s important to slow down enough to strike a better balance on information intake. Maybe pull fewer things into our feeds. Maybe try to turn off the always-on part of all this every once in a while. Take a walk. Take a nap!

Also, it’s really important to understand what your colleagues are doing and why they are doing it. Understanding your client’s goals and the goals of your office peers makes for a better experience all around. Don’t get me wrong, this is a major time investment, but it opens up doors in your career. As a senior leader at Sapient, I love it when someone pops by and asks, “Hey, what are you doing? I’m just curious.” That’s awesome!

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