I’ve been thinking about ‘agile’ a lot recently. Agile as a business buzz word, that is. The difference between ‘true agile’ (a particular technique for iterative software development and continuous improvement) and the ‘agile inspired’ way of working that so many companies (including Equinet) are embracing to make them more adaptable and competitive.
Then I found this article by Brendan Murray that argues content writers should be well placed to meet this agile challenge, as they’re used to working to deadlines, as well as naturally creative and flexible in their approach to ideas.
Even so, it seems a lot to ask of a writer, who might reasonably expect a bit of time and space to come up with that memorable line or winning conclusion to their prose. But Murray describes an agile world where a writer is delivering pages of content on the fly, tweaking conclusions and final sentences even as they are being pasted onto a newly finished web page. Surely, the craft of the writer deserves a little more respect than that. After all, we work hard to shape and structure our articles, so that our arguments and research are presented in the most coherent way possible. Changing everything all at the last minute might undermine all that.
Luckily we content writers are a unique breed. Inhabiting a space, as we do, somewhere between journalist and marketer, creative and SEO specialist. A lot of us have portfolio careers that may have straddled creative, business and media disciplines such as advertising, digital marketing, journalism and business research. We’re multiskilled and highly adapatable.
It made me think how the hard-drinking, Fleet Street journalists of old would have fitted into this new digital eco-system. Here’s what one of his old friends said about the legendary Spectator journo Jeffrey Bernard following his death in 1990:
“What was extraordinary about Jeff was his ability to dictate an entire word-perfect column down the telephone line no matter how many vodka and sodas he had imbibed.”
Those were the days, when a journalist could rattle out 500 words of deathless prose then totter back to the Coach and Horses to drink for the rest of the afternoon.
But could these hell raisers have worked collaboratively with a client to achieve measurable results as part of a multi-platform brand publishing initiative? Could they write a well researched discursive essay on Fintech, optimise it for SEO and then spend the afternoon reworking a video script about Quality Management Systems? I don’t think so.
Could Jeffrey Bernard have been agile? Well not in the literal sense, as by the end the drink had cost him at least one of his legs. And not in this new media sense, either, because this disruptive way of working requires a dedication and multi-disciplinary approach to research, writing and creativity that an old school Fleet Street hack would surely dismiss and despise.
Over the last 10 years the internet has cut a swathe through the principles and practices of the traditional media. And a new kind of writer has been born. The writers working for the media brands of today, bring a much broader range of skills into the mix to manage the creative and commercial tensions that comes with the job. An understanding and an ability to work in an agile way is just one of them.
I believe that the open, collaborative, people-focused, and change-embracing approach of modern agile development is a framework within which content work can refine itself, test, and learn.