“You are the first since the Big Bang to write a master thesis about content strategy”

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The masters programme Content Strategy at FH Joanneum in Graz is – according to head of the programme Heinz Wittenbrink – the first academic education worldwide that focuses on Content Strategy. Reason enough for me to take a little trip to Graz to find out more about the programme.

Bright sunshine on a saturday at the end of april in Graz – while others are enjoying the beautiful weather, the students of FH Joanneum are heading for the classroom. An attendance weekend is on the agenda of the masters programme. But I am more interested in the past, especially the year 2011. How did the idea of a academic programme with emphasis on content strategy come about?

How the idea was born

Heinz Wittenbrink, head and founder of the programme, tells me that at the beginning there was the Web Literacy Web. This research project explores and developes media competences in organisations. Through this project he was made aware of a book about content strategy written by Erin Kissane, that fitted exactly his conceptions of a forward-looking use of the world wide web for organisations. From this point forward it took another three years until the programme finally started in the autumn of 2014.

Core Contents

According to Heinz Wittenbrink, the core contents of the programme are very much stamped by the anglo-american understanding of content strategy. The cyclic structure recreates the daily business of a content strategist:

  1. Analysis of existing contents, user needs, stakeholders and monitoring
  2. Strategy development: content modelling and message architecture
  3. Content marketing and community building
  4. Implementation, governance, workflows, content management systems

Technical requirements, understanding of editorial work and an overview of content strategies are also important skills that are conveyed to the students.

What significance has content marketing in this strategy comprehension?

According to this definition content marketing is a part of the content strategy. The strategy includes more than just marketing – for example service or public relations and intends to solve problems of organisations with content. So content strategy is the underlying plan behind the content.

Science vs practice

The fact, that this programme is so innovative and new also brings some difficulties – for example that this academic field does not (yet) exist. But Wittenbrink is confident that the field will become academic like public relations and journalismus did in the past. This trend can be also recognized in the United States but by reason of finance costs not so easy to establish.

As a result, it is according to Wittenbrink essential for the students of the master programme to publish their master thesis, which the first students will finish soon. When they are made public they become criticizable and this will lead to a scientific discourse which will turn a field of practice into an academic field.

Students

Now there is one thing in particular I want to know: “How satisfied are you with how the progamme has developed?” Because imagination and reality are often two very different pairs of shoes.

But Wittenbrink is satisfied: It’s challenging and risky, but it is great that they are able to run this big project. But of course it is an early stage and the students experience also negative impacts. Many organisational issues are still improvised, but they are happy with the curriculum and the core contents.

One organisational issue is the fact, that the programme is an ectra-occupational education. Which means that many lessons are online-based so students from other parts of Austria and Europe can als study at the FH Joanneum. This idea paid already off, because according to Wittenbrink only half of the students actually live in Graz. The other half lives in other parts of Austria and also more and more German students apply for a study place.

Content strategy in organisations

Wittenbrink considers every company as a media company and because of that every company needs a content strategy. But are the companies aware of this? Wittenbrink replies tersley: No, most of the organisations do not know that they need a content stratgy. Most of them also do not know the difference between content marketing and content strategy.

A content strategist is just as important as an architect, if I want to build a house.

He states the view that content has to come from the company itself, but necessary processes and structures for that are not existing and that is the biggest problem at the moment. The quality of the content also depends to a large extent on how many divisions are working together.

This requires restructuring within the organisations which can only be carried out very slowly. But according to Wittenbrink there is already a growing awareness existing in technology businesses  and innovative organisations – rather than in brand or media companies.

This is also striking in the master thesis of the students, where they document a content strategy project in their respective companies where they are working. Many are supported in their intentions, while others have a harder time carrying out their project.

                                    

© FH JOANNEUM / Stefan Leitner
© FH JOANNEUM / Stefan Leitner

About Heinz Wittebrink

Since 2004 Heinz Wittenbrink teaches at the FH Joanneum and founded in 2014 the masters programme Content Strategy. Bevor that he worked for various publishing houses, mostly as an editor for encyclopedias. He concentrated early on digital publications – first CDs than web and he published also books about markup-languages.

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