Tom Critchlow

The Landscape & The Work

What do you do?

I have room for one or two more clients in 2018. The conventional wisdom is that you distil your experience into a tightly crafted positioning statement. A tidy little zen koan on the work you do and who you do it for.

This view of the world however is tightly constraining. It doesn’t account for different modes of work with the same client. Or an evolving skillset over time. So instead I’ve written 10,000 words exploring the landscape and the work.

I chose the word landscape to emphasize the idea of surveying the terrain - looking out from a small rise and seeing which rivers and streams seem most fruitful. Of course the map is not the territory.

And the work - the craft - is the heart of the work. As an independent this work can be varied in nature. From interim CMO to strategic advisor and trusted advisor.

How I Got Here

Let’s first take a quick pass at how I got here.

SEO had a moment where an SEO agency could dictate overall digital stratetgy. While that’s still true for a subset of organizations where organic search is dominant (not just large but dominant). But in 2011 for example you could have meaningful conversations with a company like Gucci

But in 2018? If SEO is your business - as an agency or consultant - then I think to remain strategically relevant you need to either expand your horizons or double down on helping those companies where search is a dominant channel.

So I took a leap, went to work for Google. Shifted my thinking into a wider brand, org, user insights Unfortunately instead I decided to write 10,000 words on the work vectors I’m interested in right now, how I got here and where I’m going next. I’ve told it through the lens of three tensions. Brand/Publisher, Strategy/Implementation and Consultant/Advisor.

The Media <–> Brand Continuum

I’ve been a consultant for four years now and you can basically summarize my work by looking at the Brand/Media spectrum and realizing that I help companies push one way or the other.

[Diagram of brand <–> Media]

On the left hand of this spectrum you have “brands” - what I’m calling traditional businesses. People like Olapic (a B2B saas platform) or Fundera (a B2B small business lending platform). People with a product. On the right hand of the spectrum you have media companies - folks like The New York Times or Complex Media. These folks don’t have a product but rather content is their product.

Content/Product. Is the content the product or the marketing?

However, in the middle of the spectrum you have some interesting weird middle ground businesses - typically affiliate businesses. They produce content at scale (sometimes outpacing traditional publishers) and monetize in new and interesting ways. Companies like Nerdwallet or The Wirecutter.

What brands want

Non-media company businesses are often:

My work involves helping companies connect their brand and their purpose, often internally

What media companies want

Media companies are often:

My work here involves

What affiliate businesses want

Usually a mix of the above - better narrative, better brand, better insight into their users.

The Brand/Media Ecosystem

It’s an interesting ecosystem right now where brands and publishers are increasingly looking like each other. The New York Times bought

We’ll see:

Acquisiitons - so publishers buying brands and, more likely, brands buying publishers. This will take even more of a leap of faith than The NYT buying the Wirecutter but it’ll make sense. Ringfence the editorial teams but integrate the content product into the core brand product.

Ecommerce - brands going D2C, publishers creating products and merch. Influencers creating merch.

What do I do here? Help everyone act like the others.

Strategy <–> Implementation continuum

The second

Workshops as ways of seeing. Radically challenging existing beliefs and mental models within an organization.

The implementation of strategy is slow and messy. It often involves hiring and building teams.

Strategy work is an unfolding network of associations. How can you create working environments that reflect that? Workshops. Off-sites. Ethnographic sessions. Bringing users into work.

Case study: F

Insights <–> Tactics Balance

Insights and execution are a tightly coupled dance. Yin and Yang.

Consultant <–> Advisor Continuum

The third tension to explore here is the consultant/advisor spectrum.

Often clients engage with you around a defined problem and end up sticking around to help with undefined work. Connecting to agencies and other service providers. Coaching on mental models. Strategy sparring sessions. Emotional regulation. Ways of seeing.

I like to think.

2018 is all about weaving through these tensions. Brand/Publisher, Strategy/Implementation, Consultant/Coach. Every engagement spans different spaces here.


This blog is written by Tom Critchlow, an independent strategy consultant living and working in Brooklyn, NY. If you like what you read please leave a comment below in disqus or sign up for my Tinyletter.
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