What not to wear: A tale of content strategy

Tenessa Gemelke

Working at Brain Traffic is excessively wonderful. This place is teeming with entertaining geniuses. The cake flows freely. We work really hard, but sometimes we stop to watch old-school commercials or an amazing hand dance. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a workplace.

I am a Brain Traffic content strategist through and through, but I have just one problem: For a bunch of nerds, my colleagues are unreasonably fashionable. I am in the company of Fluevogs and well-groomed eyebrows.

Tenessa "before." And yes, that is a Hypercolor T-shirt.

I tried to up my game when I started working here in January. I wore necklaces! I wore unstained shirts! I didn’t wear novelty socks every day! And I somehow managed to stifle my penchant for 70s polyester and bedazzled sweaters. My wardrobe was drab, but I thought I was flying under the radar.

I wasn’t. My friend Alison contacted the authorities. She nominated me for What Not to Wear.

The role I was born to play

For those of you unfamiliar with the program, it’s a reality show starring Stacy London and Clinton Kelly, two hilarious fashion experts who intervene to stop society’s worst violators. Before the show’s producers select people, they need to know how seriously the candidate needs help. Brain Traffic’s own Julie Vollenweider conspired with Alison, my husband, and a few of my coworkers to get me to the Mall of America for a "client meeting," where a nice young gentleman casually asked me to participate in this interview:


Obviously, the situation was dire.

Some people who end up on the show feel hurt or offended, but I had zero qualms. I had always selected clothes that made me laugh, so I was perfectly comfortable with the idea that my attire might make someone else laugh. It just hadn’t occurred to me that “someone else” might one day include, erm, EVERYONE WHO WATCHES A VERY POPULAR TELEVISION SHOW. (Fortunately, my stage fright didn’t set in until well after taping the show.)

Soon, I would be on my way to New York to receive professional help with my style problems.

Now, when you find yourself suddenly making an hour-long television appearance, it’s easy to lose your grip. I spent several days simply feeling stunned. But as the trip drew nearer, I realized I had to snap out of it. So I asked myself, “What would a content strategist do in this situation?”

She’d develop a strategy. THAT’S WHAT.

Content strategy to the rescue

Meghan Casey had already written a lovely blog post about using content strategy to evaluate clothing, but this was different. I wasn’t just auditing and analyzing the contents of my wardrobe. This was a full-on makeover. What I needed was a core strategy.

Before I flew across the country and placed my fashion fate in the hands of experts, I wanted to be sure I had identified a long-term direction for my wardrobe. I considered my personal priorities (“business goals,” if you will) and how others would feel about my appearance (i.e., user needs). These were some of the issues I wanted to address:

  • Looking like a respectable member of the Brain Traffic team
  • Showing my personality
  • Not running to the dry cleaner every week
  • Staying warm in the Minnesota winters

I tried to articulate these concerns in a way that my project sponsors (Stacy and Clinton) might appreciate. When I stepped off the plane at La Guardia, I was armed with my core strategy:

Tenessa has a practical, cross-seasonal wardrobe that communicates confidence and professionalism with a spirit of fun.

Did the strategy work? Does my new style match my personality? And most importantly, what happened to the full-length, purple party dress from myTwitter avatar? You’ll just have to watch the show* and find out!

*The episode is scheduled to air Tuesday night, December 13, at 9:00 EST/8:00 CST on TLC.