Hiring a Content Strategist? Here’s What to Look For
By Jackie Lam on May 3, 2018
I once asked a content strategist what it takes to land a job like his. He jokingly replied that one must complete a PhD in Content Strategy, then pass the Content Strategy Boards, followed by serving an intensive, multi-year fellowship.
If only it were that cut and dried. Last I checked, no "content strategy school" or established college curriculum exists to prep and prime potential candidates for the growing roles in content marketing. To make it even more challenging, content strategy requires a cluster of skills that various traditional marketing career paths don't often develop in a single person.
When assembling a solid content marketing team, content strategists are the ones who connect all the dots, syncing up editorial aspirations, business and brand goals, and digital marketing know-how. It certainly is a tall order. And to find the proper talent to conceptualize, develop, and shepherd such a vision, what are the traits hiring managers should look for when scouting this essential team player?
They See the Big Picture
While content strategists work closely with team members who are responsible for content creation (i.e. ideation, scheduling, production, and publishing of content), their primary role is to come up with the purpose of content creation, to determine how exactly it will be executed, and to measure and analyze what is and what isn't working.
They'll need to understand the brand's mission, goals, and target audience, plus any pain points and problems. All this requires big-picture thinking, the ability to see connections between business objectives and content, and methods to execute strategy to hit the desired outcome.
For instance, let's say they'll be working for a new company that has entered a saturated space. How can they create a content strategy that will not only spread brand awareness but that highlights the company's unique offerings to its target customers? Or maybe the focus is on generating leads. If that's the case, how can the content and the user experience work together to boost conversion?
Image attribution: Anna Samoylova
They've Cultivated Leadership Skills
A content strategist not only needs to have the skills and background to develop a vision and a roadmap to execute that vision, they also need interpersonal skills to work with team members from departments across the organization.
As Ben Chamas notes in his series for the Content Standard on how content strategy should include your entire organization, the content marketing team needs to enlist the support and manpower of brand advocates. This may include collaborating with the social media team and syncing up with sales. Chamas writes, "While you can decide upon strategic decisions, brand objectives, and KPIs within the comfy confines of your marketing realm, the operationalization of at least some of that content strategy needs to be carried out by others within your organization."
As one might imagine, this is not an easy task. Content strategists need to use their powers of persuasion to rally members from other departments to understand the value of their efforts. They need to make the case that content marketing is a revenue driver, not just a cost center, and pinpoint exactly how the involvement of different departments will drive company goals.
How adept are they at solving problems that may arise? Business goals may shift at the drop of a pin, and content strategy must pivot and adjust to accommodate such rapid changes. As a content creator I've witnessed brands' content budgets balloon or shrink, and I've seen marketers move away from snackable content to deep-in-the-weeds, long-form pieces.
Or maybe the company is rethinking their bread-and-butter product or service, which means big changes in how to approach content. A good content strategist is able to tackle a slew of challenges thrown their way and make changes accordingly.
Image attribution: Julie Macey
They Can Come From Varying Backgrounds
If you're looking for an ideal mix of skills and background when hiring a content strategist, (surprise!) there isn't one. Some strategists may have a primarily editorial background, while others may be heavier on the user experience, content engineering, and navigation side.
That makes for an exciting hire. While they may come from varying professional walks, in evaluating potential candidates you'll want to find those who have taken the time to understand your company's audience and key objectives. How would they approach creating content strategy from scratch or with limited data? Conversely, what would be their tactics if they were refining a current program?
They Understand What It Takes to Create Killer Content
Oftentimes great editorial managers or content creators make for great strategists. If they have a wealth of knowledge in generating ideas and executing them, they can use that existing skillset to come up with the why and how behind content creation. The person you're seeking might even be right underneath your nose, an existing team member who is fully capable but hasn't had the opportunity to demonstrate their potential.
Whether they come from a content creation background or not, content strategists will only be successful in their role with a healthy understanding of and respect for what it takes to create great content. Look for a person who'll approach the role like a producer: rallying a broad team of stakeholders towards a vision, setting up the process to execute that vision, empowering content creators with the guidance and support they need, and judging the results for a feedback loop that produces even better content in the long run.
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Featured image attribution: Alex Holyoake