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May 8, 2018

Why It’s Confusing to Hire Content Marketers, Strategists, Writers and More

Content and digital strategy and marketing blog

I was recently talking with Houston marketing recruiter Raegan Hill about the definitions of content-related job titles, like content strategist, content marketer, and content marketing writer.

These titles mean different things, but not everyone realizes that. Or a hiring manager unknowingly misuses one title when they are really trying to find the roles and responsibilities of another. Sometimes, a hiring manager will use one title to encompass the roles and functions of all of these titles.

Of course, that’s all before you consider the issue that these titles and roles are all still so new, and still evolving as we speak, that common definitions are hard to come by, even amongst the experts.

This ambiguity necessitates a more consultative approach to recruiting content roles in the near-term.

When roles are mature in the marketplace and narrowly defined, it’s easy to simply recruit for a title. The details, like duties, pay range and where they fit into the team are easy to assume, since they’re widely known and agreed upon. Content roles are much less mature in the talent marketplace, and therefore require more discussion to make sure they fulfill their purposes.

So, how do you know if you or your client is recruiting the right content professionals? Here are some questions Raegan and I discussed to help a company really recruit the right person for the right role.

 

Questions to Help You Figure Out the Kind of Content Strategy/Marketing/Production Role You’re Hiring:

 

What is the purpose of the role? What is it meant to accomplish? How will success be measured?

The answers to these questions are critical to knowing what kind of candidate you’re looking for.

If you just want someone to write blog posts, you probably don’t want a content strategist who’s used to guiding and influencing entire departments of people.

Likewise, if you want someone to teach your company how to turn content into a core competency, a content writer won’t likely be up for the task.

 

How big is the company and the marketing department?

The smaller the company and marketing department, the more roles and functions you can expect a person to be required to handle.

On the flip side, larger or more marketing-sophisticated companies tend to have more specialized roles and more people handling each role/function.

 

What does the organization look like above, below, and to the sides of this role (including dotted lines of influence and close collaboration)?

If you nail down this information, it often includes hidden hints about what a role will actually entail that aren’t evident from the job title, or even the official description.

The role’s sphere of influence is one of the most important things you can learn here, and the size and nature of that sphere gives you a much clearer idea of whether you want a strategist, planner or executor.

If you see a content strategist role buried under a manager under a director under a VP of one of many areas of marketing, it’s much more likely that person is going to be asked to execute on the vision and plans of the people above them, which means they’re not really a strategist after all.

 

How many of this role are already there? How many more do they expect to hire to an identical role, if any?

Every organization has a hierarchy. The higher a worker stands in that hierarchy, the more strategic the role is likely to be. That means you’ll have more content producers/writers than content marketers than content strategists.

If you or your client is planning to hire five more of the same role, it’s much more likely to be a content producer than a content marketer than a content strategist because of simple math of typical organizational hierarchies.

 

What percentage of this employee’s work is expected to be self-directed vs defined by others?

I know every business sets their strategic priorities, and I don’t mean that. I mean, what percentage of the time will this employee spend working on a content campaign that was their idea vs writing brochures for a head of sales. What other individuals’ work will be affected by this employee’s direction?

This helps you understand the role’s sphere of influence. The larger the sphere of influence, the more strategic the role is. The smaller the sphere of the roles’ influence, and the more that other people influence the work of the role, the more execution-focused the role is. Understanding the role’s place on that continuum gives you a better idea of what title to use to best hire for it.

 

The Differences: Content Strategist vs Content Marketer vs Content Writer

 

To me, the roles and functions of just about any area of marketing can be broken down into three main areas: strategy, planning, and execution.

 

Strategy means:

Guiding the actions of many through big picture vision, direction and systems

Planning means:

Figuring out how groups of tactics can work together to accomplish a specific goal

Execution means:

Personally taking action to turn tactics from ideas into realities

 

Roles may have to overlap depending on staffing levels and company buy-in to certain roles and functions.

 

A Content Strategist is the Strategy Role

They deal with big picture vision and systems around using content as a strategic function in the business, hence the word strategy. They deal with things like content taxonomy, establishing personas, information architecture, governance, even what types of content experiences to focus on or experiment with.

 

A Content Marketer is the Planning Role

They do things like set editorial calendars, map out nurture tracks, and plan content campaigns with a level of granularity.

 

A Content Writer / Producer is the Execution Role

They actually write, design, film, and/or manage vendors who do the same. This function actually makes the content.

 

Combining Roles

With limited staffing, many companies roll planning up into strategy (or don’t address strategy at all) and execution responsibility may roll up to content marketers, especially if all the content production is outsourced to agencies or freelancers.

If you want to make sure you’re making effective hires, it helps to start being more cognizant of the differences.

 

Functions vs Roles vs People

 

Functions are types of work someone does.

Examples:

  • Writing automation emails
  • Filming a video
  • Designing an infographic
  • Maintaining an editorial calendar
  • Planning a content marketing initiative
  • Establishing website taxonomy
  • Developing personas

 

Roles are groups of related functions that someone does.

Examples:

  1. Content strategy is a role that could include persona development, content taxonomy, website governance and user journey mapping.
  2. Content marketing is a role that could include the functions of maintaining an editorial calendar, mapping out a nurture track, and planning a content marketing campaign.
  3. Content production is a role that could include the functions of writing, designing, filming, film editing, and publishing in a CMS (content management system).

 

People are the the ones who hold roles and execute functions as part of those roles.

The people-to-roles ratio depends on your company and the nature of each role. It’s important to remember that the more roles you ask anyone person to perform, the less effective they will be at all of them.

 

Chart of content strategy, marketing, writer effectiveness per role

 

Examples:

  • There may be one person for a particular role, like one content marketing person responsible for the content marketing role and its many functions.
  • There may be more than one person per function, like many content writers, plus a designer and videographer to fulfill the content production role.
  • And of course, more and more, we see one person responsible for many roles, like a general marketer asked to handle content planning, and content production, and design, and social sharing, and reporting and events.

 

Better Understanding, Better Hiring

If you’ve made it this far, you might be thinking that following the advice in this post is a big commitment. But I’d argue the cost of doing a little due diligence is far lower than the cost of hiring the wrong employee (then starting the hiring process all over again).

Content marketing/strategy is still maturing and it’s got a long way to go. Companies are blazing new trails. The roads may not be paved. Things may get bumpy. This is why it’s handy to use a more consultative approach to hiring content talent, or to find a recruiter who does.

The good news is that if you do your homework to make sure you understand the role you’re hiring for, and you title it appropriately, you’re exponentially more likely to get the right candidates and find the right person for the job.

 

Hal Werner
Hal Werner
Hal Werner is a content strategist, digital marketer and idea man based in the Dallas, Texas area.

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