A Day in the Life of a Content Marketer
When a lot of people hear the terms “content marketer” or “content strategist,” they may not have the slightest clue what they mean. Explaining jobs to family and friends who don’t work in media is a nightmare. Not only are the titles vague, but they mean different things to different companies. Are these people copywriters? Do they plan ways for Fortune 1000 companies to dominate the world? What qualifies as “content”?
Gregory Ciotti works as a content marketer for Help Scout, a help desk software company. In just three years, he’s helped take the company blog from no readers to 350,000 monthly readers, and grown an email list with 60,000 subscribers.
Last month, Ciotti kindly let me shadow him for a day so I could report back on what life is like for a content marketer. Here’s a look at his typical routine—full of writing, editing, planning, podcasts, and episodes of The Wire.
The alarm goes off. On an ordinary day, Ciotti wakes up to a cup of green tea and four eggs, checking his email to make sure there aren’t any urgent problems that need to be addressed. In 2015, Help Scout documented five server errors, four inbound email delays, and two issues with Amazon that affected customers. Fortunately, there are no fires to put out this morning.
Ciotti likes to tackle big creative projects first, so he usually dedicates his mornings to writing for the Help Scout blog.
“You’re only gifted so many hours of ‘synthesis’ work—or, creating something from nothing,” he said. “Books like Daily Rituals have confirmed many writers struggle to bring their full intellectual self to the page after four or five hours. It’s a terrible feeling when you let busy work chip away at this precious time.”
Most Help Scout employees work remotely, so Ciotti writes in a home office across from his bedroom. He shuts the door, consciously separating his personal and professional lives. When writing, he likes quiet. He wears noise-cancelling Bose headphones; listens to SimplyNoise, a white noise generator; and occasionally turns off his Internet to avoid distraction.
Today, the Wi-Fi is on as he teams up with the company’s co-founder and lead designer, Jared McDaniel, to finalize copy for Help Scout’s new About page. On Slack, the two agonize over 50 words of copy, trimming some sections while making the “Meet the Team” section a bit friendlier and inviting.
Even though Ciotti is almost embarassed to admit that he spent the better part of an hour debating over 50 words, it’s a worthwhile mission since the About page is one of the most popular pages on the company’s website.
Over the years, Ciotti and the other contributors to the Help Scout blog have compiled the most pressing customer service questions from readers. Now, he’s preparing to start a podcast, which will launch in early 2016, to answer those questions.
Together with editorial director Jason Fell and marketer Paul Jun, Ciotti maintains a Google doc that currently lists about 250 questions the team plans to address over time. For 45 minutes, Ciotti chooses which ones to cover, drafts show notes, and finds resources his co-hosts and guests can reference for an upcoming episode.
“Our teammates had a lot to say, and we were finding it was too much to ask to have them contribute via writing,” he said. Instead, the marketing team will get colleagues to share their knowledge and experiences through conversation.
Near the end of the hour, Ciotti sends his coworkers an email with an overview so they’re prepared for the recording session.
For the next item on his to-do list, Ciotti reaches for his sketchbook, which is full of (confidential) bullets about Help Scout’s content strategy for 2016. Ciotti jots down some thoughts before porting everything over to Keynote where he develops a formal presentation ahead of the company’s quarterly marketing summit.
In the slideshow, he addresses how the team will plan its editorial calendar, what topics to cover, which mediums to focus on, and updates for the firm’s primary customer personas.
Over a quick call, Ciotti checks in with Cassandra Marketos, a freelancer leading the production of a new company e-book. He asks her about progress and checks in to see how interviews are going.
Over the next hour and a half, Ciotti buckles down to update an old blog post titled “The Ultimate Guide to Measuring Customer Satisfaction.” Because it is a popular piece that generates quite a bit of search traffic, Ciotti’s updates the piece with new information to please the Google gods.
This, of course, isn’t just a one-off project. Ciotti maintains a calendar that tells him when articles need to be updated. Generally, that calendar is prioritized based on traffic, so that articles with more traffic get the most attention.
Just before lunch, Ciotti finishes his additions and finalizes some new visuals. Often, fresh images are important for articles that include screenshots of the Help Scout dashboard to ensure what users see in a blog post matches up with the latest product developments.
With a chicken, corn, and guacamole burrito in hand, and an hour blocked out for lunch, Ciotti sits down to rewatch an episode from The Wire, which is where smart marketers go to for inspiration.
Before he starts work again, Ciotti takes another break, this time to read. This afternoon, he enjoys a book on visual communication titled Unfolding the Napkin: The Hands-On Method for Solving Complex Problems with Simple Pictures. Part work, part play, Ciotti uses the book to improve his understanding of visual communication, a skill he hopes to continue developing for Help Scout.
With Help Scout in the process of recruiting a new writer, Ciotti starts evaluating applicants. Candidates had to write an original piece of content as part of the application, so Ciotti logs into Workable, a platform the company uses for recruiting, to view and comment on the drafts.
Afterward, he spend 45 minutes responding to emails that have piled up and reviewing copy for some Help Scout ads.
For the next hour, Ciotti is a guest on Unbounce’s Call to Action podcast, hosted by Dan Levy, a content strategist, and Stephanie Saretsky, a multimedia producer. In the episode, he highlights the main takeaway of an article he had written last year titled “Your World Before Our Product“: Brands can covert prospects into paying customers by comparing the before and after of how people benefit from the product.
Typically, Ciotti tackles big projects all in one sitting, well before lunch. But this evening he’s making an exception to add a few more final touches to his presentation on Help Scout’s 2016 content strategy.
After we hang up the phone, Ciotti feels a second wind to write, clocking in about 800 words for a piece about how reducing customer effort leads to better customer service.
With the workday done, Ciotti unwinds by reading. Today, he plops down in a reclining chair in his living room to dig into James Salter’s Dusk and Other Stories.
When he’s done, Ciotti hangs out in front of his TV for another episode of The Wire. Afterwards, he does one last thing before bed: On a notecard, he writes down a list of three to five important tasks he wants to accomplish tomorrow—a ritual he borrowed from Marc Andreessen.
As Ciotti told me, “I find it a good way to close out for the day and create a sense of preparedness to hit the ground running the next morning.”