How to Build a Content Team

One of the biggest mistakes a brand can make is to hire someone as part of its content team without considering whether that person is equipped to execute within the company’s larger marketing strategy.

“What I usually see a lot is the organization has not enabled enough transition time,” said Baron Manett, former senior vice president of Ariad Communications and founder of Per Se Brand Experience. “I see an organization make an announcement, ‘Okay, we’re going to focus on content marketing. And hey, Debbie, yesterday you were the senior brand manager. Starting Monday, you’re going to be the director of content.'”

But looking elsewhere for the right creative and strategic talent can be a real challenge. Do you hire a team of marketers and hope they double-majored in communications and English? Do you hire writers who don’t know much about lead generation but built impressive journalism careers?

If you’re running a multifaceted team with specialized parts, here’s what to look for.


Avoid the temptation of plucking a marketer from his department and forcing him to write. There are plenty of budding and seasoned journalists willing to produce bylines for brands. The ideal writer will have experience in reporting and data-driven storytelling, and be able to complete high-quality projects under tight deadlines.

For athenahealth’s John Fox, hiring journalists for his digital magazine was non-negotiable. Fox plucked former Boston Globe journalist Joanna Weiss and tech writer James Furbush to run the company’s online publication.

“It all comes down to the the basics of journalism,” Weiss said when I spoke with her in February, “which is curiosity, the ability to tell a story, general fluency with the language, and being able to interview and write.”


The ideal brand editor has great storytelling instinct, demonstrates a keen understanding of the brand’s audience, and knows how to use content to help the brand reach its overall goals.

According to Ryan Galloway, director of brand services for Contently, “Like all good editors, brand editors know that brands have to give their audiences content worth consuming. What’s more, they have to have the spine and the latitude to provide a balance against the marketing team’s urge to push products. That’s a fine line to walk, but if they don’t, a brand’s content efforts will be over before they start.”

Editors can potentially work as freelancers if your company isn’t ready yet for a full-time hire. At Better Weekdays, director of marketing Suzanne Lovaldi worked with a freelance managing editor to guide the strategic portion of the brand’s content program. With a budget from Better Weekdays, the editor managed freelance writers who would go on to create over 100 blog posts in less than a year.

Weebly, a web-hosting service, used Contently to access a freelance managing editor and a handful of freelance journalists to scale its operation with high-quality writers. “We realized it was time to think about how we could scale the content and be even more cost-effective,” said Adam Tanguay, Weebly’s head of organic growth. As a result, Weebly increased monthly traffic by 40 percent and boosted organic search traffic to its main publication, Inspiration Center, by 100 percent.


Multimedia creators within brands come from diverse backgrounds. Marriott’s top multimedia creatives hail from Disney. At the high-end gym Equinox, video editors come from publications like Details and Women’s Wear Daily. At athenahealth, the majority of the multimedia staff comes from public television.

“The transition from public television to corporate isn’t necessarily obvious,” said Laura Longsworth, one of athenahealth’s lead video producers. “The fact that we are all here is … partly because we have freedom in terms of how we do things creatively.”

Pierre Valette, who won an Emmy for his work at WGBH and leads athenahealth’s editorial and video teams as VP of content and communications, encourages his staff to draw from their diverse television backgrounds and take risks. This creative liberty is seen in the company’s diverse projects, including a documentary on a rural hospital and a less serious mockumentary.


Content strategists need strong communication skills to handle the frequently conflicting demands of editorial and marketing leaders.

“The role of the content strategist is to be bilingual,” said Ari Kepnes, who used to work as Contently’s lead content strategist. “They can’t be too editorial or they won’t be able to have conversations with the people who control the budget. At the same time, they have to understand the levers that impact a piece of content and how to measure and optimize the success of the editorial calendar.”

Strategists must also be able to perform an audit of the entire content system, using a wide range of SEO, content analysis, and social media tools. This includes a competitive analysis and distillation of market trends.

This is an excerpt from “The CMO’s Guide to Hiring for Content.”

Image by Prime-Movies

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