The 3 Jobs of Content Marketing, and Why 1 Person Can’t Do Them All

By Melissa Lafsky December 7th, 2015

As 2015 comes to a close, we can say with certainty that content is here to stay in marketing departments. What we can’t say is that there’s any standard protocol for how to do it well. A lot of marketers are still taking their best guess, praying they get it right.

One common act of guesswork is to assume that content marketing must be like something that it resembles: PR. Both have to do with brand visibility and communication, right? So many people treat content marketing the same way that they would treat PR—by either bringing someone in-house to handle everything or hiring a big agency to take it over.

Unfortunately, this sort of thinking gets you into trouble, because content marketing and PR are not the same. Not even close: Each involves its own set of skills and tasks, metrics and goals, and best practices. They may be second cousins, but they’re not twins.

As a result, limiting your options to a choice of “in-house or agency” is often a big mistake.

I’ll save the diatribe on why handing off your content marketing to a large agency is a risky idea—that can wait for another column. The short answer is that content marketing needs to be a powerful extension of your brand, with a customized strategy, unique point of view, and distinct voice. Outsourcing all of that is like hiring a notary to write your wedding vows.

Which brings us to the question of whether you should simply hire someone to “handle” your content. It’s become common for brands to look for a single person to “solve their content marketing problem.” This new hire might be a content manager, content marketing director, vice president of content, marketing editor, or some other catchy new title. It’ll be a new role, sometimes created for the sole purpose of taking content off of someone else’s plate.

The people who are interested in these roles often have editorial and/or marketing experience. They possibly have knowledge of the product. They are smart, highly capable, and eager to jump in and make a difference.

But all too often, they’re doomed.

Here’s why. Since content marketing is so new, this role is being created from scratch. It’s a big black hole that this new content manager is expected to plug right away. But most companies creating content for the first time really have no idea how many people it takes to launch and then run a successful content operation.

The answer is that it doesn’t take one person. It takes three, in three separate jobs. Here’s a rundown of what these jobs are:

1. Content strategy. Before you assign a single article, e-book, or video, you have to have a plan. Not just an editorial calendar—the plan has to go far deeper.

What are your goals for content, and how will you measure success? Who is your audience, and what problems are you solving for them? What’s your brand voice, and how are you going to stand out among all the other zillions of posts or videos crowding the Internet? And, finally, how are you going to get all this content created and approved? (This is just a taste of all the questions that a content strategist has to answer. I have plenty more.)

2. Content execution. If you’ve worked at magazines or websites that produced content as their product, you already know that putting out great work on the Internet takes an enormous amount of time and effort. A typical magazine has a full-time staff dedicated to performing all the necessary tasks that come with planning, producing, perfecting, publishing, and distributing content. If you’re producing more than one piece of content a week, execution can easily be a full-time job in itself.

3. Content integration. This is the term I use for “making sure that the rest of the organization knows what you’re producing, and why it’s awesome.” Content needs to be integrated into everything else that’s happening in the company. Every other department, from social media to product to sales, needs to know what’s being published, and how this content can benefit their efforts. Likewise, the content manager needs to know what’s going on in each of these departments so he or she can see where content can help solve problems and provide value. This means lots of talking to people outside the content team, presenting plans and campaigns, and then building consensus for them—which means time spent in meetings instead of strategy or execution.

Whether or not you agree that these are all full-time jobs, the fact remains that a single person can’t simultaneously do all three of them well. (And they all need to be happening constantly—even once you have your initial strategy, you need to constantly monitor and iterate as you go.)

So what’s the way out? Here are a couple of steps:

1. Hire help. The best first step is to hire a content strategy firm that will come in, do an audit/assessment, and tell you exactly what you need in order to create a thriving content marketing system/department. The right strategy firm will give you an overview of the best course of action and what it’s going to take to execute. They’ll take the first job off your hands and set you up with the right staffing help and workflow process to seamlessly handle jobs two and three.

2. Don’t hire a manager in a vacuum. If you hire someone to manage your content marketing, give them a team to manage—even if it’s a freelance team or a team that is dedicated to content half the time. Also remember that creativity is fueled by teamwork, and a great manager will only be better if she’s surrounded by a creative staff.

Every brand is different, and every content marketing project has its own unique challenges. But there are some common pitfalls that are easy to avoid. There’s absolutely no point in hiring someone talented and then setting that person up to fail. The good news is that you don’t have to.

Melissa Lafsky Wall (@Lafsky) is the founder of Brick Wall Media.


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