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Why Cisco Is Hiring Over 200 Content Marketers

Last November, Cisco surprised the tech world with an unexpected round of layoffs: Over 100 people from global marketing and corporate communications were let go. The move was positioned as an organizational consolidation under new CMO Karen Walker, but, in truth, it had to do with a much more strategic aim: refocusing Cisco’s marketing on content.

“In December 2015, Karen announced we would be following a content marketing model,” explained Katrina Neal, Cisco’s head of content for its service provider segment in the UK. “Her vision is to be a leader in real-time personal marketing communications. What the hell does that mean? In reality, it means that we lost around 200 people in November through restructuring, and now, we’re hiring around 200 content marketing people globally.”

The huge hiring push is the result of a content marketing journey the technology giant has been on for the past couple of years. Over that time, the company has invested heavily in content on its website. Some posts, such as “10 Career Pointers for CNAA Holders,” by Cisco analyst Mark Leary, have been shared tens of thousands of times. Overall, Cisco’s content has been shared over a million times in the past year, per BuzzSumo.

Now, Walker and the Cisco team want to aggressively scale the brand’s content operation. A recruiting team has been searching for candidates for the past five months, and the company is currently hiring managing editors in the UK, Germany, France, and the Americas.

“It comes down to this moment where it’s quite literally all on the table,” Neal said. “Karen is the first CMO at Cisco who quite literally talks to the board of directors about the strategic direction and how marketing is going to become the heart of the organization. As buyers’ journeys become more digital, marketing is becoming more integral.”

Hiring challenges

Anyone who has ever had to hire someone for a content marketing role knows how hard it can be to find someone with the right combination of editorial skills and marketing fluency. When you’re responsible for hundreds of hires, that challenge only gets more difficult.

“Where we’re really finding a sweet spot is people who have empathy and passion for what we’re doing.”

Neal alluded to a recent interview she did for a managing editor for the Americas. The first candidate came from a more traditional PR background. The next candidate was an editor who immediately impressed Neal. “She had that bookish look with the glasses on her nose—this woman loves reading,” Neal said. “You can tell her passion for words, and she was a most fascinating character. [But] she didn’t smell like a marketing person. How would she feel if she was given a booking goal?”

For Neal, finding someone with strong editorial chops and a comfort with marketing goals is crucial. “Where we’re really finding a sweet spot is people who have empathy and passion for what we’re doing,” she said.

As part of the transition, Cisco is working with King Content, a content marketing agency, to develop its content strategy and fill in gaps in the content creation process. As Cisco hires more people, it hopes to transition more of the content responsibilities in-house. “We have a contract with them for six months,” Neal said, “and we want to use them to really establish our voice in the market.”

Cisco is focusing on two key tactics to establish that voice. First, it wants to do a better job leveraging subject matter experts within the company. Next, Neal wants to find writers and editors with distinct voices. She referenced Tim Washer, a creative director at Cisco who’s also had a long career as a standup comic and studied improv under Amy Poehler. Washer is one of the funniest people on the marketing conference circuit, using his talents to make hilarious videos for Cisco.

Another example Neal mentioned is Jason Miller, the group manager of LinkedIn’s global content, who has never found a marketing concept that he hasn’t been able to turn into a rock-and-roll metaphor. Despite working at technology giants like Marketo and LinkedIn, Miller has always found a way to let his big personality shine.

“We’re nurturing that talent and finding people who have a natural voice,” Neal said. “It’s something we need to experiment with.”

A focus on owned media

There’s no shortage of platforms to publish on today. Facebook Instant Articles, Medium, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Google Posts all offer tempting solutions for brands and publishers that want to scale their audience quickly. Cisco, however, remains devoted to owned media. “We have control over that,” Neal said. “Facebook can always change the rules of the game.”

“Editorial integrity is key.”

That doesn’t mean the company eschews social and other channels. Cisco works with King Content to find opportunities to reach new audiences through native advertising and programmatic distribution. But the main goal will be to drive people back to the company’s website.

“We will heavily invest in our owned media, but we will accelerate that through existing partnerships,” Neal explained.

Cisco also may develop a more formal digital content hub with a strong editorial focus. Neal said the company’s content mix will be “80 percent editorial to 20 percent ‘advertorial'” that’s clearly differentiated. “Editorial integrity is key.”

Getting buy-in and measuring success

According to Neal, getting everyone in the company on board is one of the challenges that comes with suddenly hiring 200 content marketers. “It’s about education and saying, ‘It’s okay to have a controversial view.'”

Neal has been helping with a series of company presentations meant to sell the value of content marketing. Initially, the company approached early adopters. Now, it’s focused on folks with a more pragmatic and conservative mindset.

“They’re called pragmatists and conservatives for a reason—because they like to maintain the status quo,” Neal said. “We’re in the midst of a transformation, which means shaping the pragmatists or conservatives amongst us.”

Rather than seeing them as an obstacle, Neal believes they’re inspiring the marketing team to think more critically. “They’re really pushing us to give answers [to tough questions],” Neal said.

Part of those questions includes addressing ROI. In recent years, Cisco’s content has been judged against booking goals. Now, targets will also be tied to engagement.

To measure that, Cisco is developing an algorithm that weighs different engagement factors such as social media impressions and video views. The company will also look to build an “end-to-end content attribution model” that correctly weights different touch points.

“If I say, ‘That one guy read this one blog and that resulted in a multimillion-dollar deal,’ that’s a bit of a hard sell,” Neal joked.

Ultimately, however, it all comes back to finding the right 200 people to staff against this bold initiative.

“That’s the challenge,” Neal said. “To find those people and nurture them.”

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