There’s a lot of noise and uncertainty in content marketing, but one thing has remained constant: People are creating more and more content. According to CMI’s 2017 benchmark survey, over 70 percent of companies plan to create more content this year compared to last year—an upward trend that’s held steady over the past few years.
In turn, content marketing hiring is on the rise. Content management is one of the most sought-after marketing skills, and content strategists have one of the highest-rising salaries in America. Content marketing job listings grew 350 percent on Indeed between 2011 and 2015.
Whenever managers ask me for advice about filling these roles, I usually have to explain that, no, I can’t help them poach from Contently’s network of 100,000 freelance creatives. But once that’s out of the way, we usually end up having a deep conversation about what they should look for in the hiring process. Here are the five rules I preach every time.
Rule 1: Don’t obsess over domain expertise
Recently, I was having lunch with a friend hoping to hire a content marketing manager, which is the catch-all job title for a writer and editor who has decent video instincts.
“I need someone who really knows ad tech,” she said.
“No you don’t,” I said.
I encounter this exchange in just about every hiring conversation. While it’s crucial to hire freelance writers who know your industry inside and out, you don’t have to hold your full-time hires to the same standard. That may sound counterintuitive, but one of the benefits of full-time hires is you get to coach them up. That learning curve gives you the luxury of prioritizing other factors: storytelling ability, passion, and strong instincts for creating content that’ll perform well on different distribution channels. You can absolutely teach someone everything they need to know about ad tech or martech or content marketing. It’s much harder to teach someone how to write.
I have an amazing team. They’re the biggest content marketing geeks on earth. When they started at Contently, none of them knew much about content marketing. But they could write, edit, and craft a good story. That’s what matters.
Rule 2: Put their skills to the test
Rule 1 comes with an obvious risk: What happens if your hire never develops an interest for your industry? After all, demand-side platforms aren’t for everyone.
To mitigate this risk, I highly recommend putting potential hires to the test. Give them (paid) freelance assignments that mirror the work you want them to do, and see how much they master a subject on their own. For instance, when we were interviewing Erin Nelson for our marketing editor role, I assigned her a 2,000 word explainer on best practices for mid-funnel content marketing in B2B tech. She had a solid base of knowledge coming from the B2B events world, did a ton of research on her own, and knocked it out of the park.
There are too many great storytellers looking for work to settle for mediocrity.
I’m also a big fan of using paid internships as a feeder program, kind of like a minor league team. There’s no better way to evaluate someone than by working with them for three months. Even when editorial interns don’t earn a spot on your content team, the ability to tell your company’s story makes them a great fit for accounts, sales, product marketing, and other departments that may have an opening.
Rule 3: Hire people who challenge the status quo
Our CMO Kelly Wenzel has a favorite saying: Don’t assume we’re going to keep doing something just because we did it before. She reminds me of this every week, and it helps keep me on track. But challenging the status quo isn’t just for CMOs. One of the biggest benefits of a new hire is they’ll look at your operation with fresh eyes—from the type of content you create to how you deliver it to your audience and measure the results.
I always press interviewees to tell me their impression of our content and what they’d do to improve it. If they come up blank, it means that they either didn’t do their research or don’t have strong analytical skills. Either way, it’s a big red flag.
Rule 4: Know the role
When you’re an early-stage startup, you need a bunch of Swiss army knives who can run around, do a dozen different things, and not screw up too badly. But when you mature and pass the 100-employee threshold, as we have over the past 18 months, you need machetes, daggers, and scalpels. As your company grows, people who are exceptional at one or two roles often become more valuable than people who are decent at whatever you throw at them.
When you’re a small content marketing operation, you may need someone who can run social, manage the newsletter, build landing pages, run AdWords, and still produce content for the blog. In this case, you may be willing to stomach someone who’s not as strong of a writer or videographer, because they keep the trains running.
As we grow, we often find ourselves loyal to these versatile employees, even as we hire other specialists to take over some of their responsibilities. But if what you really need is a great writer or videographer to produce breakthrough content, hire the best damn writer or videographer you can find. Don’t worry if they know anything about Marketo.
Rule 5: Bonus points for multimedia skills
The amount of time we spend each day watching digital video has tripled this decade. Increasingly, multimedia content is just table stakes. You need to hire accordingly.
That means when you’re evaluating someone’s writing skills, don’t just consider their ability to crank out a blog post. Can they write video scripts? Are they an engaging on-camera personality? Do they have a knack for making badass social videos? These skills matter.
Bonus points for other multimedia skills as well: data visualization, photoshop, infographic design. The ability to spice up blog posts through visual assets is a huge help when you’re trying to win over reader attention.
Most of all, don’t settle. It’s a great time to make a content marketing hire. The job market for creatives remains pretty terrible, and the stigma around branded content is fading. There are too many great storytellers looking for work to settle for mediocrity.