Updated: Aug 22, 2022
As a Content Strategy & Storytelling Consultant I occasionally trawl the jobs boards looking for companies looking for content strategists. I’m not in the market for a full time job you understand but I’m of the opinion that a good strategy need only be created once then optimised based on the data it generates. As such, sometimes these job ads yield consulting opportunities however, most of the time, they are not what they seem once you scroll past the A/B tested headline. Here’s a typical example:
CONTENT STRATEGY SUPERSTAR WANTED
We’re looking for a passionate self-starter obsessed with telling stories that can change the world. You’re a media junkie who watches Game of Thrones whilst playing Fortnite and listening to TED Talks all at the same time. You’re a strategic thinker and hands-on executor who is as comfortable in the boardroom as the studio. You a multitasking marvel who can glide seamlessly between the edit suite and Google Suite, crushing deadlines and crunching numbers. You’re a one-man movie studio just waiting to yell ‘Action’!
Writing compelling blogs
Taking stunning photos
Producing unmissable podcasts and videos
Designing eye-popping infographics
Doing social media
Also analytics and stuff
Copywriting, screenwriting and blogging
Photography and videography (including drones #obvs)
Editing and motion graphics
More social media
Photoshop, Premier, In-Design, etc...
1 - 2 years exp. with Masters in Communications preferred
Now, does this sound like a strategic role to you? Does it even sound like one job? No one can be expected to be an expert in all these things and a comms degree isn’t going to touch most of them. So what exactly are these companies after?
I fear the word strategy is slowly being stripped of its meaning now that everyone and his dog is claiming to be a strategic “thinker”, “ninja”, or “guru". This is because strategy is deemed to be more prestigious than execution; strategic job titles therefore are highly sought after and given away to young people in lieu of a salary. But what does it get you, really? A content creator, which is super useful, except "content creator” is another misleading job title. Is Steven Spielberg a content creator? Is Stephen King? What about Stephen Stills (ask your parents, kids)? Well yes, but they all specialise in different media. Steven #1 is a filmmaker, Stephen #2 is a novelist, and Stephen #3 is a musician. Each is a genius in his field but ask Spielberg to write a song or King to direct a movie and you will quickly find the limits of their respective talents (I mean, have you seen Maximum Overdrive?).
Similarly it’s a rare beast that can write, produce, shoot, edit, design, distribute and analyse content with just the one brain. So, what is the ideal in-house content team? What is the right mix between strategy and execution, experience and expense?
Back when I was running content marketing agency Click2View our most successful collaboration, I would say, was with Visa and their Director of Digital Content Kris LeBoutillier. Although Kris has neither a marketing nor a communications job title, he is a content specialist within Visa’s corporate communications department with 25+ years of experience in story editing, writing and photography. Kris was an editor for Dow Jones and a photojournalist and writer for the likes of National Geographic and Al Jazeera. He knows what constitutes a story and how to tell it and he handpicks external partners to help him do just that. He also understands that not all writers write alike, same with photographers and videographers who may be good at one style of content but not another.
Would I describe Kris as a content strategist? I’d say he was more like an Executive Producer or Managing Editor commissioning content from best-in-breed partners and ensuring it is delivered on time, within budget and on brand according to the strategy, which he helped develop.
When it comes to creating an in-house content team I’d say a senior content specialist like Kris, who understands the process, is essential, but what else? It depends on what your main focus is; if it's blogging, hire a writer; if it’s Instagram, hire a photographer; if it’s YouTube, hire a shooter and/or editor. Algorithms thrive on frequency, recency and consistency of content so whichever platform you’re trying to impress most with your content probably requires an in-house creator that excels in that medium.
For everything else there are freelancers, agencies and, increasingly, platforms such as Get Craft, 90 Seconds and Shootsta, but to use any of these methods effectively you need that central figure who understands content at their core. Don’t call them a marketer or a communicator, give them a content job title, set KPIs specific to content not borrowed from advertising or PR, and give them the freedom to find and tell stories that are truly worthy of publication with whomever they deem best to tell them.