By Michele Linn published November 7, 2014

A Growing Challenge for 2015: How to Find Trained Content Marketing Professionals

How to Find Trained Content Marketing ProfessionalsEach year we track the challenges marketers are having with content marketing in our research. This year, one challenge was far more pronounced than it has been: finding trained content marketing professionals.

This challenge has seen a 320% increase for B2C marketers over the past year. Only 10% cited finding trained content marketing professionals as a hurdle last year, and 32% did this year. The research shows this is one challenge that is not alleviated with a documented content marketing strategy, which is the No. 1 indicator for content marketing success.

So, we took this quandary to members of our B2C research roundtable panel to see what insight they could provide. A big thanks to David Germano, VP of Content Marketing for Magnetic Content Studios; Julie Fleischer, Director of Data + Content + Media at Kraft Foods Group; Todd Wheatland, Head of Strategy at King Content; Andrew Davis, author of Brandscaping; and Brice Bay, Chairman and CEO at EnVeritas Group.

Why is finding the right people such a challenge this year?

You would think as the content marketing discipline matures more people would be trained, and it would be easier to find help, right? What’s going on?

Teams simply don’t have the right people on staff

Germano started the conversation by offering one possible reason why brands are struggling:

Here we are, a year later, and we’re seeing the need for more training. I think that’s really, really interesting … brands are looking to close that gap and I think they have discovered that maybe they don’t have the right personnel now or the right agencies or partners to do that.

Davis continued the conversation:

I think a year is long enough to determine that the people they thought they hired were awesome, haven’t been able to deliver what they thought they’d be able to deliver on, and maybe the expectations have changed, for even not just the person, but the organization’s investment in content.

My take: Operationalizing content marketing is not something that is easy to do – at all. In fact, when we interviewed 27 marketing leaders this past spring, we learned that most organizations are approaching this in different ways, and no one has the answer. There is no one right way to structure your team around content marketing, but there are things you can do to help shift your organization’s mindset.

Content marketing (and marketing in general) is evolving so quickly that it’s tough to keep up

Fleischer thinks that even if you have the right team, it’s still tough to find the right person because there are so many things your team needs to master these days:

There’s just a lot more formats. Some of this change and evolution is just because everything is changing and evolving so quickly.

My take: Our research also indicates B2C marketers are working on an average of 13 initiatives, and plan to begin working on an average of nine more over the next 12 months. Whoa. We’ll be diving into this more in next week’s B2C roundtable, but honestly, the speed at which things are changing and the amount that marketers feel the need to do, it’s tough to fill every single skills gap.

Good enough is no longer good enough

Wheatland weighs in with a third explanation:

I think the expectation of the internal sophistication and expectations of an organization have definitely matured. Earlier, we talked about how the scope and the sophistication of what we are all doing has changed so much, even in this last 12-month period. I think people are more educated and smell the BS in the air when they’re talking with people, and we’re all creating from a small pool of people who have deep experience.

Germano adds this:

Do they need training, getting good to great, or do they need training in just getting good? … I think that’s a completely different sort of ask and a potentially different answer.

My take: As the industry has exploded, many people are hanging out their content marketing “shingle.” While this may seem good for the industry, it also makes it much more difficult to differentiate the pros from the not-so-experienced. Joe Pulizzi’s post from 2013 about the 4 truths about content marketing agencies holds as true today as it did a year ago.

How to find the right person for your needs

While it’s helpful to understand why marketers are more challenged with finding the right people (do you feel better knowing you’re not alone?), the question remains: How do you find the right help?

The roundtable team offered ideas, and I also reached out to our wider CMI community via our LinkedIn Group. This is an issue people ask me about all of the time. Here are a few ideas to help.

Find someone who understands your audience

While we often hear that any strong writer or other content marketing professional can learn an industry, Davis suggests we may be going about this backwards:

Looking for a marketer or writer or videographer is not the right approach. Even looking for a content strategist might not be … I think what you really have to focus on is understanding the audience you’re trying to attract with content and actually looking for people who understand the audience, who have domain knowledge and expertise that’s beyond your product or your category, but understand the audience way better than you.

My take: For most editorial roles, with the exception of copy editors, I think it’s critical to hire someone who understands your industry. As Joe Putnam, Blog Editor for iSpionage, aptly stated:

It depends on the organization, but if you’re looking to establish yourself as an authority, freelance writers just won’t cut it since they’ll be writing about topics that they just learned the night before while researching the article. The only way to really become an authority is to hire experts.

I believe that the best content is a combination of your passion and your audience’s needs, and this is not something that can (usually) be replicated with any freelance writer. Your content needs YOU.

Look for “makers”

Buddy Scalera, SVP Multichannel Content Strategy for Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide, offers this simple – yet great – advice:

Find people who are already making content. Hire “makers.”

My take: Regardless of what role you need to fill, there is something about hiring people who create. Ideas are generally pretty easy to generate, but it’s the execution that is tough (and, truly, it’s the only thing that matters to your audience). Not only is a person’s output a good indicator of fit, but “making” helps people clarify thinking. I often think about this rant from Corey Eridon from HubSpot that expressed the need to hire the person with the right balance of “doing” and “thinking.”

The best content strategists I know are the ones that aren’t just churning out content, nor are they just strategizing – they do both, at the same time, all the time. If you’re hiring a content strategist for your company, be cautious of the white-boarding and ideating content strategists out there. Look for the candidates that want to do real work, and be strategic while doing it.”

Hire people who embrace process

Carlos Abler, Leader, Online Content Strategy, Global eTransformation for 3M, made a great point about the need for process-oriented people:

To add to what Buddy (Scalera) said, you need strong production-process people at your core, ideally who are or have been makers.

My take: Ah, process. This is something I have lived and breathed the last few months as we have hired and trained a few new people. While I don’t think everyone in the company needs to be process-oriented, I do think everyone on the editorial team needs to have this focus, otherwise it is impossible to track, communicate, and measure everything that is going on (and, as we see above, there is a lot going on). However, just like you need the balance between “doers” and “thinkers,” you also need a healthy dose of both “process only” and “get-it-done” attitudes.

Ask for referrals

Laura Bergheim, Founder and CEO for Wordsmithie, provides this advice:

If you can’t find the right talent within your organization – and don’t have the open head count to hire full time – ask for referrals from friends or acquaintances at brands that are producing wow-inducing content marketing. And once you find a great copywriter or strategist, chances are that person is a gateway to more great talent. Seasoned creatives tend to gravitate toward each other and will refer each other when they’re swamped.

Putnam adds:

I recommend combing other blogs to find writers you want to write for your site along with posting on places like Reddit threads where experts hang out. I’ve used both of these tactics to hire/recruit some really talented (pay-per-click) writers.

My take: Referrals can be a fantastic way to find people. Not only can you ask people you know for referrals, but you can also ask the people you find via industry blogs. Honestly, just start asking around – you never know what you may find.

Consider journalists

If you are looking for writers specifically, Kathryn Hawkins, Owner and Principal for Eucalypt Media, has the following advice:

I believe when sourcing content marketing talent, seeking out writers who have experience in reported journalism is often the best fit. This is because they understand how to gauge the accuracy of facts, they know how to conduct research and find data to back up assertions, and they understand how to conduct in-depth interviews to get the information they need from sources.

My take: During our recent #CMWorld Twitter chat, we asked participants about their backgrounds, as we all seemed to have ended up in content marketing in some circuitous way. The number of journalists turned content marketers was pretty amazing.

Looking for more advice on how to hire writers? See what tips Jay Acunzo, Ardath Albee, Andy Crestodina, and other CMW speakers and CMI contributors have to offer.

Let me know what you think. Why do you think finding the right content marketing talent is becoming more difficult? Any other tips to share?

Want to learn more about assembling a successful content marketing team? Check out all the fantastic CMW sessions that are available through our Video on Demand portal.

Cover image by reynermedia, Flickr Commons, via pixabay

Author: Michele Linn

Michele is the Vice President of Content at the Content Marketing Institute. She is one of those people who truly loves what she does and who she works with. You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

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  • Howard Rauch

    Hi Michele:

    All of the comments included have merit, but there also is a missing element that may or may not have been considered.

    For the most part, your contributors have expressed what they expect of the new recruits. By to what degree are employers prepared to discuss what’s in it for recruits in terms of financial and promotional growth?

    In my past life as VP/editorial at a B2B multi-publisher, our screening for editors included presentation of a three-year growth outlook . . . in terms of money, title and expanded responsibilities. Candidates found this approach refreshing. and it did give us an edge in attracting superstars.

    I used to get a lot of feedback from applicants about how evasive employers were in terms of being willing to outline future prospects. Perhaps more of your folks need to add that element to hiring discussions.

    Howard Rauch, Ethics Committee Chairman
    American Society of Business Publication Editors

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      As it gets more difficult to find the right trained content marketing professionals, it does become increasingly important for businesses to become the place where people want to work. Thanks for adding this perspective to the conversation.

  • rogercparker

    Hi, Michele:
    I like the combination of a refreshingly-short, but engaging video enhanced, in your article, by your “takes” on the various topics discussed. The additional comments also provided new perspectives.

    BTW, on your #CMI World Twitter Chat, besides ex-journalists, did you find many ex-teachers? Re: my article? http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2013/11/hire-former-teacher-content-marketing-job/

  • http://5northmarketing.com/ Joe Putnam

    My content was more about finding content-matter experts than getting referrals. Referrals may help with finding those, but the most important point is finding people who actually know what they’re talking about and not just hiring freelance writers because they know how to write.

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      Thanks for the clarification, Joe — and I appreciate all of your ideas on this.

  • http://bobhazlett.com/ Bob Hazlett

    Yes, I would agree that there is a lack of talent in the digital/content marketing space. You hit on some great points.

    * Colleges don’t teach this stuff.
    * The industry zigs and zags so often, that it’s hard to keep pace (let alone ahead).
    * There is no one right way to organize your team. One industry may excel with a structure that would crumble in another.
    * Many agencies talk a big game, but often fail to deliver.

    I believe you have to hire for mindset first. Do they push to be better and learn more? Are they always looking for ways to improve? Do they have a good right brain/left brain balance?

    As an organization, you must also stoke the fire. Give people freedom (and budget) to experiment, put more elasticity in the way you work and encourage your staff to get outside of their comfort zone.

    I don’t think there is a magic pill to make this all better, but it surely presents an opportunity to position yourself (or your agency) at the top.

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      Bob — GREAT point on hiring for mindset. From my experience, it makes a huge difference. (There could be a good post on how to hire for the right mindset for your project / company.)

      And, your point about giving people the freedom to fail is something we talk about as a team at CMI. It’s better to try things and fail than “stay the course.”

      I appreciate the additions — thanks!

  • Kristen Hicks

    “Freelance writers just won’t cut it since they’ll be writing about
    topics that they just learned the night before while researching the
    article.”

    Clearly I’m coming from a place of self-interest here, but I just want to chime in that this isn’t necessarily true! A good freelance writer won’t be rushed or shallow in their research. I usually spend far more time doing research than writing an assignment and think that’s the norm for most of the other freelance writers I know.

    There are plenty of reasons to hire a writer internally, but a long-term relationship with a capable freelance writer can mean they become as informed on the industry and subject matter you’re working with as someone on staff would be.

    Ok, rant finished :)

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      I think you raise two interesting points, Kristen.

      First, how much of an expert on a topic does a freelance writer need to be? I think the answer is, “it depends.” While the quote above is not from me, when I am looking for editorial / educational content around content marketing, I only hire people who understand this industry. But, this is (obviously) not the case for all writing projects.

      Second, I think you have a good point about the value in hiring a freelancer long-term. I agree this is a great approach as the writer continually learns about your company and the industry. This is a great alternative to hiring a writer internally or hiring a lot of different writers.

      Rant anytime!

      • Kristen Hicks

        “It depends” is so often the most accurate answer to any question :)