By Ann Gynn published July 24, 2015

What Skills Are Necessary to Be a Great Content Marketer?

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Almost one-third of marketers (32%) report having a hard time finding trained content marketing professionals, according to the 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America. That’s three times more than those who cited it as a challenge in 2014.

Not only are talented content marketing professionals hard to find, but it can be tough to know what to look for when hiring someone. The skill set can be diverse and often is not defined sufficiently by a particular organization or content marketing team, making a successful search more difficult.

What skills should be on the must-have list for your team? Leading content marketing experts who are presenting at Content Marketing World 2015 share what they put at the top.

Dig the data

We need to find the people who can translate data so it tells a story. Too often, companies are making decisions on metrics that don’t matter or metrics that they measure unsuccessfully.

To separate the signal from the noise, you need to find the people who understand what the data is telling them and can translate it to the executives who are funding your budgets and making decisions.

Ahava Leibtag, president and founder, Aha Media Group | @ahaval

Tell and think

Exceptional storytellers and strategic thinkers are a must. I work for a media company, and we’re in the business of telling stories. If you’re on our team, we need you to think strategically when it comes to brand partnerships, whether you’re on the creative or management side. I can teach content marketing, but I can’t teach that. Oh, and being meticulous … yeah, that, too!

Arestia Rosenberg, creative director of brand strategy, The Daily Beast | @arestiaR

Look for trained journalists

People in journalism already know success requires an unrelenting focus on telling stories that the audience wants to hear. Plus, most have honed the skills necessary to ask people to talk about a topic, listen carefully, and follow up with great probing questions. That makes them ideal candidates to interview buyers about the decisions the company wants to influence and build buyer personas.

Adele Revella, CEO, Buyer Persona Institute, @buyerpersona

Don’t forget project management

Among the skills on my list is project management and organization. A strong content program means LOTS of projects and variety. It can be hard to manage multiple projects across many contributors, media, with reviews, approvals, edits, and a ton of collaboration. Content marketers need to be supremely well organized with solid project management skills to keep it all running on time and on budget. Strong project management also allows you to be flexible about accommodating the inevitable changes to the schedule.

Brian Kardon, chief marketing officer, Lattice Engines | @bkardon

Make it personal

I’m particularly looking for people who “create” for themselves, not just for work. If they create content or build technology for themselves that means they are experimenting and exploring because it interests them. If they only do it because it’s required for work, they may not love it enough to be successful on my team.

I want doers and makers. The skills that come from that are the kinds of skills I want right now. I want people who can open a webpage, app, or blog and tell me how they made it, what they learned from it, and how it will help us achieve our goals.

Buddy Scalera, senior director content strategy, The Medicines Company | @MarketingBuddy

Adapt and flex

Successful brands have realized that agility is a competitive advantage. But to have an agile mindset, you have to have situational fluency – the ability to step into nearly any situation and be able to hit the ground running with delivering value. The ability to understand strategy and tactics, to balance C-suite demands with customer expectations, and so forth means having a team who can understand and work in all of these environments. That’s an incredibly tough person to find.

Carla Johnson, President, Type A Communications | @CarlaJohnson

Think graphically

It may be tricky to find someone with all of these skills, but I’d be looking to add a professional who has exceptional visual content creation capabilities, understands the full gamut of content amplification options (including paid promotion), and has a strong analytical and testing/optimization background.

Jay Baer, president, Convince & Convert | @jaybaer

Listen and obsess without stalking

A skill that’s often undervalued but stays at the top of my list is content facilitation – the ability to glean and distill the best and most relevant information out of a subject-matter expert, a customer, or a client’s customer. Content facilitation is the ability to interview on the edge – listening intently and changing the line of questioning on the fly to discover the even bigger and better story in the end.

The second highest trait I look for is a sheer obsession with understanding the buyer. This extends way beyond personas. I’m talking about the strategist who would stalk buyers if it were legal – just to get inside their head. These candidates are fascinated by how the buyers tick, what they feel, and what they do during their decision-making process. The result – ridiculously relevant and eyebrow-raising content.

Deana Goldasich, CEO, Well Planned Web | @goldasich

Go for talented generalists

Because we’re a smaller company, one of the most important things for my hires is a broad range of abilities that can contribute to the overall effectiveness of our efforts. Current skills that are important for a good generalist include:

  • Shared-experience content creators – People who have a deep understanding of the audience, have been in their shoes, and can create content that addresses their needs using their language.
  • Analytics and insights – They should be able to track, analyze, and update marketing decisions based on the feedback and data we’re receiving. The second part of this is to ensure they’re collecting the right data, and analyzing it in a statistically accurate way.
  • Engagement optimization – People who understand the channels where our audience is and can communicate with them in a way that creates trust and doesn’t come across as overly salesy.

Erin Robbins O’Brien, CCO & marketing strategist, GinzaMetrics | @TexasGirlErin

Work with others

Almost equally important to having an innate sense of creativity and analytics is having the ability to thrive in a cross-functional team. Content marketing has become more complex with so many more varied stakeholders becoming involved – internal or outside agency partners, designers in charge of visual content, data analysts, community managers, or the subject-matter experts themselves. Content marketers who know how to guide, collate, and collaborate with different disciplines are must-haves for organizations looking to use content marketing to drive their business.

Georgia Galanoudis, managing director, Imprint | @Imprint_Georgia

Seek the innate

The top of my must-have list includes skills that aren’t easily taught. I look for people that are passionate about marketing. Motivation will almost always beat mere talent. I want people who listen more than they talk. They need to always be ready. And finally I want people who aren’t afraid to fail. It is OK to take calculated risks as long as you fail fast, adjust, and push ahead.

Jeannine Rossignol, vice president, global marketing for large enterprise operations, Xerox Corporation | @j9rossignol

I always require a desire to learn. Because things change fast in marketing in general, I need to know that a new hire will hungrily devour new channels, new systems, and new best practices to stay up to date, especially if they do it without having to be told.

Jessica Best, digital marketing evangelist, emfluence | @bestofjess

I would be looking for people who make it a practice to look ahead. It’s not enough to be current with what’s happening; we need people who are willing to think about the next thing, willing to look at what is currently working, what’s new, and what out-of-the-box ideas might intersect with now and what’s coming to create the next big idea.

Kathleen Gossman, project manager, EnVeritas Group | @EnVeritasGroup

Write, see, ask

My top three skills for a content marketer would be:

  • Storyteller – Writes compelling stories that prospects want to read
  • Data visualizer – Shows different ways content can be created and shared
  • Curious – Asks the right questions; and seeks out content ideas in different places

Mickey Mencin, director of corporate communications, Hyland | @mmencin

Demonstrate return

Two critical content marketing skills are data analysis and email marketing.

There is a growing need to demonstrate marketing ROI and understand consumers’ behavior through the context of their actions. Marketers must have strong analytical skills, specifically the ability to interpret website and marketing data, gauge campaign performance, and clearly communicate results to executives.

Effective email marketers possess a deep understanding of buyer personas and the customer journey. They are able to segment and manage audience lists, develop personalized content, run automated email campaigns, provide insight into performance reports, and continually adapt activities to meet business goals.

Paul Roetzer, founder and CEO, PR 20/20 | @PaulRoetzer

Want to hear more from these insightful content marketing leaders? Register today to attend Content Marketing World 2015 this September in Cleveland.

Content Marketing Institute recently launched a center for content marketing jobs, research, and other helpful information. Check it out.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Ann Gynn

Ann Gynn edits the CMI blog. She also serves as the Tech Tools editor for Chief Content Officer magazine. Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. Former college adjunct faculty, Ann also helps train professionals in content so they can do it themselves. Follow Ann on Twitter @anngynn or connect on LinkedIn.

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  • Kristin Marie

    This is a great list and I (modestly) believe I have the requisite skills and abilities to be a content marketer. My problem? Because I don’t have direct experience as a content marketer, no one will hire me. How do you recommend getting the experience? No experience, no job. No job, no experience. Quite a Catch-22 and I’m open to suggestions and ideas, even if it means volunteering my time.

    • rogercparker

      Dear Kristin:
      You bring up a great point. My question: Are you doing any content marketing for yourself, in your field or fields of interest? Do you have a blog? If not, are you publishing blog posts on LinkedIn?

      Getting started, and moving forward, using “yourself” (or a local nonprofit) as a “client” might help you.

      Best wishes on your journey to content marketing success! If will happen, if you want it to happen!
      Roger

    • Ann Gynn

      Kristin:

      Roger offers some good questions and great ideas — so many opportunities to get published and position yourself in the field.

      When I taught a college senior-level PR writing class, the students had to go out and find real-life clients to build their portfolios. Often these would be nonprofits or small businesses that didn’t have a marketing budget. Some were eager to have the help.

      I would reach out to organizations that interest you or where you could make a difference (it’s easy to see what they’re doing now.) Then pitch them about how you can help. Treat it like you would a paying job.

      ann

  • Randy Goff

    Great and terrifying article and list!

    • Ann Gynn

      Thanks Randy. I think it’s always great to be able to share the varied views of decision-makers when it comes to what they want when hiring.

  • http://www.uncoveryouragame.com Jon Lee

    Hey Ann,

    I found this really fascinating and insightful as a full stack developer myself. I always advise new job seekers and anyone on the job market to learn to analyze data through python, as in my opinion that’s the next really in demand job skill so it’s cool to see that backed up by people making the hiring decisions.

    I’m going to share this with my followers to emphasize the importance of data and content creation skills as a marketer going forward

    Best,

    JL

    • Ann Gynn

      Jon,

      Great point — knowing how to analyze data is more important than ever and can make candidates stand out.

  • Alice

    Great and skill building article .Thanks Ann for cultivating post.

    • Ann Gynn

      Thanks Alice. I appreciate all the CMW speakers who share their insights — we definitely can learn from them.

  • Ann Gynn

    Great point about former educators — after all seeing content marketing as an educational opportunity is a great foundation for business success!

  • http://www.callbox.com.sg/ Dara Lin

    What did I just read? Those examples are awesome! The world has changed so much. Many years ago, a marketers could just walk into his/her print store, finish editing his/her article which he/she wrote yesterday, publish it and print it. And voila! While today? Wow, just wow! You might as well say we advance 60 years in a year with the way online marketing increases in value, assets, tools, structure, and possibilities every single month. You have to adapt because adaptability is one of the most important skills of all times that can ensure the survival of the human race. Ha ha ha. Great work Ann!

    • Ann Gynn

      You’re right, Dara. It’s amazing how fast the evolution of marketing is happening these days. You can’t just walk along the path, you have to run these days!

  • Amy Reed

    This article is encouraging! I have worked in over six different industries, both in for-profit and non-profit, on the agency and client side, both with execution (design and writing) and project management — simultaneously, both B2B and B2C, and I free lanced for news outlets once upon a time, and I can see where a journalism background would be advantageous for Content Marketing. Ten years ago, I lacked years of experience in a single industry to be competitive — even for agency work. I never have been more excited about my marketability. (And I would absolutely volunteer my time to expand my portfolio of social media campaigns).