The demand for content strategists is outstripping supply, and with good reason: They produce the fuel that drives the inbound engine. Because it’s a relatively new role, however, universities aren’t yet churning out journalist-grade writers who double as experts on the machinery of search, demand creation, and social media. Instead, content strategists tend to emerge from various corners of the current marketing and media workforces.
CMOs can feel like they’re playing a high-stakes game of Whack-a-Mole when recruiting for a content strategist position. There’s simply no telling where they’re hiding. Yet for companies running the inbound marketing playbook, it’s such a foundational hire that the CMO may feel like she has little choice but to stand by the game console, waiting to bag the first critter to pop up his head.
Fortunately, I’ve hired for the role and helped others land quality content talent. Let’s put down the foam mallet and explore some reliable ways to land not just any content strategist, but the right one.
1) Focus on Skills, Not Title
There just aren’t that many legitimate content strategists out there, so don’t get too tangled up in looking for people with the ideal title. You are far better off searching for candidates with foundational skills like blogging, SEO, marketing automation, design, video production, even coding.
Writing is a prerequisite. After that, I look for one additional core skill. If you are hiring only a single content strategist, I’d suggest the secondary skill be design. Analytics and SEO can be taught more easily than can writing or design.
2) Follow the Leaders
Thanks to “ego trap” marketing, the internet is chock-full of lists cataloging prominent content professionals. Even if you aren’t in a position to hire one of the top names, creep their profiles to discover who they follow on Twitter. You are sure to find a long list of practitioners who, at the very least, have earned the hard-won attention of influencers in the space. (Hey, it’s a start.)
3) Fish Off of the Longest Piers
There are a number of prominent blogs that are dedicated to inbound and content marketing. The Content Marketing Institute, Copyblogger, MarketingProfs, B2B Marketing Insider, and this blog, all come to mind as hotbeds for quality guest contributors. You may also want to scour dominant blogs in your own vertical market. Generally speaking, the better the blog, the higher the bar for guest writers to clear -- a standard that’s likely to become even more stringent given recent Google comments.
Simply put, if any of these blogs has published a post by an outside content strategist, odds are, the writer is a good one. The blog hasn’t only surfaced a candidate for you to contact, but it’s also helped with your due diligence. It’s a two-point victory.
4) Trust the Crowd
There are a handful of sites, many premium, that search the social graph on a given topic to identify the people most influential on a given subject. For example, Little Bird, a company I advise, can quickly generate a list of hundreds of “insiders” on the subject of “content strategy.” Names are ranked by how many other insiders are connected to them. It also allows you to identify “emerging” influencers, or rising stars in a given industry. This particular list may be useful for smaller companies or those with tighter budgets. In any event, the crowd can be a reliable way to surface and vet candidates.
5) Look for Clusters
LinkedIn is, obviously, the go-to starting point for sourcing candidates, but avoid focusing only on scanning profiles. Instead, join content marketing groups and monitor activity level. Perhaps more relevant still is Inbound.org, an active community of inbound marketers -- many of whom embody the ideal art-meets-science profile that makes for a successful content strategist. Inbound.org also includes a job listings board.
6) Follow the Speaking Circuit
You don’t have to attend every marketing conference to know who is presenting. Simply check out the agendas for marketing-related events, like Content Marketing World, Authority and INBOUND, to see who has been invited to speak. Alternatively, you can run the same process for industry events in your particular market. Identify relevant topics on the agenda and … shazam! An instant list of highly trusted voices in the space. Most speakers also upload their presentations to SlideShare, which will give you visibility into their creative skills as well as their storytelling ability.
7) Check Your Reading List
Remember that many of the best content strategists didn’t start out as marketers at all. They came from the ranks of journalism. So ask yourself: Who do I read regularly? What are my favorite blogs or news sites? Jot down a short list and reach out to the reporters. Sure you may have to teach them fundamental marketing skills, but the most important ability -- the capacity build an audience with words -- is likely there in spades.
Several pillars -- freemium pricing, engaging tools and apps, a rich web experience, relevant and welcome email, and, perhaps most importantly, smart content -- form the foundation of an effective inbound marketing program. But for many CMOs, the content strategists have proven to be an elusive hire. Mix these seven tips with a little online sleuthing, and you might just find the perfect fit for your organization. Just make sure they aren’t currently on my team, okay?
Originally published May 27, 2014 8:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017