I graduated from college with a degree in Renaissance literature and European history.
Needless to say, I was qualified for nothing.
But I thought maybe a career in academic publishing made sense, and wouldn't be that hard to come by.
Quite wrong, evidently (and in retrospect, quite obviously). A few months later, following a deafening silence from every publishing company in the area, I had me some bills to pay. So I took a job doing some copywriting and copyediting in a marketing department. I had no intention of growing a career in marketing, but it's the closest I could get to getting paid to "use my words."
Skip ahead some years, and here I am with a career in content, and a career in marketing. At the same time. I often say that, for a content geek, I was born at the exact right time: A few years earlier and I wouldn't be working in content at all, a few years later and I would have missed the initial content wave in the inbound marketing industry. But luckily, content is fueling inbound marketing right now. That means there's this whole field where "marketing" and "content" intersect that's developing right before our eyes, and we have the opportunity to shape it.
So I thought it would be good to try to lay out exactly what that career path looks like so anyone starting out, in the thick of it, trying to grow their career in it, hiring for it, or trying to mentor employees can get some idea of what they could be doing. Here's what I see the opportunities being right now for anyone who is working in this world, or anyone who wants to get into it.
Most obviously, a marketer's career in content (or a content creator's career in marketing) can take the form of being a writer. You could establish yourself as a jack of all trades -- not a bad place to begin if you're just getting started and trying to find your super power -- but as your career progresses, you might consider specializing if you want to stay in a writing function. This specialty could take a few forms; here are some of the most popular:
Short-Form Content: things like blog posts, tip sheets, copy for emails, newsletters
Long-Form Content: things like whitepapers, ebooks, or even real books (the ones you can hold in your hands ... or download on your tablet)
Content for an Industry or Persons: specializing in a certain audience, like the C-Suite, or analysts, or perhaps gaining expertise around a particular industry, like manufacturing, insurance, or pharma
Content Format Types: Carving out a niche in specific content format types, like ebooks and whitepapers, research reports, or webinars
Whether you choose to be a generalist or a specialist, focus on creating the highest quality content. While cranking out a high volume is certainly important -- dilly dallying around doesn't cut it when a bottom line is at stake -- it doesn't matter how much you create if the quality is poor.
(Note: Regardless of where your career progresses, I firmly believe everyone should start or have some experience in the writing role. It's extremely difficult to do anything else in this blog post well without a foundation in writing. Remember, even designers will have to work with copy and copywriters.)
Design and Multimedia Content
Content creators working in marketing are ideally, at the very least, comfortable with visual content. But marketers less comfortable with the written word are able to grow a career specializing in visual content. Just like those pursuing a marketing career centered around writing, this may include many different tracks:
Static visual content, like infographics, data visualizations, or visual social content
Video content, perhaps even podcasting
Interactive content, like the hottest new thing to hit the content waves, parallax scrolling
All marketers have a need for visual content professionals, and many are used to outsourcing that design work, sometimes much to their chagrin. Specializing in the field could give you a leg up on others in the content field, and endear you to colleagues, bosses, and interviewers who aren't used to working with someone with advanced design chops.
If you choose this route, it may be tempting to start thinking of yourself as an artist. In fact, writers may have the same impulse. But if you're working in the context of marketing, you'll grow your career faster and further if you shake this alluring label, and think of yourself as a business person. Our content is not art, it's achieving a business end. That doesn't mean it lacks flair, but it does mean it's not serving personal purposes. Content creators will find 1) more, better content is created, and 2) others are more excited to work with them when they are less fussy, and more objective with their output.
Again, I urge writers working in a marketing function to follow this advice, as well. You can have opinions, but keep them rooted in professional experience, not personal proclivities.
If you've mastered the writing function, you may find a career in editing to your liking. I say this comes after the writing function because it's extremely difficult to be a great editor without having writing skills. This doesn't mean editors are necessarily better writers than those making a career in writing -- sometimes it's the exact opposite, in fact. But the best editors have gotten their hands dirty as writers in the past, understand how to fill a blank piece of paper with content, can establish a brand's positioning within a piece of content, and have self-edited and been edited before.
In short, not all writers are editors, but all editors should be, or have been, writers.
This is a fantastic career path for anyone working in a company that's more progressive on the inbound marketing wave. They'll typically think of their content as a commodity, and act as if they're their own publishing house, or even a media company. You may also find editorial roles within marketing agencies. In both cases, you may find it beneficial to specialize as one would in the writing track discussed in the first section of this post.
Content training is a natural offshoot of the editorial role. Depending on the size of your organization, it may be coupled with the editing role or its own position. Again, this is more typically seen in organizations that think of themselves as publishing houses or media companies (even if, by the technical definition, they are not).
Content training is a bourgeoning field in marketing for two reasons:
There aren't a lot of people who are equipped to deliver it. Yet.
As such, organizations are in the position to have to train and transform their employees into content creators. Often, the people best equipped to do this are those who have spent time in the writing and editing functions, because they're able to lead by example, and provide critical, specificfeedback on precisely what a person needs to do to improve their content creation.
Project managers abound in many other fields; why not content? Well, many organizations and marketing agencies already employ excellent project managers, and this career path is a rewarding one for those who want to be close to content, but not up to their ears in words, semicolons, and track changes. These folks will have a few key skills:
Organized and deadline-oriented
Good communicator, both with internal employees, clients (if applicable), and contractors, freelancers, and vendors
Able to identify the difference between high- and low-quality content
Can ascertain which writers, designers, editors, researchers are the right fit for certain projects
Has enough familiarity with different content types to assess time and budget for project completion
This is an incredibly rewarding career within the marketing and content industries because you still have that feeling of having created and shipped something successful, plus your skills are easily transferrable.
Content Channel Measurement, Analysis, and Growth
When content and marketing intersect like they do in our inbound marketing world, it's easy to forget that you can grow your career down the (gasp!) marketing path, too! For example, you might want to spend time considering how content on one channel -- say your blog -- integrates with content on another channel, like social media. How do you market, and remarket, the content you already have? How do you market individual channels, like your blog? That's right, your blog does marketing for you, but you also have to market your blog. Same goes for all the other channels on which content lives, and markets for you.
Considering how email, social media, blogging, PR, and all the other channels and assets you use for content can be scaled, used more effectively, and generate more ROI, is a career that's excellent for those with content chops, and a love for and interest in inbound marketing.
I'm sure there are other opportunities out there for marketers that want to specialize in content. What other ideas do you have for those looking to shape a career in inbound marketing, as well as content?