Editorial Director, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast
August 24th, 2020
Editor's note: Liz originally published this article in 2019. She has completely overhauled it in light of new best practices, resources, and thoughts around the importance of hiring a content manager.
OK, I'm going to forgo my usual antics, quips, banter, and inappropriate stories about my love for Han Solo, because today's topic is (a) too important, and (b) too near and dear to my heart to mess around. So, let's get down to business, shall we?
If you're practicing any one of the following at your company as a means to increase traffic, leads, and sales...
...you absolutely must hire a content manager for your digital marketing team.
When I say "content manager," I don't mean a digital marketing generalist or a social media manager who posted a blog post for y'all within the past six months. What I am referring to is a dedicated content nerd (like yours truly) who is solely focused on the content creation efforts for your company.
Now, inevitably some of you are saying to yourselves:
"We're not ready to commit yet. We want to dabble first to see if inbound marketing is for us before we start adding headcount. Especially right now, when everything is so uncertain."
Look, I totally understand where you're coming from, if this sounds like you. Right now, every dollar and cent you spend counts. And it can feel like a big risk for your company to invest in a new role you're unfamiliar with for a digital sales and marketing strategy you're just getting started with.
Still, that doesn't change the fact that if you don't hire a content manager to be that one true owner of your content efforts, you're almost certainly guaranteeing failure before you even get started. When you don't have this owner seated within your company of your content marketing efforts making it a priority, it never will be.
Put another way, you can't expect 100% from something when you're only putting 50% of the effort and focus into it.
Or maybe you think you've got it covered:
"We've got a few people who can use part of their time on inbound marketing and creating content, it's fine."
No. No, it's not fine.
What you've really got are a few people who will deprioritize your content strategy the second something else "more important" comes along — and you won't have anyone to hold them accountable, because that single owner of your content does not exist.
As we've spoken about at length before, you need to hire a content manager if you want to walk an inbound path to attain the growth, revenue, and expanded brand awareness you're looking for. You can call them whatever you want — content strategist, content marketing manager, chief content officer, grand high priest (or priestess) of words... I don't care!
Lots of people — including us — are telling you that you need a content manager, but why? Why do you really need a content manager? What do they bring to the table that can't be covered by someone else on your team? ("Seriously, can't the marketers we've already hired just take care of it?") Are the skill sets we're suggesting you look for actually necessary?
Most of all, will having a content manager really make a difference for your team and your company, beyond accountability?
Those are the exact questions I'm going to answer here for you. But first...
How I became a content manager (yes, this is relevant to answering your questions)
Before we joined forces with IMPACT in 2017 — where I was first a content strategist and I'm now our director of web and interactive content — I was Quintain Marketing's content manager.
Although I didn't start out in that role. I joined Quintain Marketing in 2014 as an account manager (and then a senior account manager), before Kathleen Booth created the content manager position for our company and moved me into that seat a year or so later, after hearing about the value of the role from Marcus Sheridan.
Coming from a writing, journalism, and publishing background, I was much more suited to that role. As a result, I was able to thrive and excel professionally in a way that would have never been possible as an account manager. More importantly, however, it helped us centralize content creation efforts for ourselves and our clients.
Kathleen realized what many other marketing leaders (agency or otherwise) had not at that time — mediocre content no longer gets results. So, if an organization doesn't bring centralized content and publication expertise in-house, they will fail in the long-run.
Through my experience as our content manager, I could not agree more.
What does it feel like when you try to execute a content strategy without a content manager?
No matter what your marketing strategists and subject matter experts tell you, creating content feels like a burden. (Although some will be upfront about it. Really upfront about it.)
There are those who will be exceptions to that assertion, of course. But, for the most part, creating content — even when they see the value in it and want their voice to be heard by your audience— will always be that thing they have to do. It will always be in the way of what they really want to be doing.
You will have some folks who grow to resent your strategic content efforts. Even if you're getting results, their pain doesn't go away or get better.
Marketers who want to create and execute innovative campaigns and strategies will leave, because they didn't sign up to be a brand journalist who is forever caught in a loop of chasing people down for edits and approvals.
You won't have someone in-house who can empower others to create truly engaging content that actually gets them noticed and gets better results.
Deadlines will be missed, strategies will go off the rails, and -- eventually -- your little inbound experiment will fall apart.
I want to draw particular attention to that second point, because this is something that often gets overlooked. One of the top things I look for in a content manager or specialist hire is the desire to do that exact role.
Unfortunately, it's my experience that digital marketers who end up with content manager responsibilities they shouldn't have (and/or didn't ask for) always end up leaving or cycling out to another role within the company.
Even if they say they want that role, it's not going to work out.
That's not to say there aren't marketers who later go on to find their passion as a content specialist — that's exactly what I did, as did Ramona. But someone either has the foundational skills and (more importantly) the passion for content, specifically, or they don't.
I've seen too many super-talented social media strategists and digital marketers try to backdoor their way into a different dream marketing job via a content specialist role, and it never goes well.
If you don't take this into account, you will hire the wrong people or worse, lose the people you've already got in-house. Which leads me to a personal bone to pick with the digital marketing industry, as a whole.
Digital marketing generalists and strategists shouldn't be everything to everyone
There are way too many of you out there who expect your digital marketing strategists to wear as many hats as possible.
They need to be experts in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, community management, LinkedIn, HubSpot, WordPress, Adobe Creative Suite, conversion rate optimization, social advertising, PPC, Salesforce, sales enablement, marketing automation, business writing, SEO, schema markup, video script-writing, intent research, keyword research, brand messaging, website user journeys, privacy laws, public relations, video production, graphic design, web design, HTML, event production and marketing, email marketing, public speaking, personal branding, podcasting, audio editing, audience research, data analysis and reporting, wood carving, baking soufflés that never deflate, predicting the future, and so on.
Oh my gosh, I'm exhausted just writing out that list. And now you're also expecting them to become storytelling, publishing, and journalism experts, on top of all that?
Those are areas of expertise people get degrees in and build whole careers around, because you can't just "wing it" or watch a few YouTube tutorials to learn the required skills to excel in those areas.
Here's a story to show you what I mean
A little over three years ago, a senior marketing strategist who is absolutely brilliant at crafting results-driving campaigns for his clients came to me with a problem that had been keeping him up at night.
"I have this outline for a guide a client wants to publish, and I want you to look at it," he said.
He shared they were way over their timeline on the project. A fully-designed version was supposed to have been published the week prior, according to their original timeline — and they were still mired in the outlining phase, with no end in sight.
"I don't know what's wrong with it or why we're stuck — can you take a look at it?"
It only took me a five-second glance to realize what the problem was.
The topic they had chosen for their guide was so broad in scope— with no specific problem they were trying to solve clearly identified— there was no way they were ever going to agree upon an outline, let alone actually produce the damn thing.
They were doomed to fail from the start. How do I know? Well, toot my own horn, this is what my background in writing and publishing has trained me to do.
But it wasn't his fault that he couldn't see that — we're simply experts in different things. Seriously, some of the strategies he would share with me blew my freaking mind, because I knew I could never make my brain work that way in 1 million years.
Bottom line, asking your digital marketers and other subject matter experts to suddenly become storytelling wizards and editing geniuses is a bridge too far. You're creating unnecessary friction while also guaranteeing your inbound content strategies will ultimately tank, because you're not putting someone qualified in place to own it.
I say this because the story I shared above is not a unique one.
There isn't a week that goes by where I don't have between at least three and five people approach me with a content problem. They do so because they know it will take us 10 to 15 minutes (on average) to solve it together, instead of the many hours (days, weeks, or more) it might otherwise take them to do so on their own.
Let's break down why you really want a content manager on your digital marketing team
Content manager professionals like me have the native, raw skill sets that empower us to easily to:
This is on top of being built to work in a fast-paced, deadline-driven environment, where every priority given to us is a top priority. You see, us content nerds spend our late nights obsessing about new ways we can tell our brand's stories in ways that are more helpful, engaging, and innovative.
We go out of our way to find the content tools and applications your company needs to make content creation and collaboration easier and more productive.
We're constantly trying to find new methods and processes for empowering our internal subject matter experts to have more time to do what they do best, while still getting their names and insights in front of our audiences.
This is the stuff we're born to do, and that's why you want someone like me (and Kevin Phillips) on your team.
(Not us, specifically, of course. We're IMPACTers. But you get the point.)
Beyond all that, however, we've seen time and again with our clients that there's a direct correlation between the companies that see significant gains and improvements in digital marketing and sales, and those that don't, when they have hired an in-house content manager.
West Roofing Systems is a perfect example — they hired an in-house content manager, and saw 1,200% increase in website traffic and an 828% jump in lead conversions (among other amazing results) from their efforts:
I know Marcus mentioned this in those articles above, but I want to reiterate how important it is to hire for the right skill set and company culture fit over industry expertise. If you happen to find someone who checks all of those boxes, that's great!