by Carro Ford
The Perfect Storm for Content Marketing Talent
Get Jay Acunzo talking about content marketing, and it’s obvious he understands it like few others do. Jay doesn’t just talk content—he lives it.
Before joining Google as a digital media strategist, Jay wrote for the Hartford Courant and ESPN. Later, he led content creation and marketing strategies for Breaktime Media and HubSpot.
Now he helps early-stage start-ups at NextView Ventures, a seed-stage venture capital firm. Oh, and did we mention he hosts Unthinkable, the show for creators in business? He also travels the world advocating for craft-driven marketing. Marketers are buying into his fresh view of content as craft, because the outcome benefits sellers and consumers. But there’s a problem—the content marketing talent crunch.
Mental Athletes Needed
When Jay asks marketers what they most struggle with, it’s talent. There’s a massive crunch for great content marketers, and it’s not just in the start-up space. It’s across the board.
What makes this perfect storm for content talent? As a formal job, content marketing is new, compared to other forms of marketing. The market hasn’t matured enough to feed enough talent supply for the demand.
“Before, you could have a career in content or in marketing,” says Jay, “but now, the two worlds are colliding, and it takes a special talent to do both.” Content marketers are expected to be mental athletes skilled at both marketing and editorial. Teams need that duality, especially if they don’t have enough staff to specialize.
Name of the Game Is Attention
Content’s business purpose is to get attention in a noisy world. “Google leader Eric Schmidt says revenue solves all known problems, but I think audience is second. If you have loyal, engaged customers, revenue will come, but getting that audience is so difficult,” Jay declares.
The name of the game is attention, but it takes a rare person to come into the marketing machine and say, “Let’s do something different.” When you don’t have content talent willing to take a risk and try something new, you end up copying what works elsewhere. That’s not a strategy for getting attention. The most creative marketers are willing to reject best practices and instead get attention through the stories and content they create.
Non Marketing Content Marketing
New content talent isn’t there to run campaigns, track analytics, or do other things traditionally associated with marketing. “New” means “not marketing.” The job of content marketing talent is to focus on the audience and create attention-getting content.
“Good marketing doesn’t feel like marketing,” declares Jay. “It’s about things people love—an experience or a game coming from a brand. It’s behavior that surprises people and gets attention in a positive way, but that’s tricky.” The problem is slick selling and tone-deaf marketing that skips to the end (the sale) and forgets to care about the content that gets you there.
Creating Content for the Love of It
When you have people who do quality content for its own sake, who want to create because they love it, the quality gets better and more authentic. And that translates into content marketing that works.
Good content creators are the best at reaching and resonating with audiences that don’t want to hear from you. It goes back to attention. Consumers have all the power today, not the sellers. Consumers have millions of options, and they won’t choose anything they don’t love. It’s the same with creators.
The writer who writes for the love of it gives you a better end-piece, one that connects on an intrinsic level. Let your content creators do what they love. Then, you’ll find more people intrinsically motivated to consume it, allowing a tighter connection to your brand.
Guts and Spines
Even the best content teams come apart eventually. How can marketing leaders prepare to quickly bring their group back to full strength when someone leaves? It’s about guts and spines, says Jay. “Guts are that feeling you get as a creator of content, the intuition about the quality and suitability of content for its purpose.” The spine is what stays the same if the guts have a change of heart—or a change of job.
What underlies a long-term team is the framework of how you create: the spine. In the world of TV shows, this is called a “rundown.” Every show has a rundown of blocks of time, each with a purpose, that make up the entire show. The writers understand what’s needed for each block, such as the “cold open.” The stuff inside the cold open container will change, but, for the consumer, the structure stays the same.
Don’t worry that a little structure will stifle creativity. Constraints actually breed creative freedom, and too much freedom can be counterproductive.
Best Writer, the Least Likely Hire Ever
Traditional hiring approaches are risky when it comes to identifying content talent. If you look at content the same way you look at other marketing roles, you end up throwing out good candidates too soon.
“The best writer I ever hired was also the least likely candidate ever,” Jay says. “My boss sent me the portfolio for someone who had bartended for 10 years. If I’d seen him on LinkedIn, I wouldn’t have looked twice, and I would have missed one of the best content creators I ever hired.”
Hiring Tips from the NFL
Jay’s hiring advice? Make it a project-driven process, instead of lip service to creative skills. The NFL doesn’t sit down with a prospect and ask, “Are you a good quarterback?” They ask the candidate to work out for them. Same with content creators. Ask them to do a quick workout for you. It’s a production-oriented job, so ask for several samples and see what they put out.
“Show me you can create; don’t just check skills off a list of what a marketer is supposed to look like,” he explains. “I still do the phone calls, but I give candidates a writing project and a deadline.” Have the content creator explain what they want the audience to get out of the piece. Ask them to give you several different headlines and explain why they would choose their favorite.
Creative Energy: A Recruiting Advantage
It’s important that creators get better at crafting content for your company, but it’s not happening. One of the biggest issues is brands are underequipped to train content creators. Companies drop them into a role and expect them to be good instantly.
In a recent survey, 1,500 members of a Boston content marketing group were asked to look at their jobs in terms of strategy, production, distribution, and measurement, and then rank how their employer provided infrastructure and support for each aspect. Distribution ranked first for support. Production was last.
Can You Spot the Recruiting Opportunity?
Businesses tout their great marketing teams, but that won’t resonate with content talent. Brands should instead promote how great their environment is for nurturing content creators.
Content creators’ biggest hiring fear is bait and switch. Companies give lip service to creativity, but, when creators arrive, they feel like a cog in a machine. Creators are looking for an oasis where they can apply their craft and be treated not like a commodity or short-order cooks, but as unique and valued contributors.
Hire an In-House Team or Outsource Content?
Good content needs lots of input—hallway conversations, C-level town halls, meeting someone outside your department. Jay believes that’s why an in-house team is the best strategy. The serendipity of being at the business and immersed in a brand makes better content creators and stronger output.
The risk with agencies and freelancers is marginalization. It’s easier to turn an outside creator into a short-order cook when they’re not included in upstream strategies. They’re hired for a project, but miss the valuable context around it. They may also lack appreciation for the intrinsic value of the brand.
Focus on Finding Creativity
Marketers already devote a lot of time to strategy, but it’s time to put energy into making content really good, too, because great things happen when you do. Jay pushes hard on that. “I spend a bizarre amount of time telling marketers to do that. You need people with creative tastes.”
Hire creative people and let them create. Ultimately, what they do benefits your customers and your business. Consider hiring a writer and teaching them marketing, instead of the other way around. Hire for intrinsic skills rather than end results. Jay makes the apt analogy of a company building a product and knowingly using cheap parts. It’s the same with content. Good products and good content require the right ingredients to be good, not cheap parts. That’s shortsighted, and the substandard result won’t get you the attention you need. Yet, brands still end up with tone-deaf pieces, chronic sameness, or another “ultimate guide” to whatever. Use content craftsmen and quality materials for the best results.
It’s wise to think about the talent crunch now. Jay, along with other notable industry experts, believe we’ll be facing this hiring challenge for unique content creators for years to come. “We get excited and talk about transformation, yet we don’t change a thing, because that’s the way it’s always been done. My challenge to brands is to prove me wrong. I’d love to be wrong on this!”