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Why the job title “content manager” is a misnomer

Irene Triendl

Say What?

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There’s a job title schizophrenia in marketing. But we can fix the titles later. Let’s fix the thinking first.

We’ve reached peak content. The point in time where pretty much everybody’s verdict is: content seems to work, so content it is. 

As a consequence, there are tons of ‘content manager’ jobs going round right now. Across the board, businesses are creating these full-time roles – hiring people to keep the content machine humming, and manage the creation of blog posts, videos, ebooks, whitepapers, tweets, the lot.

The content skillset

The problem is: the vast majority of businesses don’t really understand the skills and processes that go into content creation. And that’s why they’re asking for the impossible when hiring for that role. Let me explain:

Go to any job portal, grab a handful of “content manager” job descriptions and you’ll find them as delusional as most client briefs (You know the kind, where the goals are brand awareness, lead gen, uplift in sales, product launch, PR-ability, and a reduced waistline. There’s no budget, the deadline is tomorrow and the target audience is everyone. Oh, and make it go viral, will ya?).

You might as well be headhunting a Siberian leprechaun. Here are just some of the skills you’re supposed to bring:

  • be a terrific writer and editor (with several years of experience writing for the xyz industry)
  • know how to create all types of content (video, “thought leadership”, blogs, short’n’snappy, social, long form, etc)
  • have knowledge of desktop publishing
  • be an amazing project manager and organisational talent
  • be able to run the overall content strategy and nail all the messaging
  • be happy with 30k 
  • be able to run social media for your business
  • commission and review content
  • understand programmatic
  • be highly creative – but not precious
  • have a deep understanding of marketing automation
  • be a digital wizard
  • run the global roll-out of content campaigns
  • have a passion for tech
  • have proven experience of managing budgets and timelines
  • know how to track and measure a campaign
  • be a great stakeholder manager
  • have experience leading a team of juniors and getting senior-level content out of them

Why is that a problem? Because, in more than a decade of agency-side copywriting and strategy, I’ve never met a terrific writer who was also a great project manager. I’ve never come across a marketing automation hero who would have been happy to commission, creative-direct, and proofread a video script. And I’ve rarely met a creative who wasn’t also a bit of a diva, and wouldn’t have been happy to throw all budget considerations overboard once they’d developed a big vision for a campaign. 

Unrealistic expectations of the person and their skillset aren’t the only problem, though. It’s not necessarily the workload either (though reading through some of those job descriptions makes you want to run for the nine-to-five hills). 

It’s the lack of focus apparent in them.

Few businesses can agree what content is, and what job it’s supposed to do for them. And seriously, the last thing anybody needs is more random acts of content. You can see it everywhere: everyone’s “doing content”. Few are doing it well. Most are doing it without a strategy. That’s what creates the famous deluge of crap that Doug Kessler has so articulately written about. We’re about to be buried in it.

The problem with ‘manager’

The only way out of the crap conundrum is a proper strategy: thought-through content concepts, creative direction, outstanding ideas, and editorial rigour. i.e. a plan that allows you to create a few, really good pieces that hit the mark, not just a ton of stuff.

But the problem with the ‘manager’ job title (whether that’s for content or marketing, or content marketing or whatever) is that it presupposes that such a plan exists. Something your content manager can run with. And that’s rarely the case – so as a result, these managers often have no choice but to react to each and every request for content from within their business – which exacerbates the crap problem.

And that’s where those fuzzy job descriptions create a real issue, because the people you’re hiring to manage the content aren’t necessarily experienced in building such a plan.

Content management and content strategy are two different jobs

I’ve been in an in-house content manager role myself. I’ve seen how hard it is to maintain creative and strategic integrity while staying on top of the production, briefing, revision and sign-off processes and fending off people’s requests for yet another “two-pager” for that one use case or prospect. There are two roles in that job: one is a creative and strategic one, the other is operational. And those roles require fundamentally different personalities and working styles. 

From conversations I’ve had with recruiters, I’ve learned that they find it easier to fill the role with candidates that can manage content, while it’s a lot harder to find people who’ve been on the creative, strategic and execution side. That’s not a value judgement. As I said, you need both. My point is that whoever you hire, they’ll fall on one or the other side of the spectrum. And that means that you’ll either overwhelm the more operational types with a strategy and execution remit they’ve not been trained for, or you’re frustrating your strategic and creative resources with operational duties they’re likely not very good at and/or don’t enjoy.

And this much is clear: Conflating the two distinct roles in one ‘content manager’ title devalues them both.

So what’s a business to do?

I think for businesses hiring for a content role, the only way to solve this problem is to think hard about what it is they really need, and prioritise that. And I believe that the recruiters that work with these businesses need to do the consulting bit and help them narrow down that job description.

Here’s how I’d suggest businesses and recruiters should handle this:

  • Think hard and prioritise what you’re looking for. Do you need an ideas person or a manager? Do you need them to do the work, or to oversee it? Don’t make your job description a dumping ground for all the nice-to-haves.
  • If you decide you need a manager, get help with strategy. For instance, you could get a freelance strategist (like me) in for a few weeks to build you a solid plan (or, if you have the budget, get an agency that specialises in content). Their outsider’s view can be hugely valuable for defining your most important messages. It’s their creative capital.
  • If you decide you need a strategist instead, help them manage the processes. A good project or marketing manager can keep timelines on track, giving your strategist that much-needed headspace.
  • And finally, if you’re still set on finding that elusive creature that can do it all: be ready to accept that your recruitment process may take a while, and that you’ll have to pay a premium for a very rare combination of skills.

And do let me know when you find them. I’d love to have a chat. We might even come up with the right job title for them.

Originally published on LinkedIn

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