How to Get More Talented Writers into Content Marketing


My day job is content marketing. It’s a fantastic, growing field. It’s perfect for someone who loves creating excellent content and is passionate about marketing.

I recently read a post about the dearth of talent in content marketing. I get messages from recruiters on LinkedIn constantly. We’ve had a hell of a time adding new writers to our team.

As Jay Acunzo points out: Talented writers go into media.

Most writers don’t know what content marketing is. And the ones who do turn their noses up at it, opting instead to work insane hours for no money for the honor and nobility of journalism.

It’s a shame that simultaneously writers can’t find work and brands can’t find writers. Here’s how to solve the problem.

Stop looking for unicorns.

A simple definition of content marketing: Solving the target audience’s problems for free right now so they know and trust a brand when they need your product or service. My job is to create content that help my brand’s potential customers now so that when they become someone’s actual customer, they become ours.

Acunzo lists the four components you need at a minimum to get a positive ROI on content marketing:

  • Planning (strategy, buying tech, crafting editorial calendars, etc.)
  • Production (creating and editing the content itself)
  • Distribution (marketing)
  • Analysis (how’d it do?)

Very few people who can do all that. Almost no one can do all that well enough to get a return on their salary. Sorry.

The traits that make someone a brilliant writer don’t translate to statistical analysis of Google Analytics reports. If you ask the Jezebel blogger you just poached to create a marketing strategy based on a 20% CPA, they’re going to run screaming.

And if you’re telling your Marketing Analyst to write blog posts and calling it content marketing, shoot yourself in the face onto a sheet of paper. It’ll be as fun to read.

Each of those tasks requires vastly different intelligences. But besides that, honing excellence requires specialization. If you’re doing everything at once, you’re not getting better at any of it.

If you can’t afford four separate people for those four separate roles, you can’t afford to do content marketing in-house.

Let writers write.

Writers revere their heroes, like everyone else. They want to write where their heroes write. Hunter S. Thompson didn’t write for Coca-Cola. (Though, how amazing would it have been if Solvent Ether had sponsored Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?)

Writers want a platform for their writing that is widely read and well-respected. When writers start reading brands they’ll start wanting to write for them.

Stop asking writers to be responsible for distributing their own work. Stop asking them to create strategy. Stop asking them to justify their work with detailed reports. Hire people to do that for them, and then Let. Them. Write.

That’s how you get the best work out of your writers, strategists, and analysts.

Use the language writers use.

When writers look for jobs, they don’t use search terms like “Content Strategist.” They don’t put that term in their LinkedIn profiles so recruiters can find them through keyword search. People who don’t work in marketing already don’t know what that is.

They use terms like “Writer,” “Copywriter,” “Journalist,” “Reporter,” and “Editor.” To find writers, use those terms.

Stop thinking of what you’re doing as less deserving of respect than journalism.

I started my career in marketing because there were no journalism jobs when I graduated in 2008. Southern Progress and other publishers had just dumped hundreds of journalists and other writers with decades of experience on Birmingham, Alabama’s job market.

Maybe I’m still bitter about not getting to do journalism right away, but I think objective journalism is kind of a silly idea. Bias impacts every single aspect of writing, from what to cover to who to interview to what questions to ask them to which facts to include and how to word them. In early America, newspapers were run by political parties.

Just like total objectivity is impossible, so is total editorial independence. The idea that editorial departments operate completely independently of advertisers is absurd. Paper publishing is dying because the inefficiencies of the model have been made clear by competition from internet publishers. But even “independent” internet publishers are being replaced. Gizmodo died. Gawker is floundering. First came native advertising on publishers’ platforms. Now brands are becoming publishers and creating their own platforms.

This is a great thing. There is no pure objectivity or independence. But you can be totally transparent about who’s signing your checks.

Think about it: Brands have always sponsored content indirectly. Now they do do so without the pretense of objectivity or a middleman.

Starting my career in marketing made me much more cynical about the death of publishing. Sure, reporting is more useful than #hottakes. But anyone can fund reporting. Including brands.

Brands need to stop thinking of what they’re doing as different than publishing. If you’re doing content marketing, you’re publishing. If you’re creating content and distributing it, you’re a publisher.

When you recognize that as a brand you can create as much value for an audience as a magazine, maybe more, and maybe more honestly, your writers will too.

Starting my career in marketing might have made me cynical, but it also made me a unicorn.

The Great Recession gave me four years of experience in strategy, buying tech, crafting editorial calendars, creating and editing the content itself, marketing, advertising, and analysis. Since then I’ve worked at a magazine and gotten published where my heroes have been published. But I’m back to marketing, because I think it’s cool and the pay is better and the hours more reasonable.

But I’m not the writer I would be if I’d spent the past seven years just writing. Or the analyst. Or the promoter. Or the marketer.

Talented writers go into media because that’s where they think talented writers belong. It’s up to brands to convince them otherwise. The first step is for brands to recognize it themselves.

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