Choosing your first content marketing hire

First content hireContent covers a little bit of everything in the modern marketing department, from blogs to emails to print ads to websites to analytics. Making your first content hire is tough, because content marketing demands many different skill sets:

  • Writing
  • Design
  • Photography
  • Analytics
  • Web design and development
  • Community management

Many content marketing job ads these days are looking for unicorns. Applicants must be not just skilled with words, but also images, graphic design, website analytics and website coding languages. Also, please be willing to watch our social media 24/7/365 while replying cleverly, but also in a way that can’t offend anyone. You can also write press releases, right? We pay $31,000. 

I guarantee you, if any single person knows Photoshop, InDesign, Sprout, Salesforce, Hubspot, WordPress, HTML, CSS, SEO, and GA, you can’t find or afford them.

Best case scenario, you’ll find an employee who is pretty good in one of those skills and genuinely excellent at Googling the rest. More likely, you’ll find someone who’s spinning their wheels, but isn’t trained or self-aware enough yet to know that.

So how do you make a realistic first content hire? Start with the greatest need for your company and work from there.

If you need…. Someone to tell you where to start

The Strategist

Skills: Strategy, either writing or analytics, some social, some digital marketing

This person will be the head of your content team eventually. However, when you’re just getting started, they are also your closest bet to an all-around player as well. Strategists usually began in another area of content (as an analyst or a writer/editor), and then expanded their expertise into other areas of content. However, no single person can be a true expert in all of those skills. Hire for as much as you can, and plan to expand that person’s team as soon as possible. 

Your strategist should be an investment hire. Find a leader who is willing to bootstrap while your team gets up and running. Lesser hires are doubly painful here, due to opportunity cost. A high-quality strategy hire knows how to help your team grow and will demonstrate value quickly, enabling you to hire more team members. Lesser-quality hires won’t be able to, and your content team will flounder.

If you need…. Mainly written content (blogs, emails and website copy)

The Writer/Editor

Skills: Writing, editing, some social

These are two different skill sets, but your team will be fairly large before you can split them out. A good writer is likely a decent editor, and vice-versa. If you’ll be mostly writing in-house, lean toward the writing side. However, if you work more with freelancers or product experts (as in B2B), focus your interview on editing: how they’ve improved someone’s work, how to maintain a corporate voice, etc.

Writing samples are a great piece to ask for once you’ve entered interviews, but most applicants should bring strong samples. (They have their entire work and school history to find 3-5 good pieces.) Ask about other skills you’ll need while getting started, such as topic ideation or content calendar management.

Neither your writer or editor will be experts in the places their content goes, however. They won’t be able to search optimize your website or design and create strong emails. Writers can often cross-cover with social media; their writing skills can turn out clever posts. However, many writers are also introverts and don’t enjoy engaging online, the way that a good social media manager would. 

If you need…. To make a splash on social media

Social media manager

Skills: Community management, some writing, some analytics

Though many companies don’t prioritize this role as a first hire, a social media manager may be your best choice. For small businesses with strong word-of-mouth referrals, focusing your efforts on social media may be a smart play. People spend much of their lives on social media, and keeping your focus tight to one channel can keep costs low and expertise high.

Though many people think of writing as the primary social media skill, it’s actually community management. Social Media Managers need to understand their audience and know how to keep them engaged with your company. This team member often thrives in the spotlight, and loves to foster connections with new people. Your social media manager often has more in common with your sales people than with your writers. 

If you need…. Social media graphics

Anyone

Dozens of tools online help you build light, uncomplicated graphics and find cheap-or-free photos. Photoshop and illustrator are not necessary tools of the trade for small shops anymore. Train yourself and your team on Canva and call it a day. 

If you need… Heavy graphic work

Graphic Designer

Skills: Design, photo editing, some photography

This is rarely a first-hire, as most companies need a lot of marketing before they hit enough need for a dedicated designer. If your company is that outlier, you can hire specifically for graphic design. However, you should understand what you’re getting: graphic designers are very unlikely to have skills that cross over into any other area of marketing.

Most designers trained in the art programs of their schools, not in the marketing area. Your staffer will likely know little about marketing in general or even content design best practices. They have not been trained to write, and are, in general, more likely to introduce errors to your text than remove them. (Through no fault of their own. Many got into design so that they didn’t have to write.) Designers design; they don’t create content from scratch.

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