Content marketing is now marketing.
There, I said it. I feel better.
I’ll have more to say on this topic when my new book arrives, and we are all together at Content Marketing World at the end of the month.
But, for this week, I’ll walk through the core roles and responsibilities that the modern marketing organization uses for content marketing.
Two weeks ago, I highlighted the need (or big opportunity, depending on your point of view) for businesses to build clearer career paths for content marketing. Many of you responded (thank you) with, “OK, that’s great, Robert – but what are the roles that make up the rungs of that career ladder?”
We also commonly hear a related question from companies: “How should we integrate the unique aspects of content marketing jobs across the multiple functions of the broader marketing organization?”
After all, many marketers already create thought leadership, work on SEO, manage the email program, write blogs, and provide marketing measurement even if they don’t have an existing “content marketing initiative.” How are the people different?”
Here’s what I mean.
Roles are activities, not people
Last year, I wrote about how a differentiating content strategy is not about the content you create but the activities you fit together. It’s similar to how Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter defined competitive advantage and strategy as the collection of “the hundreds of activities required [to run the business]. Activities then are the basic units of competitive advantage.”
To be clear, Porter’s observation isn’t that you create a competitive advantage by performing similar activities better or more efficiently than your rivals. The competitive advantage is performing different activities or similar activities in different ways.
Enter content marketing – a different set of activities – integrated into the broader marketing operation.
You might be a team of one, wearing multiple marketing hats. Or you might be a global, siloed, integrated marketing and communications team of hundreds. It doesn’t matter. The activities related to content should be a strategic function in your business. The activities are similar to those in marketing: ideating content, creating it, managing it, distributing it, and measuring it. But the kinds of activities – the roles and responsibilities – in content marketing are simply performed differently when content marketing is a strategy.
Seven years ago, my friend and CMI founder Joe Pulizzi defined many of the roles you see today. He wrote, “While there is no perfect structure for a marketing organization, it’s apparent that marketing departments are transforming themselves into publishing organizations.”
That’s what I mean when I say that content marketing is now marketing. Creating a modern, differentiated marketing strategy means asking how you perform different content marketing activities as a more modern marketing operation. Full stop.
With the marketing teams we advise, hybrid teams emerge with content marketing roles and responsibilities shared with more traditional marketing functions. For example, Joe described a director of audience as someone “intimately familiar with the audience members’ characteristics, their passion triggers, and what actions you want them to take.”
While my 2023 version of the role of the director of audience development (see below) performs the same responsibilities Joe outlined in 2016, the person doing them is frequently an existing member of the marketing organization. The role is responsible for bridging and aligning more internal marketing-related relationships in the business, like sales or product.
In short, this role involves a different set of activities performed by traditional marketing team members. They make sure both the audience’s and the business’ needs are met by the content marketing team.
2023 content marketing roles
Don’t see these roles as a new head count, though for some companies, they may be. Rather, look at these roles as categories of different activities performed by specific members of your team – even if that team is just you.
1. Chief content officer (aka director of content marketing or program director)
Most typically, the chief content officer is not a C-suite position but leads the content marketing efforts. This is the content ambassador or the organization’s chief storyteller. Many times, this person fits what I call the “arbiter of good.”
This person should be responsible for setting the overall editorial or content marketing mission statement and integrating all the content. As every silo (PR, email, social, search, etc.) creates and curates content, it is the CCO’s responsibility to make sure the stories remain consistent and make sense to the audience(s).
In addition, the CCO must understand how the stories translate into results that address the organization’s business issues (e.g., driving sales, saving costs, or creating more loyal customers). This role is almost always the liaison between the content marketing strategy and executive leadership.
2. Content strategy director (aka business, governance, structure director)
This incredibly important role is one that, given the size or complexity of the organization, often sits at equal footing with the director of content marketing as a strategic function. Additionally, this role (similar to the audience development role) can be split against a front-end and back-end set of responsibilities.
On the front end, this director may lead persona development and/or even UI/UX types of customer experiences. The person may assist (or lead) the development of business requirements for content management technologies.
On the back end, this role is responsible for the functional flow of content as an asset throughout the business. Content strategists look at the structure of content and thus review taxonomies and metadata strategies. They review governance and workflow approaches to ensure that content is flowing smoothly through its management and optimization. They may be responsible for content audits, inventories, SEO strategy, and, ultimately, the scalability of these approaches.
3. Content traffic, project, and planning manager (aka managing editor)
This role has emerged as one of the most important in content marketing. It exemplifies the balance that content marketing plays against more traditional marketing content creation needs. From an owned media perspective, this role is typically a managing editor – focusing on the day-to-day operations of the editorial platform. However, the planning manager is often also responsible for developing the guidelines and managing the production flow for content for both owned media (proactive editorial creation) and merchandised flow (reactive editorial creation). This person is the internal project manager who improves content processes, implements solutions to ensure that the team is functioning efficiently, and ensures quality and compliance with legal or other regulatory needs.
4. Content production director (aka creative director, format specialist)
A critical role that may be shared among a broader group, the production director is responsible for managing how things look. This may be the lead creative designer, writer, or even a format specialist leading a cross-functional team of creative specialists (e.g., writers, designers, video specialists, photographers). This role is ostensibly the creative director for the content team.
5. Audience development manager
Audience development has come a long way in the last five years. I wrote in detail about the audience strategist a few years ago. Additionally, given the increased importance of this role, there can be two distinct roles – external and internal communication. As Joe wrote, the audience manager “should be responsible for developing the subscription assets (direct mail lists, email lists, social media) that can grow and be segmented as your content mission matures and expands.”
Additionally, the audience development manager is responsible for the paid and earned efforts to engage and draw audiences into both owned media and (sometimes) marketing-oriented experiences. This latter responsibility is where audience development managers often serve as the liaison between content marketing and other initiatives to ensure internal activation and participation among the various marketing constituencies. In short, the audience development manager often serves as the content marketing team’s business development or hype person.
6. Influencer wrangler (aka subject matter expert manager, influencer outreach)
This role traditionally sat within corporate communications or PR (and still may). But as the creation of content from subject matter experts – internal and external – grows as an important role in the content strategy, this role is the recruiter, wrangler, and manager of these influencers in the content marketing process. This person identifies, creates, and maintains relationships with both internal and external influencers who may provide content, serve as interviewed guests, or even help to promote the content marketing efforts of the business.
7. Technical content manager
This role understands the technology aspects of content management. This person knows the language of content, marketing, and communications and helps the team facilitate their processes with technology. This person may manage/operate the content management system, the technology behind the editorial calendar, the implementation of web analytics, or data-related structures that provide management of audiences. This role also may help develop, implement, and maintain digital asset management systems. This is the content team’s technology expert.
Teams have roles, too
Overlaps in responsibilities exist among these roles, and, as I mentioned, most companies will not employ full-time employees to fill each role. In most cases, these activities are performed by specific marketing team members who support the business. In other words, many of these roles are supported by more traditional marketing, technology, or even operational professionals. For example, the technical content manager role is delivered as a shared service within the IT department. In another case, the influencer wrangler is a manager within the corporate communications team and is a “dotted line” to the content team.
Though these roles are integrated into disparate parts of other marketing responsibilities., success highly depends on acknowledging that these roles are specific and dedicated to a specific strategic function of content.
The place where most businesses fail with content marketing is where these roles are seen as a “nice-to-have” in addition to someone’s regular “day job.” For example, many B2B businesses treat these roles as something “when you have free time and are done creating content for sales – then you can go to the fitting room and try on that managing editor role.”
Creating a team structure is a critically important aspect of making a content marketing approach work. A common structure looks a bit like this:
The roles are segmented by the group’s roles:
The editorial board is a team led and facilitated by the content marketing program manager. This cross-functional group informs and is informed by the editorial strategy and calendar created by the content team. This board helps set thematic priorities, directs and coordinates content across audiences and channels, and generally acts as the voice of the business. The audience development manager is a frequent liaison between the editorial board and the other content teams.
The content execution team may be separate or split among the broader marketing organization and the dedicated content team itself. The content team may have responsibility for the management of content-oriented projects and platforms, but the content may be created by others in the business.
The executive leadership team recognizes and empowers the processes, guidelines, and standard playbooks, as well as setting the budget and business priorities of content and content marketing. Typically, the content program manager is the liaison between the content marketing strategy and the leadership team.
This list isn’t, of course, meant to be all-inclusive. Many specialists can play an important part in an overall content marketing strategy. Roles such as channel experts (social media, email, print, video, etc.), librarians, translation and localization experts, dedicated editors, SEO experts, and others are all seen within the broader context of content and marketing strategy. However, depending on your organization’s size and complexity, you probably already have people assuming many of those types of roles for traditional marketing activities.
That’s the key to remember. Content marketing is marketing. You’re already doing much of it already. What you need to remember is that it’s not a different set of people you need – it’s a different set of activities in your broader marketing organization.
Overall, however, focusing on building a functional strategy – and applying the most important roles to your business – is what counts the most.
Updated from a June 2019 post.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute