What Does It Take to Be a Content Leader? 5 Experts Weigh In

What Does It Take to Be a Content Leader? 5 Experts Weigh In

By Jennifer KingMar 25 /2014

content leaderAfter Kuno Creative Content Director Brianne Rush predicted a rise in content leadership this year, I couldn’t help but wonder—if 93 percent of B2B companies were using content marketing in 2013 and no one was leading the charge, how were they be able to do it effectively and understand the value of their efforts?

While content marketing is now a well-known industry term, “most business owners and marketers have no playbook to do [it] properly,” says Joe Pulizzi, founder at Content Marketing Institute. 

More and more businesses are recognizing the need for content leaders to guide the execution and strategy for their content initiatives—from Chief Content Officers to Directors and VPs to cross-channel communications managers. If your business is one of them, there’s plenty to consider as you prepare to fill the role. Here’s a job description to get you started, courtesy of Pulizzi. 

But beyond the core responsibilities and desired skills, I wanted to explore what it really takes to be a content leader. And who better to ask than content leaders from a few B2B companies! I asked five content leaders from companies in a variety of industries, including the world’s very first Chief Content Officer, to share their thoughts on content leadership, what to look for in a content leader and considerations for your organization as you grow your content marketing practice and look for a content leader to guide the way.    

First, let’s meet the content leaders who were kind enough to explore this topic with me:

Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs: Ann speaks and writes about how you can rethink the way your business markets. As the first-ever Chief Content Officer, Ann guides content efforts for MarketingProfs, a training and education company with the largest community of marketers in its category.

Dave Wolpert, Chief Content Officer, Sales Engine International: Dave leads the content strategy and execution for Sales Engine International, a B2B demand generation company. 

Dana Larson, Chief Content Officer, EXTRACTABLEDana oversees user experience and content strategies for EXTRACTABLE, a user experience agency. She works to connect users to the content they care about to drive more traffic, engagement and conversions.

Brendan Cournoyer, Director of Content Marketing, BrainsharkBrendan manages the content marketing practice for Brainshark, a company that enables organizations to improve productivity with cloud-based business presentation solutions for sales, marketing and training.

Christina Nordquist, Marketing & Communication Associate Manager, Annese & Associates, Inc.Christina heads up content strategy for Annese & Associates, Inc., an IT company based in upstate New York. There, Christina leads all communications-related initiatives, spanning the realms of content marketing, public relations, social media, blogging and SEO.

In your opinion, what’s one of the top traits every content leader needs and why?

Handley: Of the 11 traits I outline in “How to Hire a Chief Content Officer: 11 Key Traits,” amateur passion is the trait I look for, even with seasoned professionals. "Passion" is one of those words that's overused and often meaningless, but I mean it quite literally. As we wrote in Content Rules: “Look for people who are already online and creating content, even as amateurs. (Fun fact: the root of amateur is the Latin word for love.)”

"Key to me is this: Do they LOVE content? Would they be creating it and publishing it and sharing in conversations even if they didn't get paid for it?" — Handley

Larson: A content leader needs to be strategic, which is having the ability to understand the strategy that will advance the clients’ business goals and how to reach a target audience. This also requires the ability to be creatively strategic in the ways you might want to reach a target audience. This doesn’t just mean being a great writer or designer—it’s also about coming up with ways to meet challenges creatively and being able to hold back and understand what is in the realm of possibilities.

Wolpert: The best CCOs are good writers and editors and have an eye for design and videography. This enables them to hire the right people, evaluate their output and provide relevant creative direction to content development efforts. A CCO should also know how to tell a compelling story through multiple media. In the B2B space, a lot of that storytelling involves linking customer problems to solutions and benefits.

What is your main goal as a Chief Content Officer or content leader?

Wolpert: My overarching mission is to create compelling content that converts our clients’ prospects into buyers. A secondary objective is to continuously improve the process by which we create content for our clients. We’re constantly finding innovative ways to gain richer insights about our clients and their target customers, and then use those insights to produce better content, faster and less expensively.

Handley: To wage a war on content mediocrity.

Cournoyer: I believe it's everyone's job to enable your sales force to sell better and content plays a significant role in that. That has to be your ultimate goal, and I think that can get lost in the shuffle when you get bogged down in the manoosh of blogging and tweeting and that sort of stuff. Everything you're doing in some way or form is designed to enable your sales team to sell better. 

What advice would you share with a new content leader?

Wolpert: Don’t stop innovating. The content marketing landscape is fluid. What worked yesterday might not work well tomorrow. So keep trying new things. Use small, controlled, low-risk experiments—for instance, mixing up the format of a white paper, or the style of a video or infographic—to learn quickly whether those approaches will be fruitful. If you get a good result, keep doing that, or maybe try a variant of it. If not, stop and try something else.

Larson: Prioritize quality over quantity. Give value to your content so you can make a case for growing your content practice. If you can measure content’s effectiveness, you can better grow your team and resources for creating more quality content.

Nordquist: Inspiration is everywhere, from an article you've read in the Wall Street Journal to a tweet one of your followers posted, to a flyer you see pinned to a bulletin board. As a content officer you need to be at the forefront of the conversation and then find a way to add value to it in a context that is relevant to your specific audience.

Cournoyer: Make sure you have an actual vision in place. This is why we're developing this role. This is why we're investing in content. These are the things that we want to do better. This is our goal. Figure out how your content initiatives are going to fit into the overall sales and marketing organization and use analytics to identify the successes and failures of your content efforts and improve going forward. 

Content marketing isn't a one-person job! How do you build a winning content marketing team?

Wolpert: Look for people who truly love their craft, not those who just want a job and happen to have some decent content development skills. It’s also important to look for people who can get into the heads of your target audience so that they create content that resonates with the intended recipient.

Handley: I covered the various roles here. And I added a beautiful drawing for illustration purposes…

A Simple Content Marketing Org Chart from Ann Handley

What does success look like for you as a content leader?

Wolpert: Like any CCO, I want to create content that delights clients and customers with its quality. But the real test of any content asset we produce is whether it helps bring in new business for our clients. Ultimately, if it does that, our efforts were successful.

Handley: I want our readers and followers and audience to enjoy our content more, and I want us to maybe even feel a little proud of it. This requires a subtle but key shift in all of us: To overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and weakness and, perhaps, fear to refocus on the words we use as the most important piece of who we are (and who our companies are) online.  

You’ve just heard from some of the experts, but what other questions do you have about building content leadership into your organization? Contact us or post your questions in the comments below. 

Creating Content for Marketing Automation

Photo credit: kenteegardin