How to Build a Content Marketing Career (So You Don’t Lose Your Star Talent)

Many mistakenly believe that people these days excel in their careers, especially in marketing, by spending much less time on the job.

In fact, since the early 1980s, the average tenure has been around five years. Although there are more subtle differences in tenure by age and gender, don’t believe the myth that young people have become less loyal to working for the same company.

How can young people be called the “job hopping” generation when their average tenure is the same? What causes this misjudgment?

It would be easy to attribute this to the impatience of young people. Gallup research found that only half of workers aged 25 to 40 firmly believe they would work at their company in a year’s time. 60 percent of older workers said the same.

However, these numbers are too similar to distinguish. Because if 40% of one portion of your workforce and 50% of another portion aren’t sure they’ll be there in a year’s time, something else is at work.

We are not in a job hopping era. “We are in the process of redefining #careermanagement in #content and #marketing,” says @Robert_Rose of @CMIContent. Click to tweet

The real answer, particularly in the content and marketing space, comes from the redefinition of “career management” and the associated lack of response from many companies.

Career paths in content marketing are mazes that end in a dead end

In the 1990s and 2000s, a company hired bright young people who had just graduated from college and placed them in an entry-level marketing position. They made a way – a ladder – for climbing. This person would matriculate from coordinator to manager and senior manager to director, vice president, senior vice president and even C-suite.

The employee’s marketing specialty dictated how they could move up the various career ladders. Product marketing, brand, sales and communication had different, functional career paths.

Then digitization came into play. Businesses began to differentiate between “digital marketing” and “other marketing.” (Some companies still do that today. Yes, that’s weird.) Worse, companies have split their digital marketing into channel-based silos like web, email, and social. Confusing and isolated versions of career management emerged. Is it any wonder that content marketing evolved into another digital marketing silo with no clear career path in the late 2000s and early 2010s?

Due to the general trend towards flatter organizational structures, career silos have also emerged. Organizations have ditched middle management in favor of more agile, faster, and multi-functional digital teams. Practitioners focused on the channels, and executives spent their time isolating (or duplicating) the channel teams.

#Content and #marketing #career silos have emerged as companies ditched middle management in favor of agile, fast, multi-functional digital teams, says @Robert_Rose of @CMIContent. Click to tweet

This messy organization obscures what it means to manage your marketing career in one organization. It fundamentally changes the nature of what it even means to manage your career.

When marketing leaders are concerned with retaining great talent, companies need to redefine, clarify and communicate the way their organizations do it.

Content and marketing are a starting point

At almost every company I’ve consulted over the years, most content marketers and strategists have three choices once they reach the managerial level. You can:

  • Shift into a more traditional, siled marketing role and move beyond content marketing and content strategy. Anyone senior director of social media?
  • Switch to a lateral entry position at another company.
  • Let’s build a solo practice.

Our newly published Content Marketing Career & Salary 2024 Outlook confirms this experience. Although 54% of content marketers say they feel engaged at work, nearly a third (31%) are active or keen to seek a new role. Why?

Content marketers have no identity in their business. There is no next career step. You need to prioritize the multiple opportunities that would lead to a more isolated marketing job, and that’s not necessarily a content marketing career. In the ranking, more money, flexible working hours, cultural fit, growth opportunities and meaningful work are the top motives for a new job search.

#Content marketers will leave their employers because they don’t see a next career step, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click to tweet

Last on the list? A company offering a career path in content marketing. Why? Content marketers have probably never seen what this looks like. They can’t look for something they don’t know there might be a meaningful way to do.

Content career ladders can be a differentiator in talent acquisition

When I was chief marketing officer for a fast-growing startup, a mentor told me that the only really expensive thing a company does is to hire someone. “Make sure you do it carefully,” he said.

If it’s expensive to hire, it’s also expensive to lose a good employee. Some reports put the cost at an average of 21% of their annual wages.

However, the answer to employee retention isn’t to simply tie the content professional to a traditional siled marketing career ladder. That misses the point of modern marketing—and jeopardizes your company’s ability to retain tomorrow’s talented communicators.

Your HR department almost certainly has an established career ladder for traditional marketing roles. They have job descriptions for an entry-level marketer, a marketing manager, a senior manager for email, a social media director, and so on.

But few organizations offer a career path for content practitioners. I know because I’ve been asked many times to help organizations create them.

I’m not suggesting the roles, titles, or even the type of team to build. (If you’re interested in my recommendations on this, read The 7 Core Roles of a Content Marketing Team 2020.)

I propose this example content marketing career ladder to help you work with your HR department to set up a formal career ladder. It can give everyone on your team a vision for advancement with the skills and expectations detailed.

Example of a career ladder in content marketing

This career ladder shows the rise from entry coordinator through manager and director to senior director and vice president of content (or chief content officer). Wherever your teammates end up along this path, they have a place to go next (and the requirements to get there).

click to enlarge

Before I go into the details of this model, please note that some roles may converge as a team member moves up the ladder. For example, if a content strategist takes on the positions of director and senior director, the role could be merged with that of a content marketer as the responsibilities expand and also include leadership of both.

The tier descriptions give the characteristics for each tier:

  • Coordinator for beginners. Just learn. New to the team. Working to support a single function.
  • Manager. A performer. Strong skills in their role can begin to manage and build relationships.
  • Director. An experienced manager who can manage and drive change and lead a team effectively and efficiently.
  • Senior Director. Experienced team leader with extensive management experience. Solid business and strategic skills.
  • Vice President of Content. Dynamic and effective leader, capable of managing multiple large teams and growing talent.

The table also lists the increasing responsibilities for each role:

  • Coordinator for beginners. Writes and/or manages editorial calendars. Create basic content and/or coordinate work between channels or groups.
  • Manager. Creates and manages the content calendar. Writes, edits, proofreads, and helps evaluate content performance. Manages small teams, freelancers and suppliers.
  • director. Manages and measures team and channel for effective delivery and balance of content marketing efforts. Leads the team responsible for content standards including SEO, structured content and content asset management.
  • Senior Director. Leads all aspects of content marketing and content strategy including teams managing owned, earned and shared media. Leads the team and is responsible for resource delivery across all content operating models.
  • Vice President of Content. Creates and oversees all aspects and delivery of global content initiatives across multiple platforms and formats to drive engagement with consumers and audiences. Leads and oversees the content business, governance, technology and standards-based operations of content. Leads overall teams that create standards and best practices (both human and technical) for content creation, distribution, maintenance, retrieval, and reuse. Owns teams for all your own media experiences.

Start the substantive career discussion

This framework provides a career roadmap for content practitioners. Your content marketing and content strategy model will determine the number, type, and seniority of people who will complement your team (and how your team will scale over time).

You’ll find that the framework shows the vice president of content taking on a more traditional role as chief marketing officer or a broader marketing leadership role. The point is that content ownership should be part of that leadership role.

Think of this as the beginning of the substantive career path discussion, not the end.

It’s great that content marketing has come so far that companies need a career path for valued content practitioners. Companies that differentiate themselves to attract talent will actually thrive.

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HAND SELECTED RELATED CONTENT: 23+ Content Marketing Skills You Need Today and 5 Years Next

Cover photo by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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