You’ve been a content consultant or agency content strategist for a few years, so what’s next? Find out what life is like as a head of content marketing or content strategy from our latest interviewee, Murray Cox, who formerly led the content strategy practice at DigitasLBi in London and is now a senior content lead at public relations agency Weber Shandwick.
Not your area? Go behind the scenes of more digital communication jobs in our interview series.
What is your job title?
Weber Shandwick (WS) is one of the world’s mega PR agencies, so it is a slight change of direction for me, but with my background in digital journalism and then digital agencies, it made a lot of sense to take on a new challenge.
What does your work involve?
I only joined WS a few months back so I don’t think I’ve yet bottomed out what a typical day might look like. I’m in the lucky position of being charged with building out a team and the digital content proposition in Europe, so I have a broad brief.
A lot of my work is focused on educating people, both inside the business and externally. WS has some amazing clients and case studies, so I’m trying to make sure all of our clients/prospects know about the surprising depth of our digital service offerings.
With roots in PR it makes sense for WS to talk terms of storytelling – which all marketers and agencies are increasingly doing these days – but the challenge is quantifying the value of the stories that we propose to tell on a client’s behalf. Storytelling is such a broad term that I’m spending a lot of time at the moment on our positioning in Europe and the fine detail of our proposition from an agency that potentially goes in a thousand different directions.
What’s the ideal background for a head of content position?
I don’t know that content strategy is a sufficiently mature profession yet that we have arrived at the ideal background or set of qualifications. I had no idea that I would end up as content strategist, but happily my background and my qualifications have helped me along.
My background is in quality digital journalism (15 years in the newsroom, 10 of them online) and then I did a few years of consulting and contracting (content strategy, social media strategy, digital strategy and a bit of change management/digital transformation) before I landed at DigitasLBi – thanks to CJ Walker at Firehead. I enjoyed my time there enormously and was able to develop significantly as a content strategist.
The types of people I hired there had varied backgrounds, but some affinity with words and content and creativity was essential.
Do content strategists need to be a big picture or a details person?
What I did see over time at DigitasLBi was that we started to divide the work into two reasonably discrete chunks – one being the content strategy side of things where the nature and job of the content was defined. And then the other side was content design where the strategy was developed at an incredibly detailed level and on-page story arcs on huge responsive sites were defined. So, increasingly I think there will be room within the content strategy profession for big picture folks like me, as well as those who have an absolute mastery of detail.
Of course, the broader someone’s skills and knowledge the better. I think it’s really important for content strategists to be commercially minded and pragmatic. As well as the core content skills, the more that people know about related disciplines – UX, (account) planning, analytics/data and marketing – the better.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Content is having its moment in the sun, but unless we as content strategists can show the commercial value of content I expect the next big thing will sweep into town and put us back in the shade. That said, I think once people have worked with content strategists on a big digital project there’s no going back from that – just the rigour and discipline that we can bring to the table makes a huge difference.
And your favourite bit?
I love being agency side because of the variety in the work, and also because I’m nosey: I love getting to look under the hood of all sorts of different businesses.
What advice would you give to someone trying to get into content strategy?
Content strategy is a fantastic area in which to work, so I would never discourage anyone from looking at it as a career. However, I would counsel against becoming a content strategist without a few years decent work experience under the belt, whether as a writer, UX, marketer or something else.
There are tools, skills and knowledge that are particular to content strategy, but I think a lot of our job is about applying the learning from mistakes made in the past – so get out there and make some mistakes. Spend some years cranking out content with a crappy CMS, without a style guide, without audience personas or without the support of a robust governance structure.
If you have some years on the ‘tools’, as it were, the challenges I’ve just mentioned become solvable problems when clients come calling for help.
What is the rate of pay?
I will say I am very lucky and make a good living in this line of work, but I think that reflects the experience that I have amassed over the years.
In general terms, content strategy is broadly equivalent to marketing pay rates, although in some areas it may be fractionally ahead. In the London agency market content strategy is a skill in real demand, so day and salary rates are going to be quite decent.
Is there job mobility and security?
Definitely security from the volume of work and projects I see out there. There are aspects of the work, such as content audits, that can be done remotely, but it’s really an office-based practice; good content strategy demands interdisciplinary co-operation, which is always hard when working from home.
I’m fortunate that I get to travel to see clients and scope projects, but I then need people back at base to support me and make the magic happen.
If you work for one of the big agency networks or a big company on the client side then there are likely to be opportunities for travel or international moves.
Any advice on training and development?
Jump at every chance for every piece of training that you can, whether it is directly related to content strategy or not, for example, I would like to send myself of an Agile Product Owner course.
Read a lot, study the internet, and stay curious. I think curiosity is a massively important yet underrated skill for content strategy (and all sorts of other related disciplines).
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Doing some variant of what I’m doing today – the pace of change in digital is enormous and there is always more to learn, more to do to stay relevant. That keeps it interesting for me, and then having a variety of clients is the icing on the cake.
Do you have a guiding principle when you work?
Ask more questions, and view conventional wisdom with scepticism as it is proving to be flawed in more and more areas of life.
Murray Cox is a digital journalist turned content strategist and consultant working in content marketing. He works at public relations agency Weber Shandwick, and prior to that he led the content strategy practice at DigitasLBi in London.