Find yourself juggling extra content responsibilities at work lately? Forced to learn new apps, dashboards, templates and markup languages than was required in your job description? Notice a few more empty desks around the office than normal?
Welcome to the world of the chronically understaffed content team, where highly skilled co-workers quickly bolt for bigger bucks elsewhere, fresh for-hire candidates who graduate with inadequate aptitudes jockey for mediocrity, and the required technology powering publishers and marketing initiatives seems to change faster than the frequency between political attack ads on television.
Just how pervasive and impactful is this content industry talent shortage? Consider that, based on results of the Content Marketing Institute’s (CMI) 2016 B2B Content Marketing report, 25% of North American B2B marketers reported that gaps in knowledge and skills of their internal team was one of their top five challenges, and 21% said finding or training skilled content marketing professionals and/or content creators was one of their top five challenges.
Similar findings were revealed from CMI’s 2016 B2C Content Marketing report: 21% of B2C content marketers said gaps in skills and knowledge of their internal team was one of their top five challenges, while 18% said finding or training skilled content marketing professionals and/or content creators was one of their top five challenges.
For its 2015 study, CMI asked their “challenges” question differently (by presenting a list of challenges and asking respondents to “select all that apply” vs. asking them to identify their top five challenges). In 2015, a whopping 32% of B2C marketers said they were challenged with finding trained content marketing professionals vs. only 10% in 2014.
Why is there a content industry talent shortage?
Michele Linn, vice president of content for CMI, says several factors have contributed to the current talent shortage.
“The content industry is an emerging field, and businesses are trying to figure out what they need to do and who can help them. It can be tough to identify the requirements,” she says. “Plus, there is a lot of overlap and confusion with roles. Additionally, there are people who work on the front-end and the back-end in both the content strategy world and the content marketing world.
Another problem is that the content industry is still a fairly new one, according to Ann Rockley, CEO of The Rockley Group Inc.
“The concept of content strategy has been around for almost a decade, but it really only burst into public awareness in 2009 with the publication of Content Strategy for the Web,” says Rockley. “Content marketing is among the newest of the content areas and, therefore, the area with least amount of resources. Many employers have only begun to recognize the need and value of this kind of talent. And as a new industry, there are very few educational programs or other means of getting accreditation in the field. That means that the primary way of learning the job is through on-the-job experience.”
But even job experience is challenging to obtain because many companies don’t yet have the positions available “or are looking for people with longer experience than the industry has even existed,” adds Rockley. “It becomes a vicious cycle.”
A shortage in the right skill set—not necessarily talent—is the bigger quandary today, insists Sarah O’Keefe, president of Scriptorium Publishing.
“It’s not a lack of ability or creativity, it’s the fact that the people in the industry have not often acquired the required technical skills, which keep changing,” O’Keefe says. “It used to be enough to be a good writer or creative, but now content creators and marketers are being asked to do more technically.”
Jay Acunzo, vice president of platform at NextView, agrees that the problem is not so much that there’s a lack of talent, “but rather the wrong mentality for brands to successfully attract that talent—and for them to seem attractive to that talent,” he says. “That’s a missed opportunity for both job seekers and employers.”
The most affected areas
Rockley says content marketing has suffered the worst shortage, since marketing is the most recent to adopt content strategy principles.
“However, content strategy is also experiencing large shortages, as the field is now well recognized as valuable, but education is only recently begun to be available and it is not widespread,” notes Rockley.
The area O’Keefe has observed as most in need is enterprise content strategy. “The technical skills that go with that job, particularly information architecture, can be especially lacking,” she says. “In the world I work in, we also have a lot of demand now for XML-based authoring and XML configuration skill sets—essentially programmers who know how to configure complex systems to support XML-based publishing. And writers have to be able to write in an organized, structured way within templates, too.”
In her experience, Linn also identifies a lack of specialists who can merge all of the content marketing and strategy disciplines together to create the best possible user experience.
The fallout and the forecast
To underscore the affect a content talent dearth can have on your business, consider this scenario: A technology company is creating a content marketing group and is looking to fill a new position. Frustrated by a lack of qualified applicants, the company settles for a marketer who is well versed in traditional methods but who does not fully understand the merits of content marketing. And that’s when the problems start.
“It becomes apparent that the new hire doesn’t understand that the goal is to build an audience through educational content—she’s instead pumping out content that is focused on product and not interesting to your audience,” says Linn. “Moreover, she doesn’t grasp how to set up a repeatable process to get things done efficiently. She lacks the social marketing background to formulate an effective distribution plan. And perhaps she doesn’t understand analytics to know what is and isn’t working.”
Rockley believes the content industry shortage has the legs to be a chronic problem for the foreseeable future.
“Twenty-plus years ago, there was a shortage of information architects and usability specialists. Now, education is widespread and there are sufficient resources that have learned on the job to largely satisfy the need,” says Rockley. “This is a cyclical trend. There will be some other type of resource in the content industry in the future and the lack of resources trend will move to that role.”
Linn agrees that it will be continually problematic to find people who are keeping up with trends—due to the constantly changing nature of marketing. “But hopefully, as the field matures, more people who are educated on the basics of content will be better available to help companies,” she says.
Strategies and solutions
To improve your organization’s chances of attracting and retaining higher-skilled and talented content creators, marketers and strategists, try these tips:
- Have a plan and know what kind of particular professionals you need. “Be specific with what gaps you are trying to fill,” Linn says.
- Create a positive environment and workplace culture that welcomes, rewards (both monetarily and with exciting fulfilling tasks) and supports the talent you recruit, suggests Rockley.
- Value past work samples over resumes. “Who cares if they say they can write or create or produce good work? Show me,” says Acunzo.
- Give creative employees the box to play in and get out of the way. “Top talent is fine playing within a box if it’s well-defined and agreed upon. It’s actually liberating and enables better ideas and execution to have boundaries,” Acunzo says. “But too often, leaders who can’t retain this type of talent typically jump into the box to meddle too often, even after it’s been agreed upon up front. Put it to writing, create a paper trail of the project, and then let creators create.”
- Consider growing someone from within. “Choose a person who has deep knowledge of your business and eagerness to learn. Send them to conferences, pay for courses and reward them with success,” Rockley says.
- Try hiring an intern who can be educated in the area you’re lacking talent. “But pay that intern a fair living wage,” recommends Rockley.
- Supplement your whole team. “Hire enough people so those you have working for you don’t need to be jacks of all trades,” adds Linn.