15 August 2023 |

A framework for your role as a content lead

By Tracey Wallace

When I was little, my dream job was to be the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue. This was long before The Devil Wears Prada came out! I would spend hours each month editing the issues of Vogue I bought at my local grocery store. When Teen Vogue came out, I was even more obsessed. “Now,” I thought, “I understand the point of view of their audience they are trying to reach!” I felt like my edits were even more relevant. 

I did nothing with them. Just threw away the issues, or cut them up to paper mache a trash can or for a scrapbook page. 

I did end up following that dream all the way to New York and in an internship at ELLE Magazine. Not exactly Vogue, but Hearsts’ version to an extent (Vogue is a Conde Nast publication). 

But this was when traditional magazines were really struggling. The internet was on the rise, and blogs like NaturallyCurly (where I had previously worked) were driving 10x the traffic as established brands like ELLE or Vogue. 

I was shocked to see how a tweet I sent out for ELLE to 1.9 million followers drove only 15 people back to the site. When I posted to our 10,000 followers of NaturallyCurly, thousands were immediately on the article I promoted. 

So, after the internship, I worked at Mashable, and then made my way into the start-up world––where I could work to build traffic and a readship from scratch. That work has led me to where I am today, which is very similar to my dream job anyway.

And that’s because being the lead content marketer at an organization is being the editor-chief for that organization. 

Here’s how:

1. Your content defines the brand voice. 

Sure, your brand marketing team, product marketing, or creative team may actually define the voice internally for your company, but it is the content you and your team produce that brings that voice to life, gives it a body of work on which others can identify it. 

This often means that you, yourself, become the face of the company––whether you want to or not. That’s because you are deep in the brand voice, day in and day out, the actual building of it. And in many ways, when that brand voice doesn’t come through, or goes flat, it’s to your body of work that you first go to understand where things fell apart, and how you can correct it. 

Content serves often as the tip of the marketing sword (sorry for the hostile language here, but I can’t think of another analogy right now! Please send one in if you have a good one!). Well, top of funnel content at least…

And that tip gets folks interested, piques their interest, makes them feel seen, heard, educated, and empowered––all depending on your voice and your presentation. 

Audience development is a key part of your job, and working side-by-side with internal stakeholders to edit the brand voice based on how well the content is talking to your prospects, or cutting through the noise of the industry, is important. 

Your content infuses life into the brand, and serves as a feedback loop for internal stakeholders on how or when that brand may need to make small shifts to accommodate changes in the market, or even a new, but very interested, audience. 

2. You are where the buck stops on what goes live, and what doesn’t. 

An editor-in-chief is exactly that, an editor. Whether you are a content team of one or ten, as the lead, you are responsible for everything that goes live––and a lot of leads edit nearly all the content that goes out. 

Editing comes in four variations for me:

  • Copy editing and proofreading: Is this story accurate? Did we properly source and cite? Are we following brand guidelines, use proper English, and make the content easy to read and understand for our audience?
  • Strategy edit: Does this piece fulfill the goal that we were after in producing the piece? Does it make sense? Is it a compelling argument? Why or why not? How can we improve it? Who could we interview? Why did we take this specific point of view, and have we properly backed it up? What other pieces of content do we have that could be a good follow up? What’s our CTA? Does it make sense? 
  • SEO edit: What’s our target keyword? Have we properly interlinked the piece? Are we exhibiting expertise in who we interview and the writer of the piece? Have we examined our competitors on this topic to ensure we are producing something better, either more clear, more relevant, or more supported? This is the step in which we’d run it through Clearscope, as well. 
  • Scan edit / UX edit: Could someone scan this piece and get the general gist of it, including a feel for our brand voice and POV on the topic? What is our hero image? WHat are our pull quotes? How strong is our title, and all of our H2s? Do we have images to support the piece––and are we using them strategically to break up text? In general, how will this live on the page and ensure a good reading (and scanning!) experience for our target audience? 

Finally, just because a piece is written, doesn’t mean it gets published. I’ve killed tons of articles in the editing phase because the pieces could never support the strategy. 

  • Maybe the strategy changed (happens all the time at start-ups!). 
  • Maybe the content never supported the goal / strategy to begin with. 
  • Maybe the writer didn’t understand the company POV or tool well enough to present the argument. 

There’s a lot of things that can happen, and it’s your job as editor-in-chief to be where the buck stops on what goes live, and what does not. 

3. You are responsible for leveraging content, or helping others to leverage it, to drive revenue. 

Editors-in-chief don’t just build out editorial strategy and audience development, they also work side-by-side with sales and advertising partners to ensure that the content they produce can support revenue operations. 

This is true within B2B or B2C companies, too. 

You need to work with your larger marketing team and your sales organization to understand what types of content they can promote and distribute, and which topics will help to close deals, bring in leads through paid efforts, etc. 

This means that maybe your content in article form is only really useful for organic traffic––but in webinar form, it can be leveraged to drive leads and even customers. How will you and your team edit that content to produce a webinar that the rest of the marketing team can use to hit their own goals?

Something to think about: 

A lot of content marketers are tasked with distribution as well as content production, editorial strategy, etc. But distribution is becoming far harder than it used to be. Google is actively altering search results (and seemingly trying to keep more people on Google than sending them to websites). Paid media efforts are more of a black box, run primarily by Meta and Google’s own internal algorithms. 

This means that it is more important than ever that content teams produce content that the rest of their team can distribute (i.e. use!). After all, various marketing teams are experts in distributing content on their specific channels! 

Plus, gone are the days in which SEO was the best way to distribute your content. Now (and always really!), you want content that can be used in your nurture streams, in your paid media, by your sales team to close deals, etc. 

If you weren’t directly responsible for distribution, how would that change your editorial strategy? What would you create to make the jobs of your team easier and more successful? 

4. It’s never only about the written word. 

As I reference above, editors-in-chief have never only been responsible for the publication of a magazine or newspaper. They often headline company events, produce podcasts and videos, teach online courses, and so much more. 

Content, as you all know, is not only written. Audience development goes beyond the written word––to audio and video, to offline events and even new business initiatives. 

Don’t get bogged down in the written word only. Think bigger. Think beyond. Think like an EIC. 

5. Your audience is your customer, always. 

Finally, no matter what, your audience (i.e. your target prospects) are your ultimate customer. What gets them to engage with your content regularly, to trust your brand more as a result of that engagement, and to ultimately convert is what will make you successful. 

But direct attribution here is fleeting, especially as you work across the organization to produce what the team needs to be successful. You, as the EIC, have to be crazy curious, always, about how different campaigns perform––across all channels, as long as they are using your content. 

Whether they succeed or fail: Was it the content? Was it the creative? Was it the presentation? 

All of this data gives you more information to improve your audience development, alter content and voice, and get to know the ins and outs (and preferences!) of your prospect audience over time. 

Remember here: Your audience is people, not an algorithm. Produce for them first––leverage your internal team to distribute that content––and learn from its success or failure. Feedback loops are critical, especially for organizations with a few different target audiences. 

All in all, an EICs job is to create a publication that is beloved and referenced, which creates a brand that people trust, and makes ad spots in those publications incredibly valuable. But you can’t do that all on your own. Yes, you need editorial strategy and audience development. You need strong editing and great writers. 

But you also need a clear company point of view and perspective from your larger team. You need to understand desired formats across the organization. You need to understand what problems you are trying to solve for your prospects, and you need to understand whether the content you are creating is only for the top of the funnel or to fulfill the entire thing.

And most importantly, you and your team need to test, iterate, and never lose sight of what you are doing: creating content, in any format, that becomes a partner and guidepost for your prospects to solve their problems and live their best life.