Mind the content marketing skills gap

Increasingly, content marketers are struggling to source the skills they need. What can be done? David and Emily share their highlights from the Bristol Content Group’s “Great Big Content Skills Debate”.

Mind the content marketing skills gap

In North America, 43% of B2B brands are struggling to recruit the necessary talent to be successful at content marketing. But is it a problem in the UK too – and, if so, what do we in the industry need to do about it?

We were chuffed to be invited to November’s meeting of the Bristol Content Group, to take part in “The Great Big Content Skills Debate”, chaired by Sonja Jefferson of Valuable Content.

It was exciting to meet such a talented bunch of content-minded individuals, and to try to get to the bottom of questions like how you find the right writer, extracting the best stories from your subject matter experts, and how organisations can possibly keep track of a wide variety of potential formats.

Our own Fiona Campbell-Howes sat on the panel – alongside James Ainsworth of hosts The Real Adventure Unlimited, and fellow Cornish insurgent Craig Blackburn from Padstow-based Blue Scribe Media – and shared her perspective on the seven types of B2B copywriter. Writing isn’t just one kind of skill a content marketer needs to source; it’s finding the right kind of writer.

Lizzie Everard summed up the main points of the discussion quite brilliantly in this SlideShare of hand-drawn notes created during the event. Meanwhile, here’s what Emily and I took away, from our seats in the audience…

Emily’s view: harness your whole team

As I type this, my colleague Kieran is showing members of our copywriting team how to play a saw with a bow.

I bring this up, because one of the big things that I learned at BCG is that the brands that are hitting their stride with marketing content right now are the ones that make use of the creative skills of team members.

Even if it wasn’t what they were originally hired for.

Whether it’s storytelling, photography or podcast recording, these skills can help brands create authentic content that people want to engage with.

(We haven’t quite found a use in our marketing for musical saws. Yet. But we’ve certainly benefitted from Kieran’s many creative talents outside of copywriting.)

And businesses that are finding success with marketing content also aren’t obsessed with what qualifications their marketing hires have, but what they can do.

The focus is shifting to provable skills and creativity. Part of this is seems to be due to marketing qualifications’ inability to keep up with the onslaught of fast-paced changes the profession continues to face.

At Bristol Content Group, James Ainsworth, Head of Content for The Real Adventure Unlimited, described how he was originally hired. He was asked in his interview to explain how he would handle a particular campaign. James explained on the spot what he would do, in detail, and was hired. He demonstrated creative thinking.

I don’t have any formal marketing qualifications and neither does James. Going to this month’s Bristol Content Group was like receiving an affirmation that my skills are more important than a piece of paper.

I create content. I’ve been creating content since before I was hired by Radix (originally as a copywriter) and I’ve continued to experiment with content formats in my own time. It’s why I was hired first as a copywriter and then promoted to being Radix’s first in-house marketer.

Your content people could be in your office right now. Or they could be out in the world, filming YouTube videos or writing film reviews – maybe even playing musical saws.

David’s perspective: marketing before content

It was great to sit in the audience, and watch Bristol’s content scene in action. They’re a great bunch.

One thing that became clear very quickly is that “content” is a really broad idea – it might involve writing, graphics, audio, video, animation, photography, coding, anything – and those elements are shifting, evolving and combining, really fast. Almost any skill might be useful. It’s a vibrant place to work.

But really, those are just the channels for the content – the medium, not the message.

As a writer, I know even the most accomplished copy is pretty meaningless unless you first have the empathy to understand what your audience really wants, and a brief that’s based on a clear strategy, so you write about the right things.

And it’s the same for any kind of content. Technical skills are all very well (and in truth, specialist help is often available), but everything you do is built upon your willingness and ability to give your audience genuine value – sharing the things you know and believe, that they care about too.

That instinct is core to every kind of content – and, judging by a lot of content marketing, it’s not always easy to come by.

Meanwhile, in our group discussion, it also became obvious that there’s a real need for people who really know how to use that content to its best effect – to share it, promote it and, crucially, measure whether or not it worked. To wrap the whole thing in a strategy, not just a bunch of tactics.

Perhaps content marketing’s most pressing skills gap isn’t the content at all, but the marketing.

Are you struggling with a skills gap?

If you’re a content marketer, we’d be interested to hear if there are particular skills you feel are lacking in the market – whether on the content production side, or the marketing itself – via the comments box below, or on LinkedIn.

And content producers: should we, as an industry, be pushing back on briefs where the strategy and audience clearly haven’t been thought through? Or is that not our responsibility?

If the skills aren’t available, but brands scale up content production anyway, quality can only fall. And that, in turn, contributes to the steadily rising floodwaters surrounding content marketing as a whole.

But how do we address it? We’re all ears…


David served as our Creative Director for almost eight years, before establishing a standalone practice focusing on B2B creativity and copywriting training and guidance. We continue to work closely together, with David supporting our clients as an associate as and when needed.

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