Making the Leap from Editor to Content Strategist

Sara Zailskas, a content strategist for, the website for the National Association of Realtors, asks questions editors should consider before they pursue a career as a content strategist. Those who do, Sara says, may find a more lucrative and stable career than what they had at the publishers they’ve left behind.

If I ever lost my current job as a content strategist, I like to think I’d have a good shot at finding another position because:

  • I have editorial skills that are the foundation of good content strategy, and
  • companies I’d never think of as publishers are using content strategists, meaning I wouldn’t be limited to looking for a job in one industry.

That was one of the takeaways from two days last month at Web Content Conference 2011, which gathered content strategists from all types of non-publishing companies – places I’m willing to bet pay more than any publisher today. Think BP, Abercrombie & Kent, and Wyndham Hotel Group.

Most of these very smart people were also just learning about editorial calendars, how to execute the same message in multiple media – concepts editors in trade publications use daily. As editors, we often underestimate how transferable our editorial experience is, and those skills are particularly important to content strategy.

The last I checked, publishing had some kinks to work out, and many folks have lost their jobs – that was me a year ago. You’re probably hearing about content strategy as a full-time job and wondering if it might be right for you. If so, consider these questions:

  • Can you let go of a project? Content strategists often work as consultants and don’t “own” their projects, and that means, whether you’re internal or external, you don’t always get the final say on key decisions.
  • Are you good at looking at things from different perspectives? Working across groups with different goals and interests?
  • How are your teaching skills? Content strategy is a new concept to many communicators or stakeholders in general. Plan to explain your role, thinking and reasoning. A lot.
  • Are you curious about the who, what, when, where, and why behind a project? About the history behind how you got to this point? About how people in other organizations would approach the same problem?
  • Do you have a sense for design and spatial organization?
  • How well can you sort things?
  • And how are your negotiating skills?
  • Can you apply your skills to all content types and subject matters?
  • Are you willing to track data and use it to make decisions, even if it goes against your idea?
  • Are you capable of performing triage without making your blood boil?
  • Can you define content strategy in one sentence?

And finally, what color is your content-strategy cape? Because if you answered positively to pretty much everything, you’re ready to wear one.

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