Dominic Tortorice

Strategy – it’s essential to content marketing success.

Just like every good ship needs a captain, every client account team or campaign needs a content marketing strategist to lead the way. As the name of the role might indicate, these professionals are the consummate experts in developing, communicating and executing strategy.

If you’re a business looking to amp up your content marketing efforts or social media presence, a strategist is the clear hire to make. And if you work with a marketing agency, you must get to know exactly what a content marketing strategist is and what they do on a day-to-day basis. The CMS – as sometimes called – will be your point-person for every need, want or question you have.

So what does a content marketing strategist do? Let’s explore the role, the skills to look for and the habits of highly effective CMS.

What Is a Content Marketing Strategist?

A content marketing strategist is the individual who is ultimately responsible for creating or collaborating on strategy. It is their job to help launch marketing campaigns and measure results, which may then inform future strategic decision-making. As that wide-bearing responsibility may suggest, strategists are involved across the spectrum of content marketing.

The goal of every content marketing strategy is to match business goals with the tactics to help achieve them. This requires a bit of translation because corporate success and search marketing are two different worlds.

The CMS is the person in the middle who understands the company’s aims — whether that means reaching a new target audience, promoting a specific message, shifting perception of the brand or anything in between — and performs the necessary content planning to create an actionable strategy.

Regarding the softer skills of the role, a strategist is first and foremost a leader. This applies in either an internal or external context: an in-house strategist has to be a capable self-starter, while an agency liaison must be proactive. The marketing team will take its direction from the CMS’s strategy development and keyword research, so it’s essential that the strategist builds a strong foundation and gives their colleagues the best chance for success.

The Content Marketing Strategist Job Description

Both for the sake of companies that might need a content marketing strategist and professionals who might want to take on this role, it’s worth breaking down the specific tasks a CMS will be called on to complete.

A CMS has a variety of high-level goals to track and everyday tasks to accomplish, all adding up to a viable content strategy. Balancing these considerations means every day on the job is a little different, depending on what needs to get done that day.

From performing search engine optimization research to connecting with clients or department leaders on a long-term content marketing strategy, a CMS has to be prepared to take on both solitary, technical work and personality-driven collaborative jobs. Good content is a result of both kinds of effort.

As for actual tasks to complete, a CMS should be prepared to:

  • Identify business goals and determine the marketing means to meet those ends.
  • Engage in content planning and receive sign-off from stakeholders in all departments.
  • Coordinate with the editorial marketing team on content production.
  • Analyze the organization’s target audience, checking preferences and developing marketing best practices.
  • Perform keyword research, affecting both long-tail search phrases and individual terms.
  • Study best-performing forms of marketing content, for both the organization and its competitors.
  • Consult on search engine optimization or other forms of content performance analytics.
  • Lead meetings with various groups, from discovery sessions to content planning gatherings and ROI presentations.

That’s just a small sample of the workload a content strategist will typically assume.

Beyond the individual tasks a content marketing strategist must complete, these individuals also have to know how to prioritize tasks and use their time effectively. Whether a CMS works for one business or serves several accounts as part of an agency, there will be many demands on their time. Creating a workable schedule — and being able to change quickly in unexpected circumstances — are therefore core abilities.

Who Becomes a CMS?

Generally speaking, the most common route to becoming a CMS is to be in digital marketing or some client-facing position (while online skills are key to the job, they can be learned). A strategist is a leader, as well as someone who connects multiple departments’ goals and workflows.

These professionals have a passion for brainstorming and then putting those ideas into action, watching the events unfold and measuring the effects. Such is the general framework of managing a marketing campaign, and a strategist will have some ownership over each phase.

Client relationship management is a pillar of the job, so anybody considering becoming a strategist should have experience in that area, if not a natural disposition for leadership, team-building and just shooting the breeze.

A bachelor’s degree in marketing may be a plus, but it’s not always a requirement. If you have innate interpersonal skills, then content marketing strategist might be the right role for you. The right personality is a big piece of the strategist puzzle: You need to be willing to meet clients halfway, and then resourceful enough to find a way to get across the other half to the finish line with a result everyone is happy with.

Developing a Content Marketing Strategy

Crafting an effective content marketing strategy means turning a leader’s vision into a series of actionable pieces of content for the marketing team to create. This process is the bread and butter of the CMS role, but it isn’t simple. It breaks down into a few steps:

  • Fact-finding: Initial research means sitting down with chief stakeholders and understanding their goals. In an agency setting, this is a client meeting, whereas an internal CMS will speak with department leaders or the CEO.
  • Initial content research: How close is the company’s existing content to reaching the stated goal? What are competitors doing better? What would be the best way to propel the business toward the goal? The CMS takes time to answer all these questions.
  • Content planning: The CMS presents their findings, gets sign-off on a direction and engages the marketing team — project managers, social media managers, blog post writers, graphic designers, video editors — anyone who is relevant to the intended strategy.
  • Oversight and coordination: As the team produces the content, the CMS acts as a liaison, attending meetings and making sure the deliverables are on-message and on-schedule.
  • Continuing content research: Before and after new pieces of content go live, more rounds of research are conducted. Search engine optimization checks make sure the pieces are performing well. If there’s room for improvement, the CMS will set out to refresh them. If the strategy is working perfectly, it’s time to design the next one.

5 Top Skills for Content Strategists

Content marketing strategists need to balance creative and strategic responsibilities, as well as perform other administrative or operational tasks to support campaigns. As such, the CMS needs a blend of skills, knowledge, experience and intuitive know-how to get the job done.

Some of those competencies include:

  1. Social media: There is perhaps no greater arena for brand awareness and content marketing than social media. While social-specific roles exist, strategists also have to be knowledgeable about these platforms, as they may need to select the ideal social media channels to run a campaign through. Social media posting may also fall within their purview from time to time; at the very least, a CMS will help analyze social media data to direct strategy.
  2. Search engine optimization: SEO is an important skill to master — and also one that is always changing. Every time the Google algorithm receives an update, the best practices around SEO shift. Good content according to last month’s metrics may not be as useful now. A CMS is always ready to perform keyword research or an SEO audit for existing or brand-new content to make sure it is living up to its goals for the inbound marketing strategy. This means working with several SEO tools, each of which uses a slightly different dashboard. Then, the CMS must make those findings understandable to every other stakeholder on the marketing team.
  3. Communication: Strategists should expect to be in constant communication throughout the day, whether that’s through email, over the phone or in person. Marketing strategy must be responsive, and the CMS is largely in charge of maintaining that readiness. Communication skills are fundamental to the role, as they will be needed to finalize the strategy, coordinate stakeholders, manage team production and report on business goals. Yet informal communication is just as important. The CMS needs to build relationships with clients, or with coworkers, to which communication is central. Networking and event marketing will also call into action those communicative skills. Content production is essentially a matter of collaboration, and a CMS becomes the hub around which many collaborative processes rotate. That is, the CMS is a person everyone from top decision-makers to hands-on content creators will communicate with at some point.
  4. Content production: It may come as no surprise that a CMS needs to be knowledgeable about marketing content itself. Targeting an audience entails knowing what content will perform best with that demographic or buyer persona. CMS may be placed in charge of filling out the editorial calendar with ideas, helping proofread content, or moving pieces between different stages of production. A content strategy will fall apart without good content. This means every blog post meets the dual goals of improving a site’s SEO and appealing to the human readers who will, hopefully, appreciate its message. A CMS must grasp the ins and outs of good writing so they can perform quality control on each new blog post.
  5. Expectation management: A CMS needs to be a steady hand on the account. Sometimes, clients or higher-ups may grow unhappy with results. Whatever the issue is, the CMS needs to be hands-on in resolving it. That doesn’t mean becoming a “yes” person, but instead finding common ground or building consensus. It may also mean having frank conversations about what is achievable in reality. Goals are lofty for a reason but may need to be brought back down to Earth. Conflicts between internal teams may also need to be resolved by a CMS, who needs to set an example for everyone else they work with.

You need to be willing to meet clients halfway, and then resourceful enough to find a way to get across the other half to the finish line with a result everyone is happy with.

A Day in the Life of a CMS

Knowing what a CMS does and the skills needed to succeed in the role, it becomes easier to imagine a regular day in the life of a strategist:

9 a.m. – Start the day off right with a big ol’ cup of coffee and an inbox to sort through, answering all emails as promptly as possible.

11 a.m. – Hop on a call with a client to report on analytics. As soon as that’s over, fire off an internal comm to ensure production is still on track for a different project.

1 p.m. – No post-lunch lull for the career CMS! It’s time to put together a presentation deck for next week and answer some more emails.

3 p.m. – Check in on scheduled social media posts; read some thought leadership articles on marketing automation or brand awareness.

5 p.m. – Ensure all next steps for the day have been taken, and finish up with sending some more emails while heading out the door.

What Not To Look For in a CMS

It’s important you’re familiar with the best practices of a successful CMS, whether you’re looking for an in-house content strategist to hire or are getting acquainted with a newly assigned CMS to your account. And in a sense, that means knowing what red flags to keep a watch for so you’re not saddled with an ineffective strategist.

Warning signs to be on the lookout for may include:

  • Inattentiveness: A CMS who lets one too many things slip through the cracks can be troubling. There’s little margin for error at the top, and an organized CMS is an efficient one.
  • Lack of accountability: The buck stops with a strategist; an individual who looks to shift blame or make excuses won’t offer the leadership required of the role. This can affect team morale and the quality of the content or success of the marketing campaign.
  • Late on communications: Prompt communication is as close to a commandment of being a CMS as it gets. An email that goes unanswered or a phone call that goes unreturned can dent the confidence one may have in a CMS, as well as doubt the ability to keep up with the pace of the job.
  • Overreliance on “gut feeling”: Acting on intuition has its time and place, but a strategist should be data-driven. Strategic decision-making should not be a coin flip. A CMS should offer hard intelligence for recommending one strategy over another.
  • Stuck in the weeds: While a CMS has responsibilities across the campaign, a micromanager just won’t do. A content marketing strategist has to be able to delegate to focus on mission-critical tasks. Being stuck in minutiae may also prevent a CMS from being forward-thinking about the brand or other opportunities.

The CMS is one of the most valuable and integral roles in the content marketing process. This captain of your content ship will be looked to for leadership, expertise and advice. When hiring talent or building a relationship with your agency, be aware of what makes an effective CMS.

Editor’s note: Updated March 2022.