Shonali Advani is a seasoned leader with over 19 years of industry experience in media, brand and marketing across diverse domains. She has worked with marquee media brands like BCCL's, The Economic Times, and Network18's Entrepreneur Magazine and is a strategic marketing and content advisor to many companies like DesignCafe, Just Organik, Sattva Consulting, Kalaari Capital, Mars Inc and others.
Over the last 3.5 years I have built and grown a content team from 2 - 12 members to cater to all marketing needs of my client. I now manage a team that writes, edits, and has produced over 1500+pages of high quality SEO-friendly content, innumerable brand collaterals, grown the organic web traffic 40x, and contributes to 14 percent of overall company turnover at present.
In the early days of my role I thought I had my hiring strategy figured out. This was till we hit ‘scale-up’ mode. Requirements from my team increased manifold and from catering solely to the organic channel we were inundated with requests from cross functional teams - brand, sales, research & development, social media and human resource.
This meant I had to re-think my hiring strategy to ensure that I had the right set of skills sets to meet a diverse set of needs. I also knew I needed to find exceptional talent to produce high quality content to build and market the brand. All this within startup budgets!
The honest secret to building a high performing team is to treat content as a dedicated function within your organization.
Alongside, ensure your internal stakeholders (marketing heads, leadership team, creative directors) and you both see merit in growing the team. Reason out the rationale behind more hires. What’s important about the content you’re creating? It is essential to align everyone to the broader business objectives.
Define Your Goals
Content is the base for every brand and marketing initiative. I call it the ‘jack of all trades’ and not ‘king’ as has been the popular cited quote. From brand communication, marketing communication, digital marketing, influencer marketing, media articles, customer communication, and social media - the quality and messaging of your content defines its success.
Therefore it is important to clearly define your content strategy goals. Why are you creating content in the first place? What do you want to achieve from it?
You can follow the SMART framework - be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-based. They can look like any or a combination of these.
Your goals will help you establish skill sets necessary for a well-structured team.
Establish A Team Structure To Meet Your Goals
There is no one right structure. In all probability you will continuously refine it as your team evolves in scope and scale. Typically a content team is made up of a team lead also known as the ‘content head’ or ‘content strategist’, writers and copy-editors. Your graphic and video designers are usually under the ‘creative head’ and form a separate team. The structure and size of the team varies with corporate and startups. You can establish a ‘generic’ team or multiple content teams each with a special area of focus.
In-house Versus Outsourced Staff
If you are a startup or a company that’s setting up a content team for the first time chances are you may not have the luxury to hire a large in-house team. Outsourcing is an option but comes with its set of challenges. I worked out a mid-way solution for myself with a hybrid model. About 40% of my staff are in-house with the balanced outsourced (on long-term contracts) including my copy-editor.
I outsource all repetitive tasks to freelancers while using 80% of my internal writer's time to focus on ideation, building content distribution channels (Quora, Pinterest, Google My Business etc.), new brand launches, customer-centric content and communication, media features and the like. The rationale is simple - my in-house team is much closer to the brand and is able to collaborate with cross functional teams seamlessly.
Before you develop a hiring strategy ask yourself a few questions - ‘Do I need deep subject matter expertise?”; Do I need someone who has experience collaborating with other teams?”; “Is speed a top concern?”
Write Down a Hiring strategy
Developing a hiring strategy means deciding how to hire the right candidate for your needs. You need to find someone with the right skills and one who is a ‘culture fit’. As a leader I look for folks who are driven, ambitious yet even-tempered, amicable apart from being extremely creative. Apart from being great writers a few skills I look for are:
Once you’ve identified the above, you will be ready to write down a job description and advertise it.
Often underestimated, a job description (JD) plays a huge role in attracting the right talent. Make sure it outlines the ‘must have’ versus the ‘nice to have’ and is crisp, informative and articulates the benefits of applying for the role.
The Interview Strategy
Attitude comes a close second to aptitude when screen candidates. Certain behavioral traits are essential for my team to succeed as we operate in a dynamic startup environment, are required to multitask, and collaborate heavily with cross-functional teams. Before you get down to scheduling interviews make sure you have a thoughtful interview strategy in place. Once you’ve penciled out traits and skills you need you can pair them with behavioral questions related to your needs. Here are a few examples of questions you can ask:
The assignment: My hiring process also involves screening writers with a handwritten test to assess their language skills, style, and creative input. As someone who built a career in the print era this one’s a non-negotiable for me. I insist on pen and paper for a realistic gauge of things. Too many companies make the mistake of judging a writer’s ability solely on an existing writing sample, only to regret it later.
Your writers are the voice of the company, and become the backbone of your content strategy. Hiring the right ones is important. If you do, you will have a team that will take your marketing efforts to new heights!