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  • Bringing on a content strategist should be easier if you know what to look for.
  • Content is important, but the right use of it is the real ballgame.
  • You don’t want people who latched onto a buzz phrase, you want people who’ve made stuff
  • Telling yourself you don’t need this expertise will doom you to ongoing content chaos.



What does “content strategy” even mean anymore? Ask 10 people and you’d likely get 10 different answers depending on the role and agenda of the person being asked. With the pile-on to this buzz phrase in full effect, we hesitate to even use it.

That doesn’t mean brands don’t need a clear plan around what content they should make, for who, and why, because wow they really do. It’s just that the term “strategy” brings with it a lot of assumptions, and of course, vagueness. Yes content is critically important, but the right use of it, that’s the real ballgame. So if you do bring on a content strategist, how do you know they’re the real deal vs a buzz phrase chaser?

1. A client of theirs will say they brought value
That client’s issues won’t be the same as yours, but they will be able to tell you if the person listened, knew their stuff, grasped the challenges, and delivered a deliberate plan. Maybe they’ll tell you the results that came from the work, or maybe (but doubtful) they’ll admit that they failed as a client to commit and follow through with the plan. But you’ll at least know what kind of working experience the content strategist brought to the table.


All the strategy, planning and tech in the world will get you straight to nowhere unless you have people who know how to entertain and inform

2. They’ve made stuff
You’re on an operating table and the doc comes in. You ask, “How many gall bladders have you removed?” And she answers, “Okay, none. But I’ve read a lot of blogs about it and I’ve been to a lot of gall bladder conventions.” Your strategist, and definitely the people who are actually making the content, should have a history of informing and entertaining. Attracting, holding, building, and captivating an audience is an art.

3. They’ll tell you what they don’t know
A favorite consultant of mine came in to the company where I was working at the time, holding a legal pad. He said, “I’ve written down all the answers for your situation I’m 100% certain about.” It was blank. Your content strategist should know their stuff, but drop the arrogance act. A true partner will intimately grasp your unique situation before getting prescriptive (or mouthing off). One of the best trust-building phrases on the planet is “I don’t know but I’ll find out.” 

4. They’ll talk about the things they aren’t good at 
There’s no way a content strategist can be a ninja master in every discipline now involved in digital marketing and content marketing. Marketing automation, account based marketing , influencer marketing, social media marketing, content production, etc. etc. There’s just too much to know, so put your unicorn dreams out to pasture. The right content strategist will include the challenges they have not mastered, not try to eliminate them from the conversation, and find the resources to expertly fill those gaps. 


If you hear them pivoting their entire business model based on what you say during your initial meeting, proceed with caution

5. They won’t be the “we do that too” guys
Content strategists should be passionate about and love what they’re doing. If I tell a hot dog vendor what I really want is chicken parm, and he says, “I got that too!” then runs 3 blocks, orders take-out chicken parm and brings it back to me, is he really a chicken parm guy? Good strategists should know how they can be of the most help and bring the most value. If you hear them alter their services list on the fly depending on what you say in your initial meeting, proceed with caution.

6. They’ll call you out if you aren’t serious
Hopefully you’ll be able to respect a company or contractor who’s willing to walk away from an SOW and revenue if the odds of success are fairly low. Great content strategists need to know they’re being effective and productive. Because of that, their joie de vivre is shaken if they accept clients who just want to make lots of decks and have lots of meetings, but never make anything for anybody. Joe Pulizzi’s at the Content Marketing Institute has called out this silliness, “noodling” with content without participating enough to reap the benefits. 

7. They will fight day and night on behalf of the audience
The best companies are customer-obsessed. The best content strategists are tenacious champions for the audience, and sometimes that means pushing against brands that care only about the marketing message they want to push. As entertainers, content strategists and producers need to get that “applause,” in our case in the form of engagement and CTAs acted on. They NEED to give the viewers something that cuts through, moves them and is of high value. If the company only care about pleasing some internal stakeholder, the great content strategists will pass you by.


It’s important to them that your delighted content consumers translate into new customers, retained customers, or expanded revenue

8. They care that content works
There are few creatures in the work world that represent a fusion of art and practicality more than a content strategist. The great ones love planning, ideating and producing content then debuting it on the digital stage. They love putting on the show, and as soon as they’re done, they want to put on another. But they also like knowing what will count as a “hit.” What will the success metrics be? They need to know that the happy viewers and readers translated into better prospect, new customers, retained customers, or expanded revenue. They crave applause from you just like they crave it from the audience.

9. They’re cool in sales AND marketing (and HR, IT, PR, etc.)
The days of sitting in respective silos and throwing darts at each other are slipping away. Blaming the other guys will soon only work in Congress. Not just marketing but every department is being held accountable for their role in driving revenue. So content strategy assumes a new role that umbrellas these many departments. Any other approach will result in a badly tuned engine misfiring and leaving the customer broken down and angry on the side of the road. The best content strategists shine when aligning every necessary stakeholder at the table.

Armed with these things to look for, hopefully you can more confidently seek out and activate the content strategy partnership needed to produce and leverage content that will make a tangible difference to your audience and bottom line. What a shame it would be to operate in content chaos one week longer.