The UK content marketing industry is evolving so fast that clients and agencies are struggling to keep pace with the changing demands for skills, according to an independent group of industry professionals in Bristol.

More than 50 content creatives — including copywriters, designers, agencies, creative directors, content heads, digital recruitment agencies, communication consultants, UX specialists and journalists — gathered for the Bristol Content Group (BCG) on 1 November 2016 to answer two huge questions facing the industry: What content skills do businesses need today? How can we (as an industry) provide them?

Under the guidance of Sonja Jefferson, from event organiser, Valuable Content, the speaker presentations and ensuing discussions threw up some eye-opening problems. Here is a sum-up of the evening at the modern, glassy headquarters of Bristol CRM agency, Real Adventure Unlimited.

An industry in its infancy

The real growth in the UK content marketing sector only started around 2007, according to speaker, Fiona Campbell-Howes, from Radix Communications, a B2B tech writing agency in Cornwall.

Fiona told the BCG she’s been a copywriter in the tech industry for 20 years, and that, for a long time, “nothing really changed” in terms of the forms of content requested by clients. But when she set up as a freelancer in Cornwall nine years ago, “everything changed”.

Redefining recruitment

James Ainsworth, Head Of Content at Real Adventure Unlimited, agreed: “It’s crazy now, we’re in a completely different landscape. You need a Swiss Army Knife of content skills.”

When James joined the agency last year, despite a handful of roles with this title existing in London, it was the first such job in Bristol. He told the group that the rapidly changing demands for different formats — and increasing demands for new ways to engage audiences — had meant businesses had to completely redefine recruitment.

“I don’t have a piece of paper to my name that says I can do marketing,” he said. “There are people that have an appetite for content, but they don’t have a piece of paper that says they can do content either.

“Businesses should be looking for people with a diverse range of skills; they shouldn’t look through a lens of: ‘it must say this on a piece of paper for them to do this job'."

The right people, not the right CV

Speaking from the audience, Rory MccGwire, from Atom Content Marketing in Bristol, said: “It’s all about testing people, to hire the ones with the right skills — regardless of their CV.”

Atom hired James Ainsworth for a project (along with Mick Dickinson, founder and owner of Buzzed Up Content) when they first launched the Donut business advice websites. They interviewed other candidates, but none of them turned out to be suitable. “When you tested them out with tasks, they were lost,” said Rory. “Their impressive CVs and decades of traditional marketing experience and qualifications were irrelevant. Whereas Mick and James could immediately come up with a plan. They relished these tasks. Both of them were natural online marketers.”

A widening skills gap

Speaking for one of the break-out groups following a workshop section of the event, marketing consultant and copywriter, Ben Wheeler said: “Roles are being created and defined faster than skills can be taught in higher education. There just isn't a relevant qualification for this job [head of content], nor many others in the industry — it’s just growing too fast.”

More than one type of copywriter

During her presentation, Radix’s Fiona added that, as the need for variety of content increased, she soon realised she didn’t have the skills to write across all the formats. “I thought, ‘does this mean that I’m a bad writer?’ Of course not, it just means I’m better at some things than others. So I came up with this theory that there are seven types of copywriter. And it really matters which type of writer you get to work on each project. Many writers will say they can write all styles. But I think you have to be careful; you have to pick the right one.”

From another break-out group, Neil Schwartz, a user experience (UX) consultant at cxpartners, said: “I’m a UXer and the boundaries get blurred between where UX ends and content creation starts. If I get confused about that, what hope do businesses have?”

‘Yank journalists out of their depression’

There are hundreds of journalists slumped over a desk somewhere feeling sorry for themselves amid the decline of the trade and regional press, yet they don’t need to be. How can we help the content industry? Yank journalists out of their depressive state. Tell them: ‘you do have value, you have all the transferrable skills for creating valuable content.’ So we need to educate content creators, but also pair up businesses and creative agencies with the right people.

lots of businesses these days are getting distracted by ‘shiny tools’ and visuals like automated marketing software and flashy websites, thinking they will solve their marketing problem. Without the thinking behind the content, it won’t.

Valuable content in three acts

To help businesses understand the complex world of content marketing, Sonja explained how the process could be broken into three stages, or acts, adding: “If we can think of these three acts and what content skills are needed then maybe we can better educate businesses. It’s a young industry. The problem is that there’s nothing set yet; there’s no standardisation. We don’t want to end up like the IT industry, but could there be some form of standardisation for such a creative sector to help businesses make sense of it all?”


By Craig Blackburn, content writer at Blue Scribe


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