We keep hearing the same feedback on content across the marketing arena:

  • We have more content than ever. Quantity not quality.
  • It’s become harder to coordinate our messages. Chaos over integration.
  • We don’t really know what our content is doing for us. Cost, not return.
  • Someone needs to be in charge of it all. Leadership, not management.

Put another way - it’s becoming glaringly obvious that every organization, once it gets to a certain size, needs a top-level content executive.

The good news is many organizations are starting to recognize this by bringing on new content leaders. According to Russell Reynolds, 74% of these are external hires.  External hires undoubtedly bring a fresh perspective and can act as a catalyst for change.  That said, internal hires bring knowledge of the business, audiences and organizational capabilities.

Whether external or internal, the most successful enterprises of the future need to empower content leaders to work across the organization (beyond marketing, into employee engagement, customer service and corporate communications). With audience targeting becoming more restrictive, you need a content leader that not only can talk the talk, but also walk the walk. These are C-level jobs, without the C-level clout or seat at the big table.

Hopefully, visionary CEOs will soon recognize that content is instrumental to their future, and will staff their executive team accordingly.  In the immortal words of Steve Jobs:

So the search is on for the perfect content boss.

We are already seeing signs of urgency just within Knotch’s customer base.  Just in the past few months, we have seen the likes of Zillow, Marriott, NorthWestern Mutual, Facebook, JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs bring in new senior content-focused leaders. 

Almost every conversation with a CMO becomes a recruiting conversation for an incredible content leader. Just a few weeks ago JP Morgan nabbed David Moss, Robinhood’s former head of content for a new role, according to Business Insider, banks are going “all in,” on content. Goldman Sachs recently hired Jenifer Berman as their content leader while Boston Consulting Group chose Paige Winburn to lead all of marketing for NA - based specifically on her extensive experience as a content leader within the financial and consulting industries. 

We expect a lot more brands to follow suit, as startups to Fortune 500 brands all come to realize that telling their story right has to be one of their top priorities. And increasingly, this storytelling is the responsibility of internal teams, with the reduced reliance on external agency experts. But there’s more to it than that.  

Companies are going about these hires in their own way. It’s clear that these roles cannot be just about producing content in the traditional sense. Often, the production of content is the last thing to be considered, because there are more important questions to focus on.  

These are fundamental questions. Strategic in nature. Not executional.

To date, many content leaders are known as the governor of content standards, of policies and tools. Increasingly, we see the shift to the content leader as a catalyst, who inspires a series of pilots to meet audience needs at various stages of the customer journey, and at the same time, building the brand.

During our recent Knotch Insight event, former Walgreens Global CMO Vineet Mehra, who is now Good Eggs’ Chief Growth and Experience Officer, said Brands need a person whose primary job is to focus on their “true north.”

Carla Hassan, who oversees marketing for Citibank, concurred. “The amount of content [big brands produce today] is sometimes unmanageable,” she said. “Having people in any organization that are the folks that create the guidelines or see most things or see everything becomes really, really important to make sure the message of the brand is consistent.”

"There is an organizational challenge here,” said Zillow CMO Aimee Johnson on a recent episode of the podcast Next in Marketing. “If you are a channel owner, should we also expect you to be a messaging specialist? Because in the past you hadn't been. And if you manage four or five different channels, all of a sudden they are all responsible for the company's tone and manner and how to say things.”

Given this never ending content sprawl, marketers are going to need to find that one person who’s in charge of it all. That person needs to be familiar with nearly all forms of media, but also how to promote it, wrangle it and steer it across the organization.

Added Johnson: “One thing we're experimenting with is, 'do you have a person that understands the content itself,' and 'what are you trying to say' and then use the intelligence of the channels and bring those things together...we're in the middle of figuring all that out."

This future “Big Important Content Executive” can’t just mind the store, however. They need to explain what content is working and why, easily prove their ROI and quickly adjust for performance while evangelizing the business role of content and overall impact it has on a company’s bottom line.

And of course, they still need to be brilliant storytellers. Or inspire storytellers to be brilliant.

The Knotch team has met and worked with hundreds of content leaders. And in our view, the content leaders who are achieving the greatest success are those who are most intimate with the needs of their audiences.  So yes, today it may be the rise of the content leader, but tomorrow, maybe it’s the audience leader.